Israel academic boycott at UCU inaugural congress

Ah well, futile to hope that it wouldn’t pop up again. A fifth (I believe) attempt at an institutionalised academic boycott of Israel soon to be debated at the inaugural UCU Congress.

Between 30th May and 1st June 07, in the region of 200 motions (some of which are amalgamated and others of which will be submitted late) will be considered at congress. Where it made sense to the committee, they linked these to April’s Report of the Transitional Arrangements Committee.

The boycott-related motions are as follows:

In Section 4: International and European Work, after para 44

  • (Transitional Arrangements Committee)
    Insert new title International greylisting and boycott policy
    In1 Policy on international greylisting and boycott (Transitional arrangements committee)
    Congress endorses the policy on international greylisting and boycott in UCU/16.

That refers to the policy painstakingly worked out in response to the decisive throwing-out of the 2005 boycott amidst accusations of undemocratic behaviour and to allay a general suspicion that our already-undermined academic elite is populated by racist goose-brains. It’s good, considered, policy which demands evidence of specific and exceptional transgressions, requires particular outcomes which signal that a given boycott can end, and allows no room for dramatic gestures.

Followed by this:

  • (Canterbury Christ Church University)
    In2 Academic Freedom (Canterbury Christ Church University)
    Recognising the unique importance of Academic Freedom to colleges and universities, Congress determines that:
    1) any motion passed at this, or a future congress, that restricts academic freedom in any way, that motion will be put to a ballot of all members with a brief statement of arguments for and against before becoming, if supported, UCU policy;2) any motion passed at this, or a future congress , that calls for an academic boycott of one or more colleges or universities outside of the UK, when such a boycott has not been requested by properly constituted and quorate branches of academic unions at those colleges or universities, that motion will be put to a ballot of all members with a brief statement of arguments for and against before becoming, if supported, UCU policy.

I’m finding it difficult to evaluate this one – in the case of Israel this wider involvement of membership has in the past preventing policy being hijacked by a disreputable minority of monomaniacally dedicated boycotters. But would it work in cases other than Israel? Is the intention that the hassle UCU would have to undertake in ballotting the membership reinforce the exceptional nature of academic boycott? Whether it’s a test of boycotter’s commitment or a move to hamstring future boycott initiatives with bureaucracy, either way the outcomes are the same: membership would have to be solidly behind any prospective boycott.

More wearyingly, in para 45, Middle East

  • Brighton University and University of East London (composited, presumably because it was boring)
    In3 Composite: Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions (University of Brighton, Grand Parade; University of East London, Docklands)
    Congress notes that Israel’s 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement.Congress deplores the denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students.
    Congress condemns the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation, which has provoked a call from Palestinian trade unions for a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.Congress believes that in these circumstances passivity or neutrality is unacceptable and criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic.Congress instructs the NEC to

    • circulate the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches/LAs for information and discussion;
    • encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions;
    • organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic/educational trade unionists;
    • issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action.

This one is problematic for the same (dreary, boring, depressing) reasons as the previous boycott motions – it sets out a spurious list of specific evils, all highly debatable, but stops short of broadening out the underlying principles to other countries: in this way it singles out Israel and in this way it is antisemitic. Nothing has changed internationally; the only thing that will get this motion through 2007 congress is a national change of opinion – but I get the impression (from Anthony Julius’ analysis – see bottom of this earlier post) that if there has been one it has been against those who want to single Israel out for punishment. For these reasons and for reasons of irrelevance to UCU business, this has no place in UCU policy – I seriously hope it falls and if it doesn’t I hope delegates are able to argue the case for circulating and staging more than one side of the argument.

  • University of Birmingham
    In4 European Union and Israel
    Congress notes:1. That since the Palestinian elections in January 2006 the Israeli government has suspended revenue payments to the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the EU and US have suspended aid, leaving public-sector salaries unpaid and earning the condemnation of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions;2. That Israel is seeking to upgrade its relations with the EU to the same level as Norway and Switzerland, permitting free passage of goods, people and capital, while denying these freedoms to Palestinians.Congress resolves to campaign for:1. The restoration of all international aid to the PA and all revenues rightfully belonging to it;
    2. No upgrade of Israel’s EU status until it ends the occupation of Palestinian land and fully complies with EU Human Rights law.

Tired, stale stuff. Again the determination to view the freedom of movement of Palestinians as a matter of Israeli whim, ignoring matters of Israeli security. Again the refusal to acknowledge the Palestinian role in the conflict, and again the expectation that Israel should put all other international relations on hold and stand in the corner until they’re sorry. Even more bizarre (if it weren’t so familiar) is the absence of even a mild call from the same campaigners for the powers in Iran or China to shape up. As for Israel’s standing with the EU, the same rules apply as for other states in that situation (if these are costs and benefits to the more powerful member-states Israel would probably be an asset) but that’s neither here nor there because the dual campaign is a long-distance departure and unhelpful diversion from the business of an academic union. Members who wish to pursue their Israel-bashing hobby shouldn’t use UCU policy as a vehicle.

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