UK academic union considers new Israel boycott

The Stop the Boycott campaign has confirmed it will now instruct lawyers to obtain an opinion on the legality of this boycott motion.

antiboycott ad 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
antiboycott ad 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The UK's University and College Union (UCU) will again consider a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, as reported by The Jerusalem Post last month. Last week, the trade union for academics, lecturers, researchers and academic-related staff published the draft motions for next month's conference in Manchester, which will discuss the issue. Campaigners hoped the union would adhere to a legal ruling last year in which UCU lawyers deemed that a boycott was "unlawful" and "could not be implemented." This led to the decision to consider a boycott of Israeli academia that last year's conference voted in favor of being thrown out. Despite repeated requests, the union has refused to make public the legal advice it received, and the Stop the Boycott campaign has confirmed it will now instruct lawyers to obtain an opinion on the legality of this boycott motion. "The attitude of the UCU leadership is utterly irresponsible," Stop the Boycott's Jeremy Newmark said. "The president and general secretary have allowed a situation to emerge in which UCU's policy is decided by the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party. In the face of its own legal advice, it is shameful that UCU would press ahead with a discredited and discriminatory policy. "We are now seeking legal advice on this new boycott move, to empower regular UCU members in their attempt to force the union to abandon this destructive course of action," he added. Three motions relating to Israel will be discussed at the conference, one of which will be presented for the first time by the National Executive Committee (NEC), the union's executive body, as the Post reported last month. The NEC motion calls on the Histadrut Labor Federation to pay money allegedly owed to the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). According to the details of the motion, the Histadrut has owed the PGFTU €2.5 million since 1995, a number the NEC says represents "Fifty percent of the official organizational dues of Palestinian workers working in Israel," under the terms of the Framework Agreement of March 1995 following the Oslo Accords. It calls on the Histadrut to pay the money owed and calls for an end to the "siege of Gaza" and for an end to the "occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory." Another motion, entitled "Palestine and the occupation," will consider the "moral and political implications" of educational links with Israeli institutions and to consider the testimonies of a UCU delegation in order to promote "a wide discussion by colleagues of the appropriateness of continued educational links with Israeli academic institutions." The union says that the motion does not necessarily call for a boycott. Speaking to the Post, a UCU spokesman also said he hoped the debate would not have the same "hyperbole" as last year. "UCU delegates... will have the opportunity to debate and set policy for the union on a host of issues," the UCU spokesman said. "The Palestine motion does not call for a boycott. It does call for a wider debate about what is happening over there and members will initiate that debate, as is their right, at congress." However, anti-boycott advocates disagree. Ronnie Fraser, director of Academic Friends of Israel, said: "Let us be very clear this is nothing less than a boycott motion dressed up in fancy words. By allowing these motions to go forward yet again the UCU executive has shown a total disregard for the legal advice it received last year; this at a time when its members need support over pay and conditions." The motion calls for the wide dissemination of the personal testimonies of UCU and Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) who participated in a delegation to the Palestinian territories, as well as for the testimonies to be used as part of a "wide" discussion on the appropriateness of continued links with Israeli academic institutions. The delegation was led by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The motion also calls for the union to "facilitate and encourage" twinning arrangements with Palestinian academic institutions and to investigate Ariel College, which it calls "an explicitly colonizing institution in the West Bank." "The UCU is now firmly in the Palestinian camp and is currently promoting a UK speaking tour by pro-boycott Palestinian academics," Fraser said. "The UCU has now lost all credibility by continuing to follow boycott policies which are opposed by the UK universities and the majority of their academics, the British Government and the Trade Union Congress." Lorna Fitzsimons, from Stop the Boycott, said that boycotts were "obviously discriminatory" and "put new obstacles between Israelis and Palestinians and hurts the cause of peace." This year's motion can still have amendments proposed by UCU branches and is due to be debated at the UCU's conference on the afternoon of May 28. Meanwhile, the UCU lecture tour of members of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees starts on Monday, the second day of Pessah. In a letter to the UCU executive, Fraser said: "In circular 34 last year, it was clearly stated that branches should take care to avoid holding meetings on Friday evenings, Saturdays or where possible any other major religious festival day. Orthodox Jewish UCU members are being discriminated against because they will be celebrating the Passover festival that day and therefore will be unable to attend any of these important meetings."