Live Blogging from UCU Congress

1657.  Congress is due to finish at 6 today and is running late.  This boycott motion is on the agenda but it looks like it may not be taken today.

1659.  I am going to describe what is going on – to the best of my ability.  When something is “in quotation marks” then it is a direct accurate quote.  When there are no marks, it is my description of what is being said.

1701.  Sally Hunt, General Secretary spoke half an hour ago.  It was a general critique of Government education policy.  A call for some reform in the union – including reducing the size of the NEC. She made an appeal against factionalism.  Preparing her bid for re-election?

1706.  Debating motion concerning the timing of Congress.

1707.  Coming up later, mtion L10 Venezuela:  “UCU Congress notes the unilateral and unlawful sanctions imposed by the US administration against the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA for trading with Iran.  Venzuela is a sovereign country that has the right to trade with any country it chooses.”  So this Congress may vote to “circulate the PACBI call” for an academic boycott of Israel while at the same time “strongly condemning US sanctions against PDVSA”.  We’ll see.

1713. Coming up, the international debate, starting with  Composite 35, wishing Amnesty International a happy 50th birthday and seeking ways to work with it.

1716.  A count has been ordered on Motion 34 concerning future timings of UCU Congresses.

1720.  Amnesty motion next, and then is the motion entitled “Threats to Academic Freedom in Israel and Palestine”.   We are still counting votes on the motion about Congress timing.

1725.  Amnesty International.  Marion Hersh proposing for the NEC.

1726.  Not contentious.  I’m going to briefly talk about Amnesty International.    Amnesty does good work supporing womens rights and LGBT people.  Amnesty has done interesting work on recent events in the MIddle EAst and Egypt.  Also calling for the impeachment of Ghadaffi.  This is urging us to strenthen our links and support Amnesty.

1728.  Mike Cushman for LSE moving.  UCU has always been proud of its record for defending academics under attack from Columbia to Burma and beyond.  What kind of state crminalizes non violent civil society action against criminality?  An authoritarian, totalitarian and fascist state.   A bill in the Knesset that will do exactly that.  “it is prohibited to initiate a boycott against Israel…”

Criminality every day.  And it says if you engage in BDS  – you will be liable for a fine of £5000 each time.  If you provide information, if you do research, if you find out what is going on in the occupied territories, you will be fined.

The money will be paid to the people who have been boycotted.  This bill mixes criminal and civil law.  £5000 every time you do some research that says this settlement is exporting goods illegally.  I Beg to move.

1732. Sue Blackwell.  Ariel is the 4th largest settlement in the West Bank.  The wall around Ariel separates Palestinians from their services.  Once a 5 minute trip now takes half an hour.  Waste from ariel pollutes Palestinian villages.  Ariel receives more money than other places in Israel.

There is a conference at Ariel conf tomorrow.  Gush shalom is calling for a boycott of this conference.  American Jewish activist Lawrence Davidson has dubbed it “criminal criminology”.

We should not forget that our Palestinian colleagues believe that the exclusive focus on settlement institutions obscures the call against all israeli institutions.

1733. Ronnie Fraser.  I would like to remind proposers of this motion they ignore UCU’s legal advice.  Distributing and promoting the call for a boycott is in breach of legislation.  outside the aims of our union.  if this is adopted and the NEC distributes the boycott cal then it is in breach of the Equality Act 2010.

If any UCU officer or member of the NEC were to raise the matter of the boycott the union will be once again guilty and in breach of the equality legislation.  The Legal advice also prevents us supporting a call for a boycott by others.

This affects me now.  I hold a position at an Israeli university.

Motion 36 contains a relentless unique attack against the Jewish state.  And almost everything stated in the motion is false.

Any state has the right to penalise those involved in boycotts against it.

Chair: stop now please.

Ronnie asks to raise a point of order.

No, says the chair.

Chair: “you need to stop now and if you do not stop I will ask for your microphone to be cut”.  You can raise a point of order later”

Next a delegate named “David” by the Chair.  He made an emotional speech.  He said that some settlers in the West Bank are against the wall, saying that they wanted to build houses on the land taken up by the wall.  He said they wanted to build from the Nile to the Euphrates.  “This is an expansionist people” he said.

Camila Bassi – motion is unbalanced.  No criticism of Hamas, which prevented people from protesting in support of the Egyptian uprising

Mike Cushman: We have been misled from the platform.  Don’t worry.  We’re not going to be sued.  You can stand up for justice and it won’t cost you.

Ronnie Fraser, point of order.  The legal advice made it clear that calling for boycott would expose us to legal action.  I ask that the following points be withdrawn as they are asking the members of the NEC to break the law.

Paul cotteril: if any of the motions would have raised legal issues, congress would have been so advised.

