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.

4 Responses to “Why the lecturers’ union must oppose a boycott of Israeli universities – Jon Pike”

  1. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    “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.”

    Oh, Jon, if only they had, what a difference from what _actually_ happened that would have made. And been so refreshing.

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