David Hirsh is blogging live from UCU Congress


Sue Blackwell is proposing a motion on the repression of trade unionists in Colombia.  Originally the only overseas issue on the agenda was the boycott of Israelis and solidarity with Palestinians.  This debate appeared as an emergency motion.  So now the boycott is not the only issue interenational issue being discussed here.


No speeches against, no seconder, move straight to the vote.  Motion on Colombia carried.


Mary Davis is proposing an emergency  motion in solidarity with a Kurdish peace activist who was arrested in Turkey following a talk she gave at SOAS and may  be imprisoned for ten years.


A speech, from Bradford UCU, describing the repression organized by Turkey against the Kurds.    He asks congress to support the motion.


Passed unanimously


Another “late” motion, formerly known as emergency motion.  This relates to events in Sri Lanka.  Speaker proposes motion for the NEC. The conflict stems from colonial rule, he says.  The Sri Lankan government tore up the peace process, he argues.  Huge number of civilian casualties have ensued, “carnage and slaughter”.  He argues that the Sri Lankan government were emboldened to do this by the Bush/Blair rhetoric of the war on terror.  Also responsibility goes to the West for arming Sri Lanka.

Hundreds of thousands of people displaced.   Huge crisis of displaced people.  Motion calls for condemnation of the actions of the Sri Lankan government.  Urge Miliband, who has criticized the government to go further.

We should make links with Tamil and other workers.

There was no call for a boycott of Colombo university or of any other academics.


NEC seconds motion, describing the repression against the Tamils.  Argues for a peaceful negotiated settlement in the near future, for the rights of the Tamils and the Singhalese.

Motion passed.


Pete Green, Westminster Kingsway

A speaker this morning mentioned members leaving the union in protest at boycott.  But there is a whole people who are feeling despair and abandonment in Gaza and the West Bank.


If the law says we are not allowed to express our solidarity then the law is wrong.  (applause)

Affiliate to the National Twinnig Campaign.

Twinning group in Camden has achieved: bringing Palestinians to Camden.  Four schools in Camden are now twinned with schools in Abu Dis  – a small community cut off by the “apartheid wall”.

Apalling massacres taking place in Gaza.

Now Israel is passing a law that bans Arab citizens from commemorating the Nakba.


Hilary Curt, Durham College

It is not enough for us to know what is going on.  We have to make sure our students know as well.  We, as trade unionists and teachers have to tell our students.

Our branches should use every possible opporunity to fundraise and galvanize support for Palestine.

The Palestinian people need to know we are doing all we can to show the world that we will not tolerate the behaviour that makes them refugees in their own land.


Michael Cushman, LSE

What this ammendment asks us to do is to explore, document and campaign against a particular aspect of the day to day de-huminisation of occupation.

It undermines education.  It destroys hope.

Israel is not guilty just of restraint of trade, also restraint of life.

EG a UCU member Nicola Pratt was meant to go to Birzeit to give a lecture. She never got past the Allenby Bridge.

Academics only get 3 month visas.  An academic was expelled half way through a course.  No way to complete their study or get credit.

An academic invited to Columbia U in NY, had to get to the American Consulate to get a visa.  But wasnt allowed in to E Jerusalem to get his visa.

It is the way that people cannot engage in the normal academic activities that we expect.

Israeli authorities do not believe that Palestinians have the right to education.

Cushman’s ammendment carried unanimously and motion in solidarity with Gaza.


Motion 25 – Disabled people and conflict

Indiscriminate bombing of civilian population in Gaza.  unlawful us e of white phosphorous.  1400 civilians killed, many of whom children.

Not counting those who were severely traumatized.

The situation for disabled people in Gaza at the moment – increase of disabled people due to attack – their situation is made much more difficult, almost impossible by the continuing blockade.

Infrastructe that disabled people here depend upon doesn’t exist in places like Gaza.

There is one school in Gaza specializes in educating children with hearing impairment – unable to get hearing aids, batteries, transport, fuel to take the young people from all over Gaza to the school.  It is one of the only places where they can communicate through signing.

The motion talks about practical solidarity to disabled people’s organisations in Gaza.


motion 25 carried.

Motion 26

Gordon Watson UCU Scotland

We welcome the fact that our president was part of a delegation to Palesitne.

He wanted to find out what their ideas were about boycott and sanctions – BDS.

That led to a motion being submitted at Scottish TUC.

STUC voted for boyoctt against he state of Israel until it obeys international law.

Alexis…  Dundee University.

I wanted to speak to the second part of the motion to congratulate students who succeeded in winning a disinvestment demand against BAE systems.

Universities had investments in BAE which supplies parts to F16s which participate in bombardment of Gaza.

