Major union rejects Israel boycott

By Leon Symons, June 13, 2008

A decision by Britain’s third-largest union not to adopt an anti-Israel motion at its congress in Plymouth on Monday has been welcomed by the Stop The Boycott campaign.

The GMB general union debated a motion on statehood for Palestine that also made mention of rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza.

Although at least one region wanted to harden the wording, delegates ultimately decided to steer clear of a motion that called for any boycott.

Jeremy Newmark, co-chair of the Stop The Boycott campaign, said: “The GMB decision is a significant piece of mood music which demonstrates that there are other trade unions which realise boycotts don’t help Palestinians. With a membership something like six times as big as the University and College Union, it also shows that not all trades unions or trades unionists are anti-Israel.”

The UCU’s new national executive meets today and is expected to discuss the motion passed at its own congress that has been dubbed the “back-door boycott”. Mr Newmark added: “We would urge the UCU to understand the full implications of enacting such a motion and making it policy. We would urge it to reject this motion.”

Observers said that the UCU would be considering two scenarios: to adopt the motion as it stands or that it will strip out those parts of the motion that relate to boycott activity.

“This is the UCU’s last chance to avoid moving forward with an unlawful and discriminatory policy that runs counter to British discrimination laws,” Mr Newmark said.

A letter sent by lawyer Anthony Julius to UCU general secretary Sally Hunt, setting out UCU’s legal position, has so far gone unanswered, Mr Julius said.

Ronnie Fraser, chair of the Academic Friends of Israel, suggested: “They may not make a decision at all. They may fudge it, saying that they need a second legal opinion and simply increase frustration for everyone.

“There are also those who might say to critics, ‘if we’re breaking the law then sue us’.

“I am all in favour of legal action against those who peddle the sort of antisemitism many of our students have faced on campus. We may well have to take the battle to UCU.”

Last updated: 11:34am, June 12 2008