Big round of applause.

Move to the vote.

Very clearly carried.  (as many as 10 people voted against the motion).  Maybe half a dozen abstentions.

That’s it for today.   Motion was overwhelmingly carried as we knew it would be.

The claim that some of the settlers want to occupy all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates was extra-ordinary.  His claim then that “This is an expansionist people” is an antisemitic claim.

Same time tomorrow.  Sorry for the rushed and incomplete notes.


15 Responses to “Live Blogging from UCU Congress”

  1. Absolute Observer Says:

    Who is chairing?

    Good to know that, as SB says, the idea of a distinction between boycotting Ariel and, say HU or TAU or BGU is not the BDS position.

  2. Absolute Observer Says:

    When is the motion on “antisemitism”?

  3. Absolute Observer Says:

    “There is a conference at Ariel conf tomorrow. Gush shalom is calling for a boycott of this conference. American Jewish activist Lawrence DAvidson has dubbed it “criminal criminology”.”

    I am confused. Why did SB think it relevant to refer to Davidson’s religion? Does the fact he is Jewish give it some sort of extra added value?

  4. Absolute Observer Says:

    To continue.
    If, as BDS allege, it is irrelevant that Israel is a Jewish state to why they are selecting Israel and only Israel for boycott, then why mention a person’s religious affiliation?

    Moreover, Blackwell in the past has disparaged those on the UCU activist list who raise the question of antisemitism in relation to Israel as a form of “identity politics”. Is she not indulging in the same type of thing she denigrates?

  5. modernity Says:

    The proposers, NEC and Sally Hunt are negligent in their duties as officers of the union by allowing it to be open to legal redress on the grounds of discrimination, particularly when they have been informed about this issue, many, many times.

    The motion on ‘Antisemitism, We Don’t Want A Policy’ is scheduled to take place on Monday afternoon, according to the details on UCU’s web site,, under equality committee.

  6. comment is not free Says:

    “UCU has always been proud of its record for defending academics under attack from Columbia to Burma and beyond.”

    ” What kind of state crminalizes non violent civil society action against criminality?”

    UCU Congress notes the unilateral and unlawful sanctions imposed by the US administration against the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA for trading with Iran. Venzuela is a sovereign country that has the right to trade with any country it chooses.” So this Congress may vote to “circulate the PACBI call” for an academic boycott of Israel while at the same time “strongly condemning US sanctions against PDVSA”

  7. comment is not free Says:

    “Venzuela is a sovereign country that has the right to trade with any country it chooses.”

    But Israel – an equally sovereign country – does not have that right.
    Indeed, compared to Venuzuela (and Iran?) Israel is “an authoritarian, totalitarian and fascist state.

    And who said standards have fallen in the HE sector??

  8. Absolute Observer Says:

    I am confused.
    If academics are under attack in Israel, why is UCU not defending them and the Universities of which they are part?
    Why are they seeking instead to boycott them and to leave them internationally isolated?
    Is not UCU’s responsibility to build even more links with Israeli academics rather than less?
    Or, if, as UCU claim, Israeli universities are part and parcel of the Israeli state, then on what grounds can they defend Israeli academics who work in them regardless of their political opinion?

    It simply makes no sense whatsoever.

  9. Brian Robinson Says:

    ‘1732. Sue Blackwell […] There is a conference at Ariel conf tomorrow. Gush shalom is calling for a boycott of this conference. American Jewish activist Lawrence Davidson has dubbed it “criminal criminology”.’

    This must be (I’ve cross-checked the CounterPunch article details with the information I have) the Lawrence Davidson who, on 19 June 2010, responded to a point I’d made during a lengthy exchange involving members of a medical group of which I was then a member. Dr Davidson’s comment, along with the comments of a couple of others, and perhaps even more particularly the silence of the remainder, decided me on leaving the group.

    I had made the suggestion to the group that focusing on Israel was being counterproductive if we wished to move the BMA, WMA and others to press the Israeli Medical Association on the allegations concerning alleged participation in controversial “enhanced interrogation techniques”. I named, as examples, known human rights abusing countries, and suggested we might do better to “widen the diameter of the spotlight”. (A year later I push this line with even more conviction in the light of the current Arab revolutions.)

    Dr Davidson responded by emailing us (in the group of which I was then a member): “A few years ago I gave a talk at the American Political Association as part of a debate on the boycott issue. Here is a small part of what I said” (since this a quote of what he said at an open meeting I feel that I can copy it here):

    In his talk he was responding to people who ask him, “Why are you picking on Israel? How about the Russians who are destroying Chechnya or the Chinese who are occupying Tibet? There is actually a very good answer to this question, especially for American supporters of the boycott”.

