UCU again backs the exclusion of Israelis from the global academic community and from the international workers’ movement

From Stop The Boycott:

This week, UCU Congress passed four motions that relate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

  • SFC14 encouraged the Union to build links with Palestinian academics and unions
  • SFC15, “Palestinian Solidarity, BDS, and Histadrut”, reaffirms UCU’s support for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel “within legal constraints”, and forces UCU to establish and fund a “research centre into complicity with Israeli breaches”, a BDS website, and an annual pro-boycott conference.
  • It also demands UCU severs all ties with the Histadrut, the Israeli TUC
  • An amendment to this motion, which would have referred the decision on Histadrut to a special committee, was defeated.
  • SFC16 “Ariel and West Bank Colonisation” formally starts the procedure to institute an academic boycott against Ariel College. This motion passed, though it should be noted that a similar motion was passed last year.
  • An emergency motion, tabled during the Conference itself, condemned Israel over the flotilla incident, and called on the UK Government not to change the law on arresting Israeli visitors under Universal Jurisdiction.
  • The motion “UCU invitation to Bongani Masuku of South Africa”, which sought to dissociate UCU from Masuku’s offensive views and actions, was overwhelmingly defeated.

In a year when Higher Education is facing unprecedented cuts, UCU has revealed its distorted priorities. It is converting itself from a Trade Union into an organisation focused on promoting division and discrimination in the Middle East.

UCU’s attack on the Histadrut, Israel’s independent Trade Union centre, is a deeply disturbing escalation. Once again, UCU has shown that it does not only object to the Israeli Government, but to all Israeli workers. The membership fees of hard-working academics money will be diverted away from helping them keep their jobs and will instead be used to fund Union-breaking in Israel.

Sally Hunt still holds the international portfolio on the Trades Union Congress’ General Council. She cannot hold this position, which requires her to work closely with the Histadrut, while her Union is working to undermine them. If she has any honour, Sally Hunt must resign her TUC portfolio immediately.

17 Responses to “UCU again backs the exclusion of Israelis from the global academic community and from the international workers’ movement”

  1. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    I left the following comment on the ‘British Left and the Middle East – Ben Gridley’ comments thread (and apologies for not getting the heading right), and I hope it’s worth repeating here (Motion 31 is the one referring to the Histradut):

    “The bullet points for 31 clearly restate the argument for the BDS campaign (despite _all_ the legal opinions the UCU has received), and the inclusion of the word “lawful” doesn’t affect this one iota. It was aimed mostly at the Histradut, and called for its expulsion from the International Confederation of Trade Unions and a boycott of it. Clever that: we love the Palestinians, so we’ll destroy one of the few organisations that attempts to bring Israeli and Palestinian workers together.

    Translation: we don’t actually care about the workers, let alone the Palestinians, we just hate Israel and want to see it gone. For a fascinating contrast by _real_ left-wingers, see the Alliance for Workers Liberty online newsletter, passim” – and a link to AWL is provided in the blogroll, just up there on the right of this page.

  2. Harry Goldstein Says:

    You may be interested in an example of the ‘democratic’ basis of these conference votes.

    UCL UCU has a longstanding branch policy of opposing an academic boycott of Israel. However, when two of us contacted our delegates prior to congress to confirm that they would be voting against SFC15 they declined to give such an assurance, on the grounds that SFC15 did not explicitly refer to an academic boycott.

    We pointed out that:
    The motion reaffirms existing UCU BDS policy;
    Existing UCU policy includes support for an academic boycott;
    Hence the motion must be taken to be reaffirming that policy.

    Given UCL branch’s expressed opposition to the academic boycott, we argued that our delegates had an obligation to respect their democratic mandate and vote against SFC15.

    They promised to seek an assurance from Congress that the motion did not imply support for an academic boycott, and only vote for it if such an assurance was given. They have not yet reported back on how they voted or whether any such assurance was given. Does anyone else have any information on this?

    What this episode does show is the disconnect between the expressed views of the membership and the behaviour of the activists who become congress delegates.

    We will continue to press our delegates on how they voted and their justification for it.

