Resignation statements from UCU – Raphaël Lévy, Jonathan Campbell, Eric Heinze, Michael Yudkin, Eve Garrard, Shalom Lappin, Norman Geras – 2006-2008

Physicist Raphaël Lévy resigns from UCU, October 22, 2008 Physicist Raphaël Lévy resigns from UCU

Dear Sally Hunt

Six months after the passing of motion 25 and while this motion is still “on the books”, I have to consider the ethical implications of remaining a UCU member.

The union has done nothing to distance itself from the discriminatory policy passed at Congress after six months.

The union has accepted without being moved the resignation of Jewish and antiracists union members, including philosopher Eve Garrard, philosopher Tim Crane, lawyer Eric Heinze, Professor of English Sarah Annes Brown, and Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies & Judaism Jonathan Campbell.

The union has excluded sociologist David Hirsh permanently from the UCU e-list.

Now, the general secretary of the UCU, i.e. you, describes as “a free speech” issue the legitimate court action by members who are seeking to ensure that antiracist legislation is enforced within the Union.

I have considered the ethical implications of remaining a UCU member and I thereby resign.

Dr Raphaël Lévy
BBSRC David Phillips Fellow

Jonathan Campbell’s resignation from UCU – and a reply from somebody on his local UCU executive   –  October 20, 2008

Jonathan Campbell's resignation from UCU - and a reply from somebody on his local UCU executiveDear Bill and everyone on the Bristol UCU Committee,

I’m emailing you to let you know that I’m resigning from UCU again because the anti-Israel Motion 25, passed at the last UCU Congress, remains on the books.

I’ve managed to hang on this far because I was expecting one or other of the union’s national committees to have discussed the motion further by now, preferably with a view to throwing it out as illegal – not to mention unethical in its demonization of the only Jewish country in the world alone of all countries in the world.

It’s fine, of course, for people to disagree with some or many Israeli policies or actions. In the UCU context, however, such supposedly ‘legitimate criticism’ tends to be inaccurate and unfair at best, or at worst part of a broader campaign to delegitimize Israel’s very existence – regardless of borders, government, or policies – alone of all UN member states. Indeed, that the latter agenda lies at the heart of UCU’s current position on Israel-Palestine was demonstrated in detailed reports I read of the shamefully one-sided Palestinian speaker tour sponsored by the union earlier this year (see http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1842).

Moreover, UCU persistently refuses to take seriously those arguing that its attempts to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the world academic community might, at least unintentionally, constitute antisemitism. This is perverse given that the union is generally concerned to avoid even homoeopathic levels of prejudice against other groups (e.g. sexism, homophobia, racism, Islamophobia), prejudice often thought to be all the more pernicious when it is relatively hidden, indirect, or unconscious.

It is perverse, furthermore, because there has been much careful and serious critique of UCU’s obsessive hostility to the Jewish state from people whose union record and left-wing credentials are second to none. Contributions to the Engage website (www.engageonline.org.uk) spring to mind as the primary example. And it is also worth mentioning the Report of the All-Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism which criticized UCU’s anti-Israel activity as anti-Jewish in effect (http://thepcaa.org/Report.pdf, para 213), as well as the fact that the union refused to meet with Prof Gert Weisskirchen of the OSCE to discuss his concerns in the same regard (see www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=209828§ioncode=26 ).

It seems that the UCU Executive is determined to ignore the real concerns of these and other folk, including myself, in a way that would be unthinkable if, say, black and Asian people or lesbians and gay men were voicing parallel concerns both inside and outside the union. As a result, it’s become intolerable for me to remain in UCU for the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, though I realise that everyone is really busy at present, I’d be grateful for some kind of a response to this message.

Kind regards,
Jonathan

Dr. Jonathan G. Campbell,
Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies & Judaism,
Department of Theology & Religious Studies,
School of Humanities, University of Bristol.

UPDATE : Jonathan has received a reply from a Bristol UCU exec member which contains the following:

“If Jews Worldwide are fed up with being identified with the Israeli state then surely they should try harder to distance themselves from Israel’s actions? They could join with non-Jews in an attempt to force the Israeli state to treat the Palestinians better. Perhaps wealthy Jews could influence Israel’s actions by organising to cut off external funding?”

