Thursday, June 05, 2008

'Rethink Israel boycott'

More from the UK...

The resolution, described this week as “the opening stages of a campaign of boycott”, called on 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".

It was passed by a vast majority at the union’s conference in Manchester last Wednesday, despite the fact a similar motion last year was ultimately abandoned after the union’s own lawyers deemed it discriminatory. The UCU has rejected calls to make the legal advice they received public.

During his speech to the gathering later in the week, Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said that while he supports the UCU’s right to decide their own policy and its right to criticise Israel, he failed to see the benefit of a boycott: “Academic boycotts are the complete antithesis of academic freedom. Boycotting academics because of their nationality I find deeply disturbing. And there is no evidence that such a strategy would further the cause of peace in the Middle East.

“When I visited Israel and the Palestine occupied territories last year I met Palestinians like the Vice Chancellor of Al-Quds University who were totally apposed to a boycott. I met Israeli academics engaged in welfare projects for Palestinians in the occupied territories. Would we want to cut ourselves of initiatives like that?

Saying that in his experience there are progressives and reactionaries in Israel and the territories, he added: “The problem is with boycotts is that they make the job of the progressives more difficult, and they reinforce of the position of reactionaries. It’s your decision but I would urge you to think again.”

While UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt has already rejected claims that the motion represented a boycott and said it was aimed at expressing solidarity with the Palestinians, Mischon de Reya’s Anthony Julius wrote in a letter to her on Tuesday that the debate was unbalanced and described the motion as “anti-semitic” and the “opening stages of a campaign of boycott.” He warned that if the motion was not rescinded, litigation may be taken under the Race Relations Act as it created a “hostile, degrading, humiliating and/or offensive environment for Jewish members of the union and/or violating their dignity.”

Writing exclusively in today’s Jewish News, British Ambassador to Israel Tom Phillips said: “My government’s position on this issue is clear. What we are trying to do is to encourage people-to people contacts, including among academics and academic institutions Education and dialogue play a pivotal role in developing and aiding understanding between different peoples.”
The motion was also met with criticism across sthe British political spectrum. Labour MP John Mann, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-semitism said: “UCU has proven once again that it is an increasingly irrelevant union. Instead of fighting for the terms and conditions of its members it would rather make headlines pursuing what will effectively constitute an illegal boycott of academics and trade unionists.”
Shadow Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “The singling out of Israel for a boycott of this kind when there is no boycott of other countries, which are not democracies and which practise repression, curb free speech and limit academic inquiry, must raise questions about the nature of the prejudice animating this campaign."

Meanwhile, the Stop the Boycott Campaign has raised awarness of its opposition to the moves this week ahead of a UCU National Exceutive Committee meeting next where decisions on the policy will be made. Campaigners have placed articles in the media, contacted political bodies, and encouraged members opposed to the motion to voice their concerns.


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