Pro-boycott position gone stale

This debate was organised by my local UCU Exec in the light of a motion put forward by a member, David, which is anti-boycott and anti-occupation. The Exec decided – unilaterally – to split the discussion around this motion from the actual vote, and took the sinister step of inviting a very prominent, external, pro-boycott speaker to argue with local anti-boycotters – i.e. it engineered this debate. The format was 15 minutes each to present positions for and against the boycott, 3 or 4 rounds of questions from the floor, and 5 minutes each to sum up. There were maybe 17 – 20 people present.

It was agreed that the occupation should end and that the checkpoints were a intolerable degradation. Somebody made a spirited attempt to make us think about Lebanon, but that didn’t catch and, with the exception of the member (who had organised the debate) and Stephen Rose, both of whom invoked suffering Palestinians as the only reason any decent person should need to boycott, everyone was preoccupied by the consequences and practicability of the boycott.

David kicked off. He framed the boycott as an exclusion of Israeli Jews, anticipating that Stephen Rose would deny this. Pointed out that institutions don’t write grants, submit abstracts or papers, or attend conferences. Talked about norms of dissent, freedom and equality within Israeli academic institutions. Attacked the boycott on grounds of practicalities, racism, academic freedom and diversion of energies from UCU’s main business which is terms and conditions.

Stephen Rose began with some anecdotes which ‘prove’ that Israel is systemically apartheid, ladling out the pathos, presenting the boycott as the only way to fulfil our moral obligation to people with a claim to our solidarity. Started by saying that the boycott was not against Israeli Jews but Israeli institutions, and that it would fortify any right-minded Israeli Jews. He said everyone should be in favour of a just peace. He told a number of stories to demonstrate that Israel is a racist state, including proportions of Arabs in institutions, refusal of Haifa to host a christmas tree, and preferential allocation of halls at Haifa (inconveniently for him, this last was recently ruled illegal by the Haifa District Court). He claimed that if the proposal involved any other country apart from Israel, there would be not debate “of course” we would respond to calls from NGOs in other countries. He talked about an Israel lobby. He equated Israel to apartheid South Africa. He was a whisker away from comparing Israelis to Nazis (“after all the violence that they have experienced, it is truly awful to see them becoming the perpetrators”. He said academics were to blame for their apathy, complicit in the occupation, and implicated in Israel’s policy for their work on policy regarding demographics and the wall.

So, ignoring the pro-boycott prating (what little there was of it, because once again there was hardly any of that from the floor) the talk was about whether the boycott was universalisable or not. The point was made and reinforced without much opposition that applying boycotts universally was bureaucratically impracticable. At which point there were snorts of indignation and we were exhorted again to consider the suffering Palestinians. There was a lot of talk of academic freedom – SR asked reproachfully how we could consider it more important than Palestinian lives; David replied that it wasn’t but that it is important and should not be dealt with light-mindedly (I sometimes get the impression that the charge of simplicity is a very effective way of paralysing some academics who are on the verge of carrying out a rare real-worldly act). Somebody from the history department launched into a profuse review of atrocities ongoing internationally and unnoted, which went on for several minutes and ended with “I can’t help thinking that this is “Stop the Yids! Stop the Yids! Stop the Yids!”. In response, SR reassured us that he had anti-fascists in the family. Several people expressed astonishment at the arguments of others, and the word “disingenuous” was flung around with abandon.

David summed up last, and he was relaxed enough by then to survey the room from his table, shrug, sigh, and tell us that he wasn’t going to come back and do this every year, so could we please put an end to it now.

My stance on this hasn’t changed in the light of this rather stale debate (which shouldn’t have happened). Take calls from NGOs at face value? No I shouldn’t – NGOs can err, especially in a country whose just struggle for land, freedom, prosperity and peace has an undercurrent which wishes to obliterate Israel. That’s why the AUT Investigative Commission on Israel and Palestine came up with a boycott and greylist policy last year. UCU boycott as the only means of helping Palestinians? No, SR and the instigator of this debate want us to believe that this end justifies any means, but it’s just easy, cheap, impracticable and ultimately empty. Anybody interested in supporting Palestinians should form positive links to understand, exert influence, send resources, visit, and host. They should be vigilant for denial of Palestinians’ right to education. In dealing with Israel and Israelis, nobody can stop anybody else acting according to their own conscience. They should leave the Union out of it. Israel as apartheid? No – despite the fact that there are not equal opportunities, Israeli Arabs have the legal right to participate in all forms of civic life. Israel as special or different? Israel is different, but only insofaras any country is different. Israel came to exist, and exists now, for Jewish self-determination, and anybody who wishes to challenge that will need to circumnavigate the huge monstrous obscene fact of the holocaust (oops – I mentioned the holocaust). Every country has its own particular circumstances, and every person has their individual causes. But we are UCU, and what we are obliged to do is adopt a consistent policy which considers states equally on the basis of their laws and norms.

The anti-boycott drive at my institution has all the best arguments because it occupies the middle ground, and exposes the distortion and double standards at the heart of the Israeli boycott.

The Victory

The Victory
_________________________________

I thought you were my victory
though you cut me like a knife
when I brought you out of my body
into your life.

