Lawyer promises action if UK academic union fails to rescind 'anti-Semitic' boycott call

'What others may enjoy as of right, Jews must work for,' the letter says.

antiboycott ad 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
antiboycott ad 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An attorney representing University College Union members affected by the UK union's decision to consider a boycott of Israeli academic institutions has written to the UCU head calling the motion 'anti-Semitic.' Anthony Julius, a senior partner at London law firm Mishcon de Reya, wrote to UCU general secretary Sally Hunt on Tuesday stating that the motion does call for a boycott - something denied by Hunt - and is by nature anti-Semitic. The letter asks for their concerns to be addressed by the union's National Executive Committee when it meets on June 13. Hunt has repeatedly said that Motion 25, passed at the union's annual conference on May 28, does not advocate a boycott. "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," she said prior to the UCU conference. In response, the lawyer wrote to the UCU: "The invitation to 'consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions,' the commitment to distribute material intended to promote 'discussion by colleagues of the appropriateness of continued educational links with Israeli academic institutions,' and the resolution to 'investigate [Ariel College] under the formal greylisting procedure,' comprise the opening stages of a campaign of boycott. It would be dishonest to suggest otherwise." The letter does not threaten legal action but does say that this may follow: "Such a letter, couched in more formal terms than the present one, may follow in due course." Setting out the position that the boycott call is anti-Semitic, the letter asserts that the UCU motion is "irrational," "continuous with episodes in anti-Semitism's history" and "frivolous." Under the "irrational" accusation, one of the justifications used by the supporters of the motion is that a boycott could be justified on the grounds that Israeli academia is "complicate with the occupation." In the letter, Julius says this is incoherent: "The merely 'apparent complicity of most of the Israeli academy' cannot furnish the justification for any sanction by the union. What is 'apparent' may not be real. In addition, the 'complicity' identified by the motion is not related to any specified vice, it is enough, it would seem, for the promoters and supporters of the motion that Israeli academics are 'apparently' complicit in some or all of the things that the motion lists in its opening section. This should not, however, he enough for any rational or fair minded person." Examples are cited to show why the motion is "continuous with episodes in anti-Semitism's history" and that boycotts have "been a staple of anti-Semitic programs for at least 800 years." "[The motion] stipulation that Jews ['Israeli colleagues'] submit to questioning on their views as a precondition to continued collaboration with UCU members, which revives the anti-Semitic program that what others may enjoy as of right, Jews must work for," the letter says. "While the motion is 'frivolous,' as it is indifferent to the pain it will cause Jewish members; indifferent to anti-Semitism, by implication treating the charge of anti-Semitism as made in bad faith; dismissive of the possibility that some 'criticism' of Israel may indeed be anti-Semitic and fails to consider whether its own proposals fall within that category; and is ignorant of/indifferent to the impact of a boycott campaign on Israeli society, and/or Palestinian society and/or research projects currently being undertaken by UCU members," the letter continues. It also highlights a likely charge against the UCU for harassment under the Race Relations Act and other potential claims against the union. This includes the accusation that the debate on the motion was not balanced, and that the activist list of the on-line forum for UCU members "sanctions the open and incontinent expression of anti-Semitic opinion." The letter also accuses the UCU of failing to respond to the Parliamentary Committee against Anti-Semitism report and to address concerns regarding the union's alleged institutional anti-Semitism expressed by Jewish union members and by representative bodies of the Anglo-Jewish community. Julius calls for the motion to be rescinded or rendered defunct by the UCU's National Executive Committee and warns that litigation "may well follow." "Motion 25 is just the latest discreditable manifestation of the UCU's culpable indifference toward Jewish union members, and indeed, to the many Jewish and non-Jewish members who believe that unless an academic union is committed to academic freedom and the equal treatment of academics, it is nothing," Julius said. On Tuesday, the British ambassador to Israel, Tom Phillips, expressed concern at the boycott call. "It seems to me deeply regrettable that some in British academia are contemplating putting up barriers to communicating and understanding rather than supporting - as we are - dialogue between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority, and when dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians generally is so needed." Speaking at a Hebrew University reception at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the ambassador highlighted the British government's longstanding position opposition to an academic boycott. "It is my hope that the motion will once again fail to be translated into any significant practice on the ground," Phillips said.