I was firmly opposed to an academic boycott of Israel when I first became aware of such a move back in 2005. This wasn’t because I had strong views about Israel – it was simply because it seemed wrong to single out one country in this way and because I wasn’t at all convinced it would achieve anything positive. I wasn’t a member of a union at this point, though I had been in the AUT in the past. When I moved to Anglia Ruskin I was asked by a colleague to join the union. I agreed but explained at the time that I would probably resign if there was another boycott move.
When the UCU leadership elections took place I registered my support for Sally Hunt and subsequently voted for her. Even though she had seemed to be the candidate who was most opposed to the boycott that did not of course prevent Motion 25 being passed. I waited a while after the Motion was passed in the hope it would be overturned but eventually gave up and resigned. Before resigning I emailed Sally Hunt expressing my concern but had no reply (despite being one of her registered supporters). If, at that stage, I had had some kind of response, even if only to point out that I could perhaps do more to change the Union from the inside, I might not have resigned. I also had no response whatsoever to my subsequent resignation email.
The UCU claims to be concerned that Engage is trying to persuade people to leave the Union – even though it isn’t doing anything of the kind. This is ironic seeing that the UCU appears to show complete disdain for its members, and not to care whether they feel driven to leave or not. This attitude is exemplified by a reader’s comment posted in a thread in response to a piece in the Guardian -10.12.08 – reporting last December’s not-quite-climb down from the not-quite boycott.
“If you did not agree with a properly constituted Union policy you were, of course perfectly free to resign your membership – in my opinion any union is better off without members who are prepared to bring it into disrepute in order to force their own agenda upon it, particularly when that agenda is driven by loyalty to other than Union and colleagues.”
I’d argue that it’s the boycotters who are trying to force their own agenda on ordinary members. (The boycotters’ opposition to a ballot of all members on this issue is revealing of course!)
One of the things I find particularly irritating about some of the boycott zealots is their assumption that only those who are actively pro-Israel and who support its policies uncritically could possibly disagree with Motion 25 – note the way the comment posted in the Guardian invokes the idea of conflicting loyalties.
I was minded to rejoin the UCU after its position on Israel seemed to have softened last December and my inclination to do so was strengthened by David Hirsh’s really eloquent response to a comment I posted on Engage. So, to conclude, the only people who have actively encouraged me to rethink my decision to leave the UCU have been David and Mira. (And the only reason it’s taken me so long to do so is because it took absolutely ages to get an answer from the UCU to a very simple technical question I had about the process of rejoining!)
Professor Sarah Annes Brown
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge
Why is UCU treating so many of its members who oppose antisemitism with contempt? click here