UCU rep quits after pro-boycott vote

By Simon Rocker, June 4, 2009
Jeremy Newmark

Jeremy Newmark

An executive member of the University and College Union has quit after its annual congress in Bournemouth last week voted to hold a conference to discuss boycotting Israel.

It was the third year running that the question of an Israel boycott has been aired at the congress.

Jon Pike, a founder of the website Engage which counters antisemitism, said the national executive was “charged with implementing decisions made by congress. If the decisions made by congress violate democratic norms and are out of line with the views of the membership, then the executive should not implement them. I will have no part in implementing anti-democratic policies like the boycott resolutions, which are opposed by a majority of the membership.”

Delegates had been told in advance by their executive that motions advocating a boycott of Israeli universities would contradict lawyers’ advice that this would be unlawful.

Despite that, a motion supporting “the Palestinian call for a boycott, sanctions and disinvestment campaign” was declared null and void after the congress defied the executive’s legal caveat and passed it. But another resolution was passed to hold a conference later this year to investigate “the lawful implementation” of a boycott strategy, “including an option of institutional boycotts”. The original wording, which had omitted the word “lawful”, had been declared legally unsafe.

A spokesman for the union said: “UCU delegates amended a motion following legal advice that to pass it without amending it would be unlawful. Another motion was ruled as void and of no effect. To clarify, there is no call for a boycott from UCU Congress.”

Moves to boycott Israeli academics two years ago were dropped by the union after legal advice that this could breach laws against racial discrimination.

All in all, six motions were passed last week voicing support for the Palestinians and condemnation of Israel, compared with one motion apiece on Sri Lanka, Turkey and Colombia.

The congress also agreed to produce leaflets on the dangers of antisemitism and Holocaust denial for distribution on campus and to hold a Holocaust Memorial Day event. But it rejected a call to investigate the resignation of Jewish members from the UCU over “perceptions of institutional antisemitism”.

Ronnie Fraser, of Academic Friends of Israel, an observer at the congress, said the proposed campaign against antisemitism could “only be seen as window-dressing.”

Jeremy Newmark, co-chair of the Stop the Boycott campaign, said: “UCU should stop misleading its members by pretending it is legal to discriminate against Israeli academics.” 

Last updated: 10:44am, June 4 2009