UCU academics called for a boycott of Israel’s universities at an unofficial fringe meeting on Tuesday despite the union’s official rejection of an outright boycott.
The meeting, held by pro-boycott group BRICUP on the eve of the UCU congress, saw Israeli-born academic Professor Haim Bresheeth and Birmingham University’s Kamel Hawwash state the case for cutting ties with Israeli universities whose academics are “complicit in the occupation of Palestinians”.
A strong distinction was made between calling for a boycott and the official motion asking union members to “consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions”.
LSE research fellow Mike Cushman, who chaired the event, attempted to deflect criticism that BRICUP supporters were trying to get a boycott adopted by the back door.
In the run-up to the congress, the UCU has been warned by Jewish community leaders of legal opposition to Israeli institutions being singled out in any form.
Challenging the meeting’s speakers, two members of the anti-boycott group Engage contended that antisemitic academics were among those behind the boycott call.
“There are antisemites in our union,” said Jon Pike from the Open University. He further argued that it was “dangerous” to hold academics responsible for the actions of their government simply because they had not spoken against occupation.
Mr Pike heckled Professor Bresheeth as he attempted to respond — a tactic that won little favour for Engage’s case.
“Engage should be called ‘Disengage’ and disengage from Palestine,” Professor Bresheeth declared. “All this rubbish about antisemitism is just really annoying and I disagree that a boycott adds to antisemitism.”
Mr Hawwash denied that he was singling out Israel.
“If Palestine was occupied by the Japanese, we would be calling for a boycott of Japanese institutions. This is about the occupier regardless of who they are.”