My Reasons for Resigning from the UCU – Eric Heinze QMUL  –  July 03, 2008

My Reasons for Resigning from the UCU - Eric Heinze QMULAfter the first AUT boycott resolutions in 2005, I joined a small number of members in a lawsuit to challenge the legality of boycott action. We did it reluctantly, and withdrew the suit after the vote of May 2006 defeated the resolutions.

Large numbers of union members, including many opposed to a boycott, criticised the decision to litigate. They insisted that legal action violated the democratic traditions of trade unionism. They argued that recourse to law recalled the worst days of Thatcherism, when government used court orders to force the hand of labour. The AUT, we were told, had ample means of providing a full and fair hearing to all points of view without such outside intervention.

I disagreed. Courts can indeed be abused. But not every lawsuit is an abuse. A fundamental principle of liberal democracy, and of any democratically constituted body, is that sheer majoritarianism provides no guarantee of fair outcomes. A liberal tradition revived in our own day in Ronald Dworkin’s Taking Rights Seriously (1977) recalls that judicial intervention is nowhere more justified than when a body, like the AUT (and UCU)—organisations comprised, moreover, entirely of government employees—embraces positions raising such serious questions about discrimination. That does not mean that courts should step in to resolve every bitter controversy, but only that, on highly exceptional matters of fundamental principle, some checks on raw majoritarianism do more to promote democratic legitimacy than to undermine it.

I was willing to sue my trade union, but not to withdraw my membership. On the whole, I accepted the union’s declared commitment to democratic processes. I continued to believe that the misguided views of fellow members did not warrant my outright abandonment of my trade union. Like a family, a civic organisation demands commitment in times of discord, and not merely in times of harmony.

By April 2008, however, it became clear that my initial distrust of the union’s democratic pretensions was correct. The UCU leadership widely advertised what they called a ‘Speaking tour by Palestinian university union representatives.’ I would not have objected to a balanced presentation, granting equal time to both pro- and anti-boycott views. The wholly one-sided, UCU-sponsored presentation, however, revealed a core of union membership committed to democracy as long as they were winning their battle, yet just as committed to foiling it once they feared they might lose.

We can imagine a quasi-Gramscian defence of the Speaking Tour: ‘The Palestinians are a people oppressed by dominant interests. There is no such thing as a “level playing field” for them. A one-sided presentation of their views injects balance into an equation that systemically (“hegemonically”) deprives Palestinians of anything like a “level playing field”. A non-mixed panel of speakers is therefore justified.’

Little extrapolation is required—toss a concept like ‘hegemony’ into the stew, and little extrapolation is ever required—for those ‘dominant interests’ to be understood as US-backed militarism, neo-colonial racism, free-market corporate capitalism, and media conglomerates which ‘serve’ those interests. Even after a century of the grossest abuses of ‘anti-hegemonic’ polemics, that pretension to Ideologiekritik, to unmasking the ‘real’ imbalance that would underpin any insistence upon a seemingly ‘balanced’ presentation of pro- and anti-boycott views, continues to work like a charm upon ‘leftists’ desperate to prove that there’s some life in the old Marx yet—until some inconvenient facts rear their heads. I’ll limit myself to two kinds of facts: facts about mass media coverage, and facts about global power politics.

Mass Media coverage Notwithstanding that image of Palestinians as excluded from even-handed global attention, barely a week goes by without exhaustive attention to Palestinian suffering. Whatever may be the defects of journalistic coverage of the Middle East, indifference to the plight of Palestinians hardly counts among them. No global human rights issues, including those claiming far more victims, have received more column inches over such a sustained period of time.

The mainstream British and global media may do many things wrong in covering the Middle East, but they have hardly deprived the Palestinian cause of a level playing field. It is by no means unusual for one child killed in Gaza to prompt extensive Guardian, Independent or BBC coverage, replete with poignant sketches and photographs of grieving parents, siblings and communities.

