UCU Congress delirium

David Hirsh has live-blogged discussion and voting on the international business of UCU Congress 2009.

Aung San Suu Kyi? You must be joking. Israel and the Socialist Worker Party’s cherished boycott. There were 4 late motions, which breezed through undiscussed and unopposed in a derisory 10 minutes.

The Israel business took well over an hour.

Consider for a moment everything that is going on in the world, and then think about how shocking and dysfunctional that is.

The Union’s own legal advisors ruled motions on Israel which campaigned for boycott discriminatory and ultra vires. Two other legal teams working for anti-boycott groups confirmed this. The majority of the membership is against a boycott, no branch has ever managed to carry a boycott motion, and yet the SWP persists (read Jon Pike’s periodical updates on Engage for this). A group of members threatened litigation. These threats sent the SWP into a frenzy of defiance against groups they identified as Zionist, and now they will, they will, have their way and to hell with democracy and governance, obliging the union President to tag on ridiculous additions like this to the motion 28 in the agenda:

“The union received advice from Leading Counsel that to pass this motion would be unlawful because it is likely to be viewed by a court as a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The union has previously followed advice from Leading Counsel that such a call would be outside the powers of the union to make. If the motion is amended to remove the affirmation of support for the Palestine call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign, Leading Counsel has advised the union may lawfully pass this motion. If the motion is passed in its unamended form the President has been advised that she will have to treat it as being void and of no effect.”

When that was mentioned, there was a point of order which went something like:

“If this motion if passed is void – what is the point of continuing?  do we debate it or not?  we need some guidance.  it is avalid point of order to know what we’re doing with it and what will happen to it.

Sally Hunt [UCU President]:  If it is passed amended we will be able to act on it.  if unamended we will not be able to act on it.”

Then it gets difficult to tell what happened, because the records and agenda don’t show which amendment got voted for (there were several). I guess they decided to test the law. But what does this mean? The union leadership won’t allow them to test the law – what they’ll end up doing is boycotting as individuals, in which case the union won’t be liable. I can’t really claim to understand. And the reason I don’t understand is that this isn’t pro-Palestinian activism, it’s a bunch of people masturbating each other.

I think boycotters in my union are in the grip of a collective delusion. They seem to be in a bubble where they confirm and reassure each other. This is what the SWP is famous for, hollowing out the organisations they colonise. They’re well on the way with UCU. Engagement is terrible unless there’s a pay and conditions crisis on.

I reproduce some of the most illustrative parts of David Hirsh’s write-up, and be aware that the quotes are from his transcript, which he notes is rough.


Jon Pike (important anti-boycotter and campaigner for both Palestinian and our own academic freedom):

“I would like to take this proposal to the membership of the union.

we have been refused the ability to have a ballot.

This is because the membership of this union strongly oppose an academic boycott of israel.

all the votes in branches have indicated 80 or 90 percent of members oppose this call.

Find out.  have a full ballot of the members of the union.”

Somebody who shouldn’t be representing members:

“We cannot rely on votes.  Lets not make this a bureaucratic procedure.

What we have seen is a fundamental abuse of human rights.

the world stands by allowing israel to get away with virtual impunity.”

Tom Hickey, SWP inner circle:

“We make no apology in relation to the legal opinion.

it is only opinion.  has not yet been tested.

it is about time that this union tested this opinion in court.

we have been as a union extraordinarily careful.

it is not an easy decision to boycott other academics.”

[Too easy, I’d say]

“we have an obligation to go further in relation to BDS.

that is what Motion 29 called for originally.

But more.  What was rerquired as a union is to continue the process of debate that we have started and that we have an obligation to continue.”

“…if we lose an argument here then it is back to here that we should bring the argument because if we don’t do that then we rubbish this union and we rubbish democracy.

we should not walk away, whether threatened by the law or by anything else.

Test the law.”


Haim Bresheeth, chronic Jewish anti-Zionist and boycott campaigner (huh? Iis he now a union rep? Are they desperately short at UEL?)

“i am speaking as an Israeli and as a Jew.”

“it wasn’t just black workers struggle.

It was us – millions of people everywhere that brought apartheid down.”

Camilla Bassi, Sheffield Hallam (she’s not a self-aggrandiser, I excerpt her for purposes of comparison) had just noted that the end of apartheid was brought about by black worker militancy.

“We need to do something to help Palestinians but a boyoctt campaign writes off the role of the Israeli working class.  We need solidarity not boycott.  2 state solution.  solidarity between israeli and palestinian workers.”

Somebody giving the wrong end of the stick:

“If the law says we are not allowed to express our solidarity then the law is wrong.  (applause)”

[If the limit of your solidarity is entrenching divisions, then your solidarity is wrong.]


Steve Wilkinson isn’t gripped by topsy-turviness:

“I beg you read the report produced by Amnesty about Hamas.

Discover what Hamas did to supporters of Fatah.  hamas went round and machined gunned in their hospital bed supporters of Fatah.

That point needs to be made.

Apart from that I support the resolution.”

He didn’t convince them.


Laura Miles:

“British government is complicit with repression against Gaza.

Western leaders failure to denounce by shared silence – to endorse attacks and war crimes.”

Somebody from the Scottish TUC:

“Constructive engagement would be the worst thing.  The only constructive engagement we can have with the Israeli authorities is one  backed up by the idea that they face isolation.

All that matters is the political campaign to end the occupation.  Nothing else matters.”

“Indiscriminate bombing of civilian population in Gaza.  unlawful us e of white phosphorous.  1400 civilians killed, many of whom children.

Not counting those who were severely traumatized.”

That was Motion 25 – Disabled people and conflict – but turned out it was only about disabled Palestinians.

So there we are.

I’m for constructive engagement. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis will be ostracised out of existence, and what we are doing surely strengthens the most virulent elements. I’m for academic freedom – I’m certainly against academic boycotting – it doesn’t even work, it’s just a gesture. And I’m for Jews.

Jon Pike:

“Dr Barham wants us to rank rights, so that “loftier” ones, such as academic freedom, are sacrificed for basic ones. This is deeply problematic. It completely undermines the idea of academic freedom, making it conditional on a wider political project. We are asked to suspend the academic freedom of Israeli colleagues because of our opposition to the actions of their government, but this is not a test applied anywhere else in the world. The proposal to boycott Israel exhibits an unwarranted exceptionalism.

And that is why the proposal is discriminatory. It discriminates against a group of people; applies hard treatment to them. It does so in the absence of a morally relevant property that the group – and no other group – possesses. This makes it unjust.

The group harmed consists almost entirely – and not by coincidence – of Jews. Whatever the intentions of the boycotters, this discrimination against Jews is undoubtedly one effect of the exceptionalism of their proposal.

The proposal is discriminatory, and the union has been told as much by its lawyers. It also takes us beyond the bounds of our proper purposes, which will come as no surprise to lecturers fighting to hang on to their jobs and keep their courses open, frustrated by our obsessive annual slanging match over Israel and Palestine.

We should offer support and solidarity to Palestinian academics. But we cannot and should not exclude Israeli universities from the international academic interchange that benefits us all.”

We mustn’t mistake a campaign of exclusion for a campaign of solidarity.

4 thoughts on “UCU Congress delirium

  1. Pingback: Echoing The Far Right. « ModernityBlog

  2. Pingback: UCU Congress « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism

  3. Oy vey. When does UCU fight for people’s salaries, jobs, all that boring stuff? Maybe it will be simpler for all concerned if UCU declares war on Israel and gets over it finally?

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