    More anon…

  3. David Miller Says:

    I used to find my allegiance to UCU stretched to breaking point whenever I encountered the anti-Israel agendas of its senior activists. But what kept (and keeps me) supporting a strong UCU is that without it, I would have no support when times get harder (like now) and the employers would have an easier time of it pushing through their agendas for far reaching changes in working practice and conditions that threatens up to 1/3 of the HE academic workforce and everyone’s pensions. So I’ve learned to ignore the bad taste I get in my mouth when I encounter my union’s double standard sponsorship of overtly anti-Israel/Zionist events by getting on with the job of helping fellow members who are being bullied or otherwise harassed out of applying for what might be rightfully theirs (promotion, job security, equal opportunities etc). I know that I shouldn’t have a bad taste in my mouth and that I should be bringing my unease at UCU’s attitudes towards Israel etc to its collective attention. But I’ve tried that in the past and ‘deaf ears’ didn’t do justice to the reactions I normally endured. So these days, I just keep my head down and get on with it. By the way, this is my personal way of dealing with the borderline anti-Semitism one routinely encounters when considering UCU’s policies towards Israel and Zionism. I in no way suggest that others who feel equally marginalised by their ethnic origin and/or deeper thoughts and feelings should follow my example.

  4. John Strawson Says:

    We cannot be surprised by the motions are the UCU congress. They have become an annual ritual. This year there is, however, a stepping of the legal aspects with the calls for prosecutions of Israeli officials. This is a marked move from the passive boycott to more active position. These are linked. The boycott is in fact a continuation of the no-normalization policy which has been with us since the founding of the Arab League in 1945. This policy is not just about boycott but is about creating an international discourse and policy that a Jewish state and then Israel is unnatural and illegitimate. The UCU ritual – and others – play a critical role in re-affirming this discourse, it refreshes it. In the move from boycott to prosecutions we also see the popularization of the illegal character of Israel – portrayed as a “criminal state,” staffed by “war criminals.” The flotilla becomes just the latest inevitable criminal act. The inhuman – and politically stupid – blockade of Gaza is not seen for what it is, but as a necessary logic of Zionism. Boycotts and prosecutions are thus presented as the only response. What we have to realize is that within the UCU activist layer – and in a wider leftist and liberal public – we have lost the argument for the present. In this the Israeli government is the greatest advantage that the boycotters have. If we want to change the situation we have to become the most consistent and effective critics of the current Israeli administration. This is not just a question of overcoming the boycott,it is centrally a question of mobilizing international action to force a settlement on Israel and the Palestinians.

    • Is it because I'm Jewish? Says:

      John,

      “If we want to change the situation we have to become the most consistent and effective critics of the current Israeli administration.”

      So your verdict is that it’s impossible to stand against antisemitism without becoming involved in Israeli politics?

      This Jew’s sense of connection with Israel resides entirely in the waves of antisemitism arising from anti-Israel activism. I resent it (even as I take seriously my political responsibility to Jews, Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs). I want to get on with my life but antisemitism keeps gnawing away at it. I am British, but you seem to be making a realist assertion that my freedom from antisemitism depends on fixing Israel – that I’m going to have to be following Israeli news, working with progressive Israelis, and so on, as MY best chance for peace.

      If I thought that were true, I might well decide that the right-wing defencists were correct all along and Jews are better off collecting together, arming themselves to the teeth and fighting.

      Can you explain a little more why I’d be wrong to decide that?

  5. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    John, as Perez de Cuela said of his efforts to broker a deal between Argentina and the Uk before the UK counter-invasion, “it takes two to tango”. How do we (the international collective, that is) bring both parties and their backers and sponsors to the dance and get them to tango?

    Trouble is, at this time, mine loks to be a rhetorical question.

  6. Dr Howard Fredrics Says:

    Having been forced to flee the UK after my wife was assaulted and anti-Semitic death threats issued against us, following a press interview in which I exposed direct connections between a British university and a Hizb ut Tahrir front organisation, I am now in the process of organising an academic boycott of Britain.

    British academics have engaged in blatantly anti-Semitic actions and practices, thereby creating an environment of intimidation and actual physical danger for Jewish academics.

    While this is regrettable, it appears to be the only way forward.

  7. Absolute Observer Says:

    John writes,

    “In the move from boycott to prosecutions we also see the popularization of the illegal character of Israel – portrayed as a “criminal state,” staffed by “war criminals.” The flotilla becomes just the latest inevitable criminal act. The inhuman – and politically stupid – blockade of Gaza is not seen for what it is, but as a necessary logic of Zionism. Boycotts and prosecutions are thus presented as the only response. What we have to realize is that within the UCU activist layer – and in a wider leftist and liberal public – we have lost the argument for the present.”

    Iaian Banks writes,

    “Following the murderous attack on the Gaza-bound convoy, is it not time to revisit the idea of a full cultural and educational boycott of Israel (Report, 2 June)? The sports boycott of apartheid South Africa hit the Afrikaners where, arguably, they felt it most and helped them understand precisely how despicable their regime’s policies were held to be by the rest of the world.

