Irish teachers say boycott move is a ‘back-handed compliment’

The academic boycott of Israel imposed by the Teachers Union of Ireland is a “backhanded compliment”, the union’s general secretary has claimed.

John MacGabhann said the TUI “expected more” of Israel than it did of other countries and felt a “sense of disappointment” in the actions of successive Israeli governments.

“To a very significant degree, our union and members expect more of the Israeli government, precisely because we would anticipate that Israeli governments would act in all instances and ways to better uphold the rights of others,” he said.

The TUI’s annual conference in Galway voted last week to boycott all academic collaboration with Israel, including research programmes and exchange of scientists. It is believed to be the first full academic boycott enforced by a European teaching union.

Israeli academics who oppose their government’s policies would not be boycotted, said Mr MacGabhann. He added that the TUI was asking its 14,500 members to use their discretion when deciding whether to co-operate with Israeli academics, and accepted that a boycott would be difficult to impose.

“It is a request. We are aware of the limitations of our influence. Our desire is for a rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinians. We feel it’s beyond time that something has to be done.”

The boycott should be seen not as an “anti-Israel” position, he said, but as an attempt to “chivvy along” steps towards peace in the Middle East.

The motion called on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to increase campaigning for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against “the apartheid state of Israel until it lifts its illegal siege of Gaza and its illegal occupation of the West Bank”.

A spokesman at the Israeli embassy in Dublin said the union had taken a “hateful” step with the intent to “divide and discriminate”.

This motion would not affect the improvement in relations between Israel and Ireland, he added.

The boycott comes a month after Alan Shatter, Ireland’s Minister of Justice, Equality and Defence, and the only Jewish minister in the government, claimed Ireland had shed its reputation as a hotbed of anti-Israel activism.

The TUI represents teachers and lecturers working in all levels of education across the country and has more than 14,500 members.

Last updated: 4:45pm, April 11 2013