Rightly so. Such journalism lends a fuller humanity to innocent victims in a way that cold facts and figures can never do. By comparison, however, how many such deeply individualised, deeply humanised stories, have appeared for victims in and around the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose conflict in the past decade has claimed three million lives, along with countless rapes, mutilations, displacements, destructions of families, noted in the Western press in only the most perfunctory terms—and in numbers exponentially exceeding casualties in the Israeli Occupied Territories? And Congo is hardly the only such example one might cite.

My aim in drawing comparisons is not to ‘weigh up’ sufferings in an unseemly volley of ‘More victim than thou’. Human rights is not a zero-sum game. We should not begin to care ‘less’ about Palestinians so that we might begin to care ‘more’ about victims elsewhere. It cannot be argued, however, that the Palestinian side needed from the UCU a level playing field that it lacks in the public arena.

Global Power Politics So-called attempts to level the Palestinians’ playing field might be made not only with respect to the media, but also with respect to full-blown global politics. Nary a word is uttered against Israel without simultaneous reference to her ‘backer’ or ‘broker’, the United States. The lone Palestinian David, we are told, can scarcely confront the American-Israeli Goliath.

If only the Middle East were so simple. Again, consider an analogy. Why haven’t, for example, Australian aborigines ever mounted the kind of strident, militarised resistance displayed by the Palestinians? Why hasn’t Australia been declared an ‘illegitimate’ state, despite a brutalisation of its indigenous people that stretched from the 19th century well into the present generation?

One can imagine a romantic reply: ‘The Palestinians’ resistance demonstrates their heroic fighting spirit, their refusal to capitulate, their belief in the justice of their cause.’ The reality is rather more banal. Had Australian aborigines formed part of a global population, an actual or even wholly nominal ummah, numbering 1½ billion members, controlling one-quarter of the world’s governments, along with much of its oil reserves, with demonstrators from one continent to the next taking to the streets en masse to proclaim their cause, it is unlikely that they would have confronted their fate so helplessly.

Throughout the formation of incipient Israeli statehood, wholly encrusted within the Cold War period, Palestinian interests were relentlessly defended by enormous power blocks—Arab, Soviet, and more broadly post-colonial. The 1978 UN General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism (repealed only after the end of the Cold War) was passed by a Goliath, not a David. How could it have passed at all through a UN supposedly ‘dominated’ by American ‘hegemony’? If a level playing field is our concern, why was no similar resolution passed to censure regimes in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other declared enemies of Israel whose brutality claimed more Muslim victims than Israel’s?

Israelis and Palestinians alike invoke a David-and-Goliath story. The Middle East is a mess not because Goliaths are fighting Davids, but because they are fighting each other, and, indeed, in view of intricate networks of political and financial support for both the Israeli and Arab states, often fighting themselves. Injustice on both sides? No doubt. Lack of a level playing field for one side? Nothing could be further from the truth..

Since the inception of the AUT, NAFTHE and UCU controversies about Israel, the most strident proponents of boycotts have remained stone silent about the world’s most egregious violators of human rights, several of which states, like China, have an overwhelmingly greater presence in British universities than Israel. The fact that such states are un-democratic, instead of being seen as an aggravating factor, has, bafflingly, been cited by pro-boycotters as an exculpatory factor. Throughout the boycott debates, and among frighteningly wide swathes of the media and public opinion, we have regularly heard that ‘China doesn’t claim to be a democracy, so needn’t be judged in the same way.’ The fact that China does, however, claim to be a ‘people’s republic’ (or that any number of Israel’s foes justify their regimes with reference to principles of Islamic justice) is conveniently avoided by proponents of that view.

All states proclaim formulaic, self-justifying ideals which they inevitably fail to fulfil. There is something sinister about the fact that Israel is so doggedly held to the most minute letter of her own proclaimed ideals. If the pro-boycotters were sincerely committed to human rights (a long history shows how little—how selectively—they have been), they would expend far more effort looking at the abuses that governments actually commit. They might not find Israel exemplary, but would hardly find her alone. In a recent article in the Harvard Human Rights Journal entitled ‘Even-handedness and the Politics of Human Rights’, in which I by no means exempt Israel from all criticism, I nevertheless argue that such one-sided campaigns, purportedly waged in the name of human rights, serve in fact to assault the most basic principles of human rights.