    Writers and artists refusing to visit Israel, and the cutting off of as many other cultural and educational links with Israel as possible, might help Israelis understand how morally isolated they really are. It would be a form of collective punishment (albeit a mild one), and so in a way an act of hypocrisy for those of us who have criticised Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in general and those in Gaza in particular, but appeals to reason, international law, UN resolutions and simple human decency mean – it is now obvious – nothing to Israel, and for those of us not prepared to turn to violence, what else can we do? For the little it’s worth, I’ve told my agent to turn down any further book translation deals with Israeli publishers. I would urge all writers, artists and others in the creative arts, as well as those academics engaging in joint educational projects with Israeli institutions, to consider doing everything they can to convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation, preferably by simply having nothing more to do with this outlaw state.

    Iain Banks

    North Queensferry, Fife”

    “Consider Phlebas” [1987]

    “The war raged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, cold-blooded, brutal, and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith; the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender.”

    Gosh, here sure is consistent on the questions of ethics and morality. How else could one explain the fact that he no doubt allowed this book to be translated into Serbian?

  8. Absolute Observer Says:

    So, let’s see how this works.
    The siege of Gaza has failed miserably in its aim to overthrow Hamas.
    One of the reasons is that isolating a people leads to a sense of solidarity and a refusal to meet the demands that others (outside) are putting on it to change its ways.
    So, what does UCU do? It makes the same mistake as has Israel.

    Not that surprising really.

    (I also love the idea of all these British liberals actually believing that, somehow, their not watching rugby brought down apartheid. If only it was that simple. Gosh, if only the US Irish community had thought of boycotting the English soccer team in the years following 1969 then 30 years of pain, loss and injustice could have ended overnight).

  9. Absolute Observer Says:

    “If we want to change the situation we have to become the most consistent and effective critics of the current Israeli administration. This is not just a question of overcoming the boycott,it is centrally a question of mobilizing international action to force a settlement on Israel and the Palestinians.”

    John,
    Thanks for your comments.
    I agree with you about the current Israeli administration. I do not like the right wherever it appears, Israel or elsewhere (whether Likud, Kadima or the Tories or the Republicans or Hamas).

    However, I am not sure who you mean by “we”? I refuse point blank to “Judify” the political situation in the ME or opposition to it in the name of “Jews”. The implicit label “good Jews” repulses me as much as “evil Jews” (see Nathan’s racist and antisemitic letter in the Guardian yesterday). (After all, we all reach our conclusions on politics for any number of reasons; one’s Judiasm or Jewishness is no more determinative than any other of the diverse and multiple influences that make us who we are and our choices of what we think, believe, act, etc.. A Jew can be as much of the left as of the right, and as we have seen as much a zionist as an anti-zionist as someone with no particular ism at all (This is of course nothing new in the course of Jewish history).

    Only antisemites and those who do not understand antisemitism (see the other letters from “Jews” in the newspaper yesterday) think it important that one speaks “as a Jew”, as if being “Jewish” gives their views a special value over and above that which other “Jews” think – wow, if a Jew is saying this about Israel, then it must be the case. ALternatively, if someone speaks “as a Jew” defends a particular position of the Israeli right, then it is “well, of course they would say that, they’re a Jew.)
    How many times have you seen that quick glance over in one’s direction when the subject of Israel comes up; as if being Jewish offers a special vantage point on a small regional conflict? At that instance the words of Heine comes to mind (as do the words of Varnhagen).

    Second, as you note, UCU activists don’t care a toss about what Israel actually does ot what Jews say (apart, of course, the “good Jews”; the one’s that parade their Jewishness to legitimize their points (points that differ in no way from those made from non-Jews day in and day out?) How many people when they read Engage see Engage as a “Jewish” site, or see David Hirsh as a Jew before David Hirsh the socialist; and believe the former and call him a liar when he describes himself as the latter?

    As far as I recall, the boycott motions (not to mention the SWP’s hatred of Israel) began well before the siege began. Nothing “we” do will alter that fact.

    I take my political cues from my politics – hence my agreement with you on the seige and the need for a sovereign state of Palestine alongisde that of Israel – and not from the threat of antisemitic bullies nor an appeal to me to speak “as a Jew”.

