UK anti-boycott lobby group takes on university union

The union last month decided to consider another boycott. It has also refused to respond to calls to make public the legal advice it received.

antiboycott ad 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
antiboycott ad 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hoping to derail a motion to boycott Israeli academia by the University and College Union, a British campaign group called Stop the Boycott is taking the offensive. Stop the Boycott, launched last year to oppose trade union boycott initiatives, has sent UCU lawyers a 21-page document on the legality of a motion, set to be discussed next week at the union's annual conference in Manchester. Anti-boycott campaigners hope the union will adhere to a legal opinion issued last year last year by UCU lawyers that deemed a boycott "unlawful" that "cannot be implemented." After the lawyers' issued their ruling, an earlier decision to consider a boycott of Israeli academia was rejected at last year's conference. However, the union last month decided to consider another boycott. It has also refused to respond to calls to make public the legal advice it received. As a result, Stop the Boycott sent its lawyers' advice to the UCU's General Secretary Sally Hunt, President Linda Newman and its trustees. According to the 21-page document on the legal issues surrounding the UCU and its campaign to boycott Israeli academia states, "It would be unlawful for the union to pass the motion in as much as it calls on union members to undertake certain actions in relation to 'Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating' as well as expressly mandating the union via the union's national executive committee to take steps towards so called grey listing of another academic institution, Ariel College." Also, a union boycott might violate the Race Relations Act because it would "expose Jewish members of the union to indirect discrimination" and the union might be liable for "acts of harassment on the grounds of race or nationality." The Stop the Boycott legal opinion also states that the boycott motion breaches the union's own commitment to equality and could make the union an accessory to employment discrimination against Israeli academics. "The UCU leadership is at home in a world where it is normal to think of Israelis as a unique evil on the planet," said David Hirsh, who is an UCU member, a sociology lecturer at the University of London's Goldsmiths College and a member of Engage, a group of left-wing trade unionists and academics active in the anti-boycott campaign. "Engage explains how the campaign to exclude them from British campuses is anti-Semitic. The lawyers are now telling us that it is also illegal. At least five formal complaints from union members are currently being considered by the union which relate to anti-Semitism in the union. [UCU General Secretary] Sally Hunt is carelessly leading the union into court where it would be found guilty of institutional anti-Semitism and where she would be forced to hand over union money to litigants and lawyers," Hirsh said. "Our union should be fighting for education, not relentlessly discussing an anti-Semitic campaign which would violate the Race Relations Act," he added. Hunt said, "UCU delegates at our conference will have the opportunity to debate and set policy for the union on a host of issues. There is no call for a boycott; the motions to congress call for a wider debate about what is happening over there and members will initiate that debate, as is their right. "I have made it quite clear on a number of occasions that my personal view is that a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions is not the best way to promote a just peace. For the record, once again, that position has not changed," Hunt said. Asked if the motion did not call for a boycott, Hirsh told The Jerusalem Post: "Points 1-6 of the motion lay the foundation and legitimation for a boycott. Point 7 invites members to "consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions" in this light and also asks members "to discuss the occupation with individuals...," in other words individuals who are considered to be relevant - particularly Israelis or even Jews in general - will be asked to pass a political test as a pre-condition for joint academic work. "Sally Hunt's denial of the evident fact that this is a boycott motion is evidence of the degree to which she does not understand the seriousness of what is going on in her own union and what the consequences are likely to be. We have a general secretary with her head in the sand when what we need is a responsible anti-racist leadership which is able and willing to protect the union from the legal and political jeopardy in which it now finds itself," Hirsh added.