UK union encourages Israeli academia boycott

UCU passes motion to "consider moral and political implications" of links to Israeli academia.

boycott israel 88 (photo credit: )
boycott israel 88
(photo credit: )
The University and College Union, the largest trade union for academics and academic-related staff in further education in the UK, voted on a motion at their annual conference in Manchester on Wednesday that will reintroduce an academic boycott of Israel. The motion passed without debate and by a show of hands and asks members "to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating." Anti-boycott activists say the motion demands that Jewish and Israeli academics explain their politics as a precondition to normal academic contact. "If Jewish and Israeli academics support the UCU's view of the conflict, they will be protected from further action; if they are against it or noncommittal, then they may be considered unsuitable for continued association," said Ronnie Fraser, UCU member and director of Academic Friends of Israel. "It beggars belief that such a blatant 'McCarthyite' demand - which clearly is discriminatory, anti-Semitic and in clear violation of the UK Race Relations act - is allowed to be published and debated by a union that prides itself on supporting academic freedom and according to its rules 'promotes equality for all' and actively opposes 'all forms of harassment, prejudice and unfair discrimination,'" he added. A British Foreign Office spokesperson said the British Government fully supports academic freedom and is firmly against any academic boycotts of Israel, Israeli universities or academics. "The British Government does not consider boycotts constructive. They do nothing to advance the prospects for peace. Education plays a vital role in developing and aiding understanding between different people. It is therefore all the more important to keep open channels of communication with academics and educational institutions in the Middle East and to support, as we are, dialogue between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority," the spokesman said. Last year, UCU lawyers deemed a boycott "unlawful" and ruled that a motion calling for a boycott passed at last year's conference "cannot be implemented," leading to the decision being thrown out. However, the union failed to adhere to its lawyers' rulings - and has refused to respond to the calls to make public the legal advice it received - and last month, another boycott of Israeli academia was introduced. As a result, Stop the Boycott - a campaign group launched last year to oppose trade union boycott initiatives - sent its lawyers' advice on the legality of a motion to boycott Israeli academia to UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt, UCU President Linda Newman and the union trustees. In reply, Hunt insisted that no boycott had been called. "It is not for UCU to comment on legal advice received by other organizations, especially since we have neither seen the instructions the advice responded to, nor do we know the context or purpose for which the advice was given. 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, at congress," she said. According to Fraser, however, "the problem is that many of the Congress delegates, as well as the union itself, do not accept that by passing the motion, the UCU has become institutionally racist by creating a discriminatory atmosphere on campus towards Jewish academics, many of whom are members of the UCU. [Is] the UCU intending to make it a condition of membership that all academics conform to this policy? If not, how do they intend to implement this resolution?" Stop the Boycott's legal advice clearly states that any boycott of Israeli academia would be in breach of the union's own anti-discrimination policies and British anti-discrimination laws. "This motion in effect gives license to harassment and discrimination within academic institutions - the very thing the UCU is supposed to protect its members from," said Lorna Fitzsimons, co-chair of the campaign group. "As a trade unionist myself, I find it astounding that the union is prepared to contradict its founding principles of protection in the workplace. Ferocious and free debate is of course vital within all aspects of society - but only if there is no threat attached to individuals." Another Stop the Boycott co-chair, Jeremy Newmark, said that "UCU has again demonstrated how out of touch it is with the vast majority of its membership and with the wider academic community. This motion does nothing to help the Palestinians." He added that "trade unions exist to defend their members in the workplace. Our legal opinion, produced at the request of UCU members, shows that this motion promotes discrimination. It runs counter to all that a trade union should stand for, discriminating against some of its members instead of defending all of them." Since 2004, academic trade unions have been subjected to calls for a boycott of Israeli academia by a minority but active section of the far-Left within the unions.