Students at Dundee occuped but management caved in before we even started.

Experience of students in instructive.  Boycott Eden Springs Water.  Also for solidarity with Palestinian students in terms of educational materials and scholarships.

At Dundee we had our biggest student meeting ever.  This debate encouraged student participation and didn’t put people off.  (speaker is phd student and also ucu member)

Terry Brotherstone President UCU Scotland.

STUC adopted BDS policy (applause)


Constructive engagement would be the worst thing.  The only constructive engagement we can have with the Israeli authorities is one  backed up by the idea that they face isolation.

All that matters is the political campaign to end the occupation.  Nothing else matters. The policy of the STUC can be helpful to UCU.  It is a modest policy.  Consciousness raising.

Vote on motion 26



Motion 27.

I won’t insult your intelligence or your memory because you saw it day after day of the bombing of Gaza.

You saw the duplicity of the spokespeople on the Israeli side.  The denials about killing women and children.  You saw it and you have your opinion.  This union has been consistent in supporting Palestinians over decades.

27 & 28 give you details.  I’m sure your mind is already made up.  I hope there will be total and unanimous support.

whatever you are, Jew, Muslim Buddhist – Comrades, I know you will support.  Thanks for it.

Steve Wilkinson

I’mhere on the pretext that I’m speaking against the resolution.  I have a reservation and that is it.  I agree with 6 of the 7 points.  I donate to medical aid for Palestine.
My concern is the recognition of the “democratically elected Gaza government”.  We can do better than that.  Than a call for support for Hamas.

I beg you read the report produced by Amnesty about Hamas.

Discover what Hamas did to supporters of Fatah.  hamas went round and machined gunned in their hospital bed supporters of Fatah.

That point needs to be made.

Apart from that I support the resolution.

Marion Hersh.  NEC

I broadly support the motion but I’m going to ask to take it in parts.

I’m particularly unhappy with the point two points up from the end.
I’ve got no problem with trying particular individuals for human rights violations.  We should be doing that.  particular generals and politicians should be tried.  But we shouldn’t have something which implies a policy of collective responsibility or guilt of the whole Israeli population.

This can be used negatively very rightly – we argue against collective punishment of Palestinians or anyone else.  And this would imply if we carried it through a collective punishment.


Take the motion in parts?

prposer:  if people felt strongly, we all had adequate time to put in ammendments  This is about people dying in large numbers.  These things are really really important.  So 2 things:

1 you can’t imply we support hamas.  But the palestinian people will vote for who they choose.  we can’t tell them who to support.

2 we have to be careful.  we all know there are academics, Jews, Muslims etc who disapprove of their own government so we’re not accusing everybody in Israel.  We are sensible poeple.  There are great number of people, socialists and comrades, the Jewish people have a storng record in history of supporting oppressed people around the world.   So we’re not slagging off Israel and the entire Jewish community.

Chair:  take the motion in parts?

A call from the floor to remint the motion.

Vote against remitting motion.  Clearly lost.


We now have a proposal that the motion is taken in parts.

congress votes not to take motion in parts.

Now vote on the motion:  carried.

Motion 28.  General Secretary Sally Hunt:

I have to read into the record the statement that is written alongside this motion.

The union received advice from Leading Counsel that to pass this motion would be unlawful because it is likely to be viewed by a court as a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The union has previously followed advice from Leading Counsel that such a call would be outside the powers of the union to make. If the motion is amended to remove the affirmation of support for the Palestine call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign, Leading Counsel has advised the union may lawfully pass this motion. If the motion is passed in its unamended form the President has been advised that she will have to treat it as being void and of no effect.

Laura Miles

British government is complicit with repression against Gaza.

Western leaders failure to denounce by shared silence – to endorse attacks and war crimes.

At Bradford we organized a teach in.  Jews for Justice for Palestine came in – we had fantastic discussion, doing an excellent job as educators.

We need to maintain solidarity we’ve already shown.

Urge to support the motion as it stands.

Mary Davis raises point of order.

if this motion if passed is void – what is the point of continuing?  do we debate it or not?  we need some guidance.  it is avalid point of order to know what we’re doing with it and what will happen to it.

Sally Hunt:  If it is passsed amended we will be able to act on it.  if unamended we will not be able to act on it.

University of Salford.  A Palestinian student cried in my office who had not heard from their family.

This was an attack on the people of Gaza for daring to elect a Government.

We have provided a lead on the issue of Palestine.  I’m proud to be in this union.  We need to build on this anger.  Israel is virtually a pariah state now.  This is a fantastic sea change.

We can still move forward.  We can still put presure on the govenrment.  We wil not be the tail end of American imperialism.