I can support an organisation without assenting to all of its adopted resolutions. I cannot support an organisation that manipulates the concept of fundamental human rights with such partisanship. Nor can I support an organisation that manipulates its proclaimed democratic values, structuring its public discourse so as to preclude a balanced presentation of views on an issue so desperately crying out for balance.

Prof. Eric Heinze
Faculty of Laws
Queen Mary, University of London

Michael Yudkin  –  May 19, 2006

I almost resigned my AUT membership (of 40 years’ standing) after the scandalous Council meeting in April last year at which a small and well-organised minority drove through motions to boycott two Israeli universities. In the end I was persuaded to remain in the AUT and fight for the motions to be reversed. But many AUT members did in fact resign (some of them returned after the boycott motions had been rescinded), and many more said they would do so if the boycott were confirmed. (In Oxford, for example, a rough count shows that, out of 59 members who wrote in to express their views on the issue, 21 said they would resign if the boycott went ahead).

We now have the hard left of NATFHE trying, in the dying days of their union, to force through an even more pernicious motion (“Motion 198C – Academic Responsibility”). It’s more pernicious a) because it potentially affects all Israeli academics (or possibly all Israelis: the language is highly ambiguous), not just those at the two universities named in the AUT motions last year; and b) because it imposes a McCarthyite test that requires Israelis, if they wish to remain on good terms with their NATFHE colleagues, to say that they are not now, and never have been, in favour of the policies of their Government.

But if NATFHE is indeed dying (it merges with the AUT on 1 June to form the UCU) why should we care about all this? There are two very good reasons. The first is that the motion sends an appalling signal to the world of higher and further education that UK academics have learned nothing from the AUT débacle of last year. The second reason is perhaps even more important: motion 198C, if passed, may well become the policy of the merged union and thus commit the very members of AUT who voted so decisively against boycotts last year.

Officers both of NATFHE and of AUT have expressed (no doubt in good faith) their opinion that the motion, even if passed, will become null when the merger takes place. There are several reasons for doubting whether their opinion is correct.

First, among the FAQ’s on the AUT web site is the question “Do all agreements or policies have to be resigned or ratified in the new union?” And here is the AUT’s answer: “No, there will be an assumption that the acts of the predecessor unions are adopted by the new union except where it specifically decides otherwise.” We’re not told how the new union might “specifically decide otherwise”; but a plausible answer is that we’d have to wait until the new union’s first Council meeting (next year?), when the whole sorry boycott debate would need to be started up all over again, resulting in yet further damage to the international reputation of UK academics.

Secondly, nowhere amongst all the documents that govern the new union’s constitution and standing orders and describe the arrangements for the amalgamation between AUT and NATFHE, is there any guidance on whether the policies of the constituent unions survive the merger. The FAQ mentioned above is the best information we have.

Thirdly, motion 198C is clearly intended to be more than transitory, as it speaks of “facilitating meetings in each university and college”. Necessarily these meetings would take place after 1 June, when the merger between AUT and NATFHE comes into force.

Motion 198C also instructs the Executive to offer to fund the travel costs of [pro-boycott] speakers at these “facilitated” meetings. In other words, the subscriptions of all UCU members, including present AUT members who last year firmly squashed (or thought they had squashed) any notion of academic boycotts, are now to be used to finance speakers who will travel from place to place inciting academics to boycott Israelis.

If motion 198C is passed by the NATFHE Conference we can envisage two results. First, the pro-boycott members of UCU (who may be bigots and extremists but who are not stupid) will demand that their motion be considered as binding on the new union. If they aren’t satisfied with the UCU Officers’ implementation of their boycott policies, they will set up a squawk about how their democratic decision is being trampled on and ask the Officers to cite their authority for ignoring it. (As we have seen, there is no such authority). Secondly, the former-AUT members of UCU will consider that they have been conned and will resign in droves; and this time we shan’t get them back.

Michael Yudkin
Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry
University of Oxford

Philosopher Eve Garrard resigned after attending UCU Congress 2008. Her resignation letter is here.

Computational linguist Shalom Lappin resigned in June 2007, following the first UCU Congress. His letter of resignation is here.

Political philosopher Norman Geras explained why he was no longer a member of the UCU here.

 

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