Anti-Israel motion adopted by union could be outlawed by new government legislation

The motion was passed during the UCU's four-day annual conference


An anti-Israel motion adopted by the university and college lecturers union could be outlawed by proposed new government legislation. 

Delegates at the University and College Union’s (UCU) congress in Glasgow confirmed their full support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in a right to boycott motion. 

The motion was titled “Israel oppression and the right to boycott” and was implies Israel is worthy of boycott because it is comparable to Nazi Germany.

It read: “Congress believes that civil society boycotts have an honourable tradition from anti-slavery campaigns through boycotts of Nazi trade to isolation of Apartheid South Africa.”

However, the UCU’s legal counsel warned it could fall foul of the incoming UK Government’s proposed BDS and Sanction Bill.

The proposed bill would ban BDS to prevent further boycotts against Israel. It also follows a 2019 Conservative Party manifesto commitment to prevent local authorities from "adopting their own approach to international relations".  This move, pro-Palestine activists say, is in place to help businesses profiting from apartheid Israel.

If the proposed bill passed, the motion would be “void” as it would in effect ask members to break the law.

The motion also instructed the UCU national executive to produce a report on what it called “moral and political consequences of Israeli policies with regards to the attack on academic freedom.”

UCU branches were also called on to “authorise all appropriate action to protect students and staff who find themselves under attack for supporting the cause of the Palestinian people.”

The motion also slated “the current Israeli government’s designation of Palestinian human rights organisations as ‘terrorist’ and the attempts in the UK to close down critique of Israel through Prevent, IHRA and rendering BDS unlawful.”

The UCU website said it agreed to “fully support the Right to Boycott campaign” but critics argue the motion featured “grotesque and antisemitic language”. 

A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) told the JC: "UCU's reputation in the Jewish community is in the gutter. 

“By making the grotesque comparison between the Nazis and the Jewish state, UCU is shamefully telling Jews, once again, that they are not welcome.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady was also one of several figures to make pro-Palestine comments at the conference. 

She told delegates: “It’s a touchstone of my politics, and my understanding of socialism, internationalism & trade unionism, to always remember that none of us are free until all of us are free.

“Never is that clearer than when it comes to Palestine.”

A UCU spokesman said: "UCU is proud to stand with the Palestinian people and our congress reaffirmed support for BDS as a peaceful campaigning tactic supported by Palestinian civil society. 

"Any attempts by the government to prevent UK citizens, post-16 education staff, students or public bodies taking part are an attack on civil liberties. 

"The University and College Union is a proudly inclusive union with a long history of fighting antisemitism and is a welcoming place for Jewish members."

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