Tiny antagonist, gory,
blue as a bruise, the stains
of your cloud of glory
bled from my veins.

How can you dare, blind thing,
blank insect eyes?
You barb the air. You sting
with bladed cries.

Snail. Scary knot of desires.
Hungry snarl. Small son.
Why do I have to love you?
How have you won?
_________________________________

Anne Stevenson

UCU’s policy on international greylists and boycotts

Last April, the AUT’s Investigative Commission on Israel/Palestine came up with this draft policy with this in mind:

It is recognised that this is a difficult area. We are aware of great wrongs being committed throughout the world against colleagues in other countries. But there is always a balance to be drawn between boycotting and damaging those colleagues in the hope that the state will address the harm that it is inflicting on academia, and the harm that the boycott itself inflicts on academia.”

I summarise the policy as follows:

  • The UCU can’t police the world
  • Any action must uphold academic freedom (i.e. you can uphold academic freedom in one state by denying it elsewhere)
  • Any campaign must have wider support, show understanding of the purposes and outcomes, and a likelihood of achieving those purposes
  • Any boycott must have 3 elements:
    • a trigger – a call from a recognised body within the state
    • a gradual stepped approach with reviews. First alerting the rogue, then greylisting, then checking for consensus with other orgs, then finally boycotting. First influence, with coercive action as a last resort. Contact with org which called for the boycott to assess impact and know when to stop
    • secure collective support (not covered the document I’m reading, which ends abruptly after Mechanisms 2.9).

“Further to the meetings of Council and Special Council in 2005, the following was adopted as an interim international policy by the Executive Committee from the 2nd December 2005 as recommended by EIA committee.”

More local UCU and academic Israel boycott

Bresheeth couldn’t make it to debate the anti-boycott, anti-occupation motion at my local branch, but somehow Stephen Rose now coming. Not bad for a plain old ordinary, current-policy-confirming, motion. While this is a great compliment to the anti-boycott initiative and DH in particular, both the Exec and the member of the committee who is organising this are completely out of order.

I emailed our Exec in support of somebody else who has already done so extremely articulately. Does it take its members for such dimwits that it has to draft in outsiders to make an antiboycott case which may or may not exist within the sphere where this belongs – a local UCU meeting? Does it think its members are so easily intimidated that they require a hero from outside to rally them to the “righteous cause”?
DH, who put forward the original motion, is now required to debate whomever this committee member comes up with, at an open meeting, possibly in front of students. He has also emailed to flag these irregularities and to put some records straight.
I am waiting for the two emails above to be circulated to the local membership as requested by their authors. Nothing so far, and no reply to mine which went to the Exec among others. The way this is being organised stinks. It has also been called ‘baroque’, ‘partisan’, ‘eccentric’ and ‘unilateral’. They should account for themselves.

But there’s something in my inbox now, which makes me cranky. I hate this – damn those bloody boycotters wasting my Union’s time. And making me have to work late.

Well somebody copied me into something which says that the meeting will now be a UCU meeting, rather than open within the College or public, both of which were on the table. Now negotiations are about whether the debate and the vote will be at the same event, which is the only sensible approach, who will chair (and it should not be this committee member), and whether somebody can come to talk about current UCU general boycott policy, hashed out by an Investigative Commission last year.

Open House London

Very good afternoon – Mitch and I got into a lot of places. St Ethelburga’s, The Great Eastern Hotel, the Guildhall, not The Bank, but the high point was the former Express Building on Fleet St. I didn’t look at anything properly though – too busy wanking around with the camera.

Arthur Koestler is so right

when he writes, of the Reichstag Fire Trial:

It had taught me that in the field of propaganda the half-truth was a weapon superior to the truth and that to be on the defensive is to be defeated. It taught me above all that in this field a democracy must always be at a disadvantage against a totalitarian opponent.” (1954, The Invisible Writing. London: Random House. p249).

 

My unilateral local UCU

So our local branch has – an irregularity – invited Haim Bresheeth to speak against the motion to overturn the academic boycott of Israel. He thinks Jews are in moral perdition and he’s not the only one: http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=11&ar=484. Definitely to be read with an eye out for rhetoric, and unsubstantiated claims.
To add insult to injury, on the 4th of next month a branch meeting will be held during which we’ll be asked to affiliate with the Stop The War coalition. Their aims and constitution are tucked away in a corner of their site.

This much I know:

  • The war in question here is the War on Terrorism which makes their purpose at least as vague as George Bush’s.
  • Their Vice Presidents include George Galloway, another vicious windbag who likes us to see red and not think
  • They seem to express their opposition to the war on terror as support for terror. They (I need to fact-check this) supplied banners reading “We are all Hezbullah now”. But, of course, the original person to spout that was Norman Finkelstein, who is Jewish, so how can that be anti-Jewish?
  • They haven’t upheld item 5 in their aims – to oppose racist backlash. They only seem to recognise one type of racism. They omitted to call for Hizballah to stop bombing Israel. That’s not a war they’re bothered about stopping.

Somebody today said that on principal he wouldn’t join a union with the acronym Uck U.