New boycott threat from UCU

By Simon Rocker, May 7, 2009

Anti-boycott campaigners fear that a fresh attempt could be made to implement sanctions against Israeli universities when higher education lecturers meet at their annual union congress at the end of the month.

The University and College Union refused to comment on whether any debate on Israel would take place, saying that the agenda for the meeting in Bournemouth in three weeks will be published next week.

But the JC has learned that the union’s national executive has approved the submission of three motions on “Palestine”, raising the alarm among anti-boycott activists.

David Hirsh, editor of Engage, the website which counters antisemitism and anti-Zionism, said that academic unions had been “obsessively discussing whether to exclude scholars at Israeli universities from the academic community” for six years.

He said: “The boycott proposal violates antidiscrimination law, the core anti-racist and academic freedom commitments of the union, and it imports an antisemitic culture into internal discussion.

“The leadership does not oppose antisemitism even within its own structures, and so will allow the annual Jew-baiting circus to go ahead again this year at congress.”

A number of UCU branches have submitted resolutions attacking Israel over its Gaza campaign with one calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, according to early published drafts. But none of these urged an academic boycott of Israel.

However, information posted on an internal email forum for union academics says that “a number of motions on Palestine” had not yet appeared on the agenda owing to legal advice on the potential risks.

The post said that the national executive — which met last Friday — agreed to restore three Palestine motions to the agenda and narrowly voted against seeing the legal advice.

In 2007, UCU dropped moves to implement any boycott against Israeli lecturers after receiving legal advice that it would infringe racial discrimination laws.

Jeremy Newmark, Joint chair of the Stop the Boycott Campaign, said: “Whether you are a trade unionist wanting a powerful union or whether you are a long-standing campaigner for peace, it is clear that the UCU has taken leave of its senses. These motions show that the UCU is more bent on small minded retribution than in really making a difference.”

Last updated: 11:38am, May 7 2009