Two Oxford academics who have mounted a legal challenge the University and College Union (UCU), said this week that the union had dropped its proposed boycott of Israeli academics.
But in a statement, the union said “There was never a boycott motion passed at its Congress”. Its general secretary, Sally Hunt, insisted: “We have passed a motion to provide solidarity with the Palestinians, not to boycott Israel or any other country’s academic institutions.” Implementation of the motion “within the law”, she said, “will now fall to the national executive committee (NEC)”.
After the motion was passed, two Oxford professors, Michael Yudkin and Denis Noble, assembled a group of 12 UCU members from universities all over England. They then obtained an opinion from two QCs, Michael Beloff and Pushpinder Saini, who said that the boycott motion was contrary to the union’s rules and unlawful.
Professor Yudkin said: “It goes against the grain for members to have to use the law against their union, but if the union violates its own rules on such an important matter there is no choice. It’s now time for the union to give up its obsession with imposing boycotts and do its best to restore the reputation of UK scientists and scholars.”
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “UCU has a proud record of solidarity with academics throughout the world, which will continue. Policy set by UCU Congress, the union’s sovereign body, must be respected”.
According to anti-boycott campaigner Jon Pike, a member of the NEC, at the meeting at which there was an effective UCU climbdown, “what we saw was the large-scale abandonment of Motion 25.” But he noted there was still an “antisemitic canteen culture” in the union which the leadership had yet to deal with.
Speaking on behalf of Stop the Boycott, a coalition of organisations and individuals working to fight the academic boycott of Israel, Henry Grunwald QC said:
"UCU's decision is a victory for common sense and for all those who oppose a boycott of Israeli academics. We have always known that such a boycott was discriminatory. UCU should have taken notice of the legal opinion we sent them six months ago. We hope this move marks the end of UCU's destructive flirtation with a policy that discriminates against Israelis and does nothing to help Palestinians.”