Israel held itself up to be the only democracy in the middle East.  But when you get a democratic government, Israel, on behalf of the US absolutely smashes it.  Lets stand with the oppressed not the oppressor.

Liverpool:  Sally’s comments have 2 problems.

1 it is based on legal advice which may be challenged.

2 it is based on an assumption of what this campaign is.

So i continue to urge you to pass the motion unamended.


COSATU (South African TU) told us – if anyone knows what an apartheid regime is – we do.  irish TUC, Scottish TUC are supporting this –

Camila Bassi Sheffield Hallam.

I’d prefer an open debate on the question of political tactics than rely on loopholes to clamp down on boycott.

I think a boyoctt in this instance would be wrong tactically.

1  generally the boycotting of nations is a crude and ineffectual weapons.

2 singling out of Israel ignores reactionary role of bourgeois arab states

3 if a boycott could help then the case would be overwhelming but in practice this boycott would be part of an anti-Jewish movement.

4  South Africa – apartheid was ended by black working class militancy.

We need to do something to help Palestinians but a boyoctt campaign writes off the role of the Israeli working class.  We need solidarity not boycott.  2 state solution.  solidarity between israeli and palestinian workers.

Haim Bresheeth

i am speaking as an Israeli and as a Jew.

Very many Israeli academics are supporting their government 96%

Do not rely upon Jewish academics in Israel.

This is not the way we will resolve the situation.  Not the way South Africa was resolved.

three quarters of Israelis have education.  three quarters of army officers an dsoldiers in tanks and planes and checkpoints have all been through academia.

out of 20,000 israeli academics less than 200 support bds.

To support Palestinians and Israeli academics who are against the war crimes committed you can make history today.  I know Sally and Sasha are not looking forward to calling this null and void.

I urge you to take a moral position.  vote for the amendment.


Ammendment and motion carried.

Chair:Ammended motion (for the boycott) is void.

Tom Hickey:

no apology from any of the branches that we bring these motions back year after year, criticizing the complicity of the israeli colleagues.

Failure of Israeli academics to condemn.

We make no apology in relation to the legal opinion.

it is only opinion.  has not yet been tested.

it is about time that this union tested this opinion in court.

we have been as a union extraordinarily careful.

it is not an easy decision to boycott other academics.


Tom Hickey

we have an obligation to go further in relation to BDS.

that is what Motion 29 called for originally.

But more.  What was rerquired as a union is to continue the process of debate that we have started and that we have an obligation to continue.

Our colleagues should continue to reflect on the moral and political effect of any links that they have.

Investigate how BDS could be carried through within the law and effectively

This legal opinion needs to be tested and we need to challenge it.

We want a Congress – we are in favour of BDS – but make sure that this motion is not also declared void – ammend this motion to take out those elements which would cause it to be called void.

Carry through the intent of this congress.

it is high time that we stopped playing footsie with those who want to use the law in this way.

Haim Bresheeth.

After years of this it is clear what conference feels about  BDS.

this motion will give us a tool to continue our action against the occupation.

Come together with TUs across the country and across the world.

build a movement like the anti-apartheid movement.

it wasn’t just black workers struggle.

It was us – millions of people everywhere that brought apartheid down.

Blair and Bush and Berlusconi are not going to do anything.

The South African moment has arrived.  please support the motion.


Jon Pike

OK congress.  this is only my second speech to ucu congress.

what frustrates me about this debate is the legal restrictions.  It seems to me that the proponents of a boycott are making a clear choice to confront those legal constrictions.

I would like to take this proposal to the membership of the union.

we have been refused the ability to have a ballot.

This is because the membership of this union strongly oppose an academic boycott of israel.

all the votes in branches have indicated 80 or 90 percent of members oppose this call.

Find out.  have a full ballot of the members of the union.

in the absence of that ballot we do not have the moral authority to use members money to organise a conference that the members to not support.

there is a way of finding out.

the proponents of htis proposal avoid that way of finding out because they seek to be defated in the law courts rather than by the membership of this union in a democratic vote.

Jenny…  College of North West London

it does seem ironic that the people who oppose this motion on the basis of democracy are not willing to respect the views of the Palestinian people who voted for a democratic government.

We raised money for Palestine during the Gaza conflict.

300 people at a pulic meeting.

Jews, non jews – the response to what Israel did in Gaza was unprecedented.

We have to take a moral position.

We cannot rely on votes.  Lets not make this a bureaucratic procedure.

What we have seen is a fundamental abuse of human rights.

the world stands by allowing israel to get away with virtual impunity.

it is up to us as delegates from our branches to take the measure of the response.

we’ve had marches.   When you have to take a stand you have to take a stand.  it is not a question to go back to our members.