    Third. is the point that no matter what Israel does, that is still not a legitimate reason for the UCU or others to ally themselves with antisemities and antisemitism as the UCU have done. Jews, even Israeli Jews are not responsible for antisemitism. Antisemites are. That is the first lesson one learns about a consistent anti-racism. It is not “we” who have forgotten that, it is “they”, those who want to reduce us to “Jews”

    Regards,
    AO

  10. John Strawson Says:

    briefly by “we” I mean all those who oppose anti-Semistism and see aspects of anti-Semitism in the calls and actions over boycotting Israel. What I was trying to say that we – that we – have failed to appreciate the depth of the anti-Israeli, anti-Zionist discourse. In order to deal with it in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict it is important to grasp that the creation of counter-discourse – progressive, recognizing both peoples, ending the colonial occupuation of Palestinian territory and eliminating existentialist threats to Israel – it is necessary to build a wider movement.

  11. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    “What I was trying to say that we – that we – have failed to appreciate the depth of the anti-Israeli, anti-Zionist discourse.”

    Without wishing to either insult and/or patronise you, John, not only have you missed off antisemitism in the sentence quoted, but speak for yourself. I recognised this depth over a decade and a half ago when I was told by a Natfhe activist (and member of my branch), upon my remonstrating about an anti-Israel resolution at the Natfhe Annual Congress, that I should have seen it before they amended it and watered it down.

    It was at that point that I knew I would be leaving the union upon retirement, and also at that point that the African-American definition of a white liberal popped into my mind: the sort who would hang you from a _low_ branch.

    Because this was exactly the sort of people we are talking about: the UK trade union equivalents of such “liberals” whose idea of liberalism is to kill one nicely.

    And who the hell does Iain Banks think he is to pontificate on the Middle East from the glorious heights of writing best-selling works of fiction? Especially as he clearly expects the rest of us to fall over and tug our forelocks. Now I now not to bother to buy the rest of his oeuvre and save my money for other writers.

  12. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Dr Howard Frederics says, above, that “I am now in the process of organising an academic boycott of Britain.

    British academics have engaged in blatantly anti-Semitic actions and practices, thereby creating an environment of intimidation and actual physical danger for Jewish academics.

    While this is regrettable, it appears to be the only way forward.”

    If Dr Frederics is serious, then he is falling into the same trap that the very British academics he attacks have made: they (or rather the leadership of UCU) lump all Israeli academics together, and he is lumping _all_ UK academics together.

    We know that the only time the then AUT held an open branch ballot and Emergency AGM on the issue, it was roundly defeated. This indicates that, in the event of a membership-wide ballot, a boycott would be defeated. In turn, this is why the current Executive Committee and the majority of the regular attendees at the Annual Congress have _never_ called for such a ballot.

    Why does he think that non-British academics would vote for a boycott against the UK? Anyway, we should be against boycotts organised at the official level. Dr Frederics should read Bill’s comments on these threads on this matter: he is crystal clear as to the US legal position.

    We can, of course, do nothing about the individual who chooses not to collaborate with fellow academics from a given country. However, the loss is likely to be their’s alone.

  13. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    It would be interesting to know what it is that gives the members of the UCU Executive Committee and the majority of the delegates to Congress the view that they are above the law. For the past two years, legal advice (either the union’s own or that given to them on behalf of certain members) has led the EC to declare that certain Motions passed at Congress must be declared null and void.

    It is difficult to believe that this won’t happen again this year.

    Anyway, given the state of trade union law in the UK, no member can be forced to take part in any action, nor can they be threatened with action against them or have action taken against them for refusing to take action under union resolutions.

    Unions take this to mean industrial action, but it applies to political ones too.

  14. Sarah AB Says:

    John – I’m included in your ‘we’ according to the definition you offer. But I don’t, personally, have any great desire to ‘become [one of] the most consistent and effective critics of the current Israeli administration.’ I do, instinctively, feel critical of the current Israeli administration but at the same time I feel that the reason I know a certain amount about its actions is a reflection of the fact that the media, like the UCU, focuses on Israel excessively. The UCU criticises Israel obsessively while ignoring other countries with whom the UK has important academic ties and which are far from perfect. I’m not sure the best response to that situation would be for people to articulate criticism of Israel when they don’t articulate criticism of, say, China. One of the reasons I think the boycott is counterproductive is nicely summed up by Absolute Observer – in the comment made at 12.29 on 3 June. For that reason I’m not quite sure – though I do take your point – that a further increase in criticism of Israel is going to be helpful.

  15. David T Says:

    I do not believe that it is possible to organise against antisemitism.


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