Tom Hickey

it is interesting when one’s opponents know that they’ve lost the moral ground and the poltiical arguments – they try to change the terms of the debate.

This is the supreme policy making body of the union.

It is disappointing members of the union go to the law to cripple the union.

if we lose an argument here then it is back to here that we should bring the argument because if we don’t do that then we rubbish this union and we rubbish democracy.

we should not walk away, whether threatened by the law or by anything else.

Test the law.

Urge you to support both the amendment and the motionm as amended.

Vote on amendment


Vote on substantive motion


That’s all folks.  People will understand that these are rough notes, not all exact quotes, not all gramatically correct.  I did my best.  DH.

Why the lecturers’ union must oppose a boycott of Israeli universities – Jon Pike

This piece, by Jon Pike, is from the Education Guardian.

It’s not comfortable to respond to Dr Amjad Barham’s argument for an academic boycott of Israel – he teaches and works in conditions much more difficult than those in which I teach and work. But he will, I’m sure, agree that a bad and dangerous argument is exactly that, whatever the circumstances of the person who makes it.

His argument for an academic boycott is opposed by the majority of members of the University and College Union.

This is one reason supporters of the boycott have today backed down and are now seeking more discussion. Dr Barham should ask them why they are not calling for a ballot of the members to endorse a boycott. The answers would be instructive.

The UCU congress is likely to be sharply critical of Israel’s actions during the recent conflict in Gaza and to condemn the rockets fired at Sderot. It will outline proposals in support of Palestinian academics and carefully analyse the conditions of academic freedom in Israel, Palestine, Columbia and Burma.

Dr Barham (but not the Palestinian Authority or the Palestinian general federation of trade unions) asks for more. He asks that we endorse proposals initiated by professors Steven and Hilary Rose to exclude Israelis from the international research community.

He invokes the analogy with apartheid – but there is so much wrong with this analogy that it obscures more than it enlightens. For example, everyone sensible advocates a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine – nobody did in South Africa.

Dr Barham wants us to rank rights, so that “loftier” ones, such as academic freedom, are sacrificed for basic ones. This is deeply problematic. It completely undermines the idea of academic freedom, making it conditional on a wider political project. We are asked to suspend the academic freedom of Israeli colleagues because of our opposition to the actions of their government, but this is not a test applied anywhere else in the world. The proposal to boycott Israel exhibits an unwarranted exceptionalism.

And that is why the proposal is discriminatory. It discriminates against a group of people; applies hard treatment to them. It does so in the absence of a morally relevant property that the group – and no other group – possesses. This makes it unjust.

The group harmed consists almost entirely – and not by coincidence – of Jews. Whatever the intentions of the boycotters, this discrimination against Jews is undoubtedly one effect of the exceptionalism of their proposal.

The proposal is discriminatory, and the union has been told as much by its lawyers. It also takes us beyond the bounds of our proper purposes, which will come as no surprise to lecturers fighting to hang on to their jobs and keep their courses open, frustrated by our obsessive annual slanging match over Israel and Palestine.

We should offer support and solidarity to Palestinian academics. But we cannot and should not exclude Israeli universities from the international academic interchange that benefits us all.

• Dr Jon Pike is a member of the UCU executive. He is writing in a personal capacity

This piece, by Jon Pike, is from the Education Guardian.

UCU Conference votes down amendment to investigate antisemitism-related resignations

This year, the University and College Union‘s National Executive Committee submitted a welcome motion to Conference (EQ6) which opposed antisemitism.

Anti-boycotters in UCU have been encouraged to leave the union over the past few years of boycott campaigning against Israel. With each new revival of the campaign there has been disaffection, and a worrying number of resignations has accrued. So it seemed right to UCL branch to insert an amendment (7A1):

Add new first line:

‘Congress notes with concern the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK and resignations of UCU members apparently in connection with perceptions of institutional anti-Semitism.’

Add new final bullet point: ‘ To investigate the number of recent UCU resignations and the reasons for them, and to report its findings to next Congress.’

There are reports that this amendment was voted down today by a large majority estimated at 80-20.

It seems that UCU is only interested in fighting antisemitism when it can be identified with the political right. Antisemitism emanating from the left, and from UCU itself, is unrecognised.

UCU Congress has ruled out debating a ballot

There was an attempt on Congress floor to overturn the decision of the Conference Business Committee to disallow, on spurious and bureaucratic grounds, an amendment calling for a ballot of UCU members before a boycott is implemented.

Congress has decided not even to consider balloting the members .  Congress has decided not to hear arguments for or arguments against holding a ballot.

UCL UCU branch secretary Sean Wallis lines up with antisemitic Lehman Brothers conspiracy theorists

Sean Wallis, UCL UCU Branch Secretary

Sean Wallis, UCL UCU Branch Secretary

The campaign to exclude people who work at Israeli universities – and only them –  from the global academic community is being pushed hard this week, for the 7th year running, by a small coterie of antizionists in the University and College Union.

One thing we have learnt in that five years is that whenever this campaign is pushed, antisemitic rhetoric, tropes, images and jokes are not far behind.

The following comes from Arieh Kovler of the Fair Play Campaign from UCU Congress in Bournemouth:

BRICUP, the British organisation behind the boycott of Israeli academics, held a fringe meeting at UCU Congress yesterday in Bournemouth.

The official speakers took up most of the time, but there was time for a few questions from the audience. Of course, these ‘questions’ were really statements from the various pro-boycott attendees.

One of these was Sean Wallis, UCL UCU branch secretary. He wanted to speak about how UCU should debate a boycott whether it’s legal or not. One of the threats he mentioned was from lawyers backed by those with “bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down.

The remark elicited a few sniggers, though not the outright laughter of an earlier joke by Haim Bresheeth about Israeli friendly fire casualties.

Now, a popular conspiracy theory circulating online claims that Jews transferred $400 billion out of Lehman Brothers to untraceable bank accounts in Israel, a couple of days before Lehman filed for bankruptcy. This lie first appeared on a website run by the Barnes Review, an American ‘revisionist’ organisation with a particular interest in Holocaust denial, and spread on various right-wing anti-Zionist websites.

It is not entirely obvious what Mr Wallis is referring to by claiming that legal threats against UCU are funded by “bank balances from Lehmann Brothers that can’t be tracked down.” Perhaps he could clarify his remarks.

Update – see Harry’s Place for Sean Wallis’ non-refuting denial.

Update 2 – more from Harry’s Place, further to correspondence with Sean Wallis. Sean Wallis “doesn’t seem to appreciate that antisemitic theories are antisemitic because they spread poisonous lies about Jews, not because they’re authored by “a racist right winger”.”

There was not due to be any debate on any other international issue at this Congress – only debate about the exclusion of Israelis and a one-sided and ahistorical discussion of Palestine.  The NEC slipped in a last minute emergency motion relating to Colombia so that the union could not be accused of singling out Israel.

There is nothing on Sri Lanka.

There is nothing on Darfur.

There is nothing on Iraq.

There is nothing on Afghanistan.

There is nothing on Zimbabwe.

There is nothing on Russia.

There is nothing on China.

The only boycott campaigned for is a boycott of Israelis.

SWP backs down, and then indulges in disgusting anti-democratic display

Jon Pike, Chair of Engage and elected UCU National Executive Member blogs from UCU Congress at Bournmouth

The UCU Congress starts today at Bournemouth. The boycott debate takes place this afternoon.  As usual, a lot of the shenanigans go on behind the scenes, and this year is no exception. On the plus side, the SWP/UCULeft have staged a partial climb down from their pro-boycott resolution.  They’ve watered down the motion so that instead of endorsing the ‘Palestinian call for a boycott’, the boycott should simply be discussed in the branches. Again.  There’s a recognition that an academic boycott is illegal.

This is of course the familiar annual strategic climb down by the SWP.

But at the same time, the SWP can’t resist its anti-democratic instincts.  Through UCULeft, they have a majority on the Conference Business Committee – the committee that determines what gets on to the order paper.  And at yesterday’s meeting CBC ruled out an amendment from the Open University.  It is, apparently, a ‘wrecking amendment’.

What did this dodgy amendment say?  How was it improper? Was it late, or discriminatory, or illegal, or in conflict with the UCU’s constitution?  No, motions like that sail through on to the agenda.

No.  It called for a ballot of the members before any boycott is introduced.

Direct democracy is anathema to the SWP.  Even discussing a ballot is so dangerous, that it needs to be ruled out by bureaucratic means.

Individual UCULeft supporters should be ashamed of themselves.  Some are.  What price now their claims to favour a ‘democratic, member-led’ union?

There is a chance that conference will overturn the report of CBC this morning.  It will certainly be challenged by the president of the Open University branch.  But it’s unlikely, since the SWP more or less control Congress.

This leaves them free to indulge in – let’s be blunt – a disgusting display of their contempt for the views of the membership of the union.

The SWP/UCULeft is a profoundly anti-democratic force in the labour movement. Large numbers of UCU members have contempt for them.  Which is, somehow, kind of appropriate.

Jon Pike, elected member UCU NEC