    He continued: “The fact is that Zionist influence spreads far beyond Israel’s area of dominion and has, for a long while now, exerted a corrupting power within many of the policy making institutions of western governments, and particularly that of the United States. In other words, unlike the Russians or the Chinese and other such governments, the Israelis and their supporters directly influence the policy makers of our own countries and this often results in our abetting Israel’s crimes. This makes it imperative that Zionist Israel be made a high priority case from among the many other oppressive regimes that may very well be candidates for boycott.”

    Sue Blackwell, according to David’s report, said Davidson is Jewish. During my exchanges with him, we discussed some Jewish sensitivities to certain ways in which anti-Israel activists campaign at times, matters of style, tone, analogies, historical comparisons and the rest. He took me to task about this in ways that led me to think he wasn’t Jewish, ie he wrote as if he was an outsider, as it were. There was no reason of course for him to tell me about his religious or cultural affiliations, but looking back at the correspondence now, I’m surprised at the omission (if it was an omission).

    David Hirsh has pointed out that this kind of thinking replaces the word “Zionist” for the word “Jewish” in a Jewish-power Jewish-conspiracy worldview. There is no suggestion that anyone thinking or writing or speaking in this manner is antisemitic, as has often been pointed out on this website. But such thinking can unwittingly reflect and perpetuate a climate of opinion: or as Pat Condell puts it in his blunt way, let’s blame the Jews.

    The piece to which Blackwell refers is at:

    • modernityblog Says:


      This is his bio,

      The fact that he writes for the racist, CounterPunch, suggests that he’s happy to cohabit with a journal that pushes well known Far Rightist and antisemite, Israel Shamir, and Alison Wear, of the appalling if Americans Knew web site.

      Scanning his site, it links to a variety of dodgy locations which publish Gilad Atzmon’s filth, Media With A Conscience, others, like the disgusting Redress, etc. There’s plenty more.

      This is his review of Sand’s book,

      • Brian Robinson Says:

        Thanks modernity, I’ll check them out.
        I wanted to add 2 PS’s. I should have made clear (in case any reader missed by link the other day to Pat Condell’s latest video) that of course Condell was being trenchantly ironic in the video’s title.

        The other PS relates to an email sent just to myself by one of the other members of the same group to which I referred above. Addressing me, he wrote: “Please do not write again. I only correspond with people who feel the pain of ALL human suffering. I concern myself with U238 in Iraq, Afhganistan and many other evils besides the crucifixion of Palestine”.

        An innocent choice of word? Or one that betrays the existence of a miasma of prejudice? I knew the person well and I know the answer.

  10. Brian Robinson Says:

    Just read Davidson’s review of Sand’s “Invention …” book, thanks to modernityblog for the link.

    I did a brief report for some friends on the rather chaotic, though highly entertaining in a wild sort of way, evening at the LRB bookshop last February, when Brian Klug, who had been asked to interview him, tried vainly (before abandoning the attempt) to keep Shlomo Sand to some kind of agenda that related more nearly to the book we had expected to hear discussed, that is, the one containing an essay by Ernest Renan (from 1882 – “What is a Nation?”) and one by Sand about Renan and his legacy.

    In the event the entire evening was spent arguing (I thought with game, set and match to Klug) over Sand’s earlier *Invention” book, and the Renan book was all but forgotten.

    Sand insisted that Jewish identity is either religious or Israeli, or it is nothing. One might have mistaken him for a Zionist.

    Klug opposed this view, as did a number of people in the audience during questions. Indeed a few were upset to the point of tears, feeling that Sand’s argument threatened to deprive them of their deeply felt Jewish identity, one that was neither religious nor Israeli.

    Bizarrely (to my mind), Sand also argued (as he had done the day before at an RSA meeting chaired by Rosemary Hollis) that “You cannot call a cat a dog”. (Perhaps this works better in French, or Hebrew?)

    I took the liberty of assuming that this remark, which Sand proceeded to develop at some length, puzzled Klug as much as it did me, for he quipped that he thought Sand was “setting up a straw cat argument”.

    Klug argued strongly that there is a substantive Jewish identity, essentially a secular one, which Sand’s schema did not recognize.

    Coming back for a moment (and I want to be fair to Sand) to the straw cat (or perhaps dog), I think Sand might have been saying no more than that cat-lovers can’t be said to constitute a nation. Well, so …?

    Watching Sand in person for the first time (I’d previously only read him and seen him on video) I understood more clearly than before that he writes and speaks out of a passionate response to his perception of injustice. I got the distinct impression that for him, to think is to feel – something strongly proprioceptive.

    Klug both began and ended the meeting by reading out loud the dedication which Sand wrote for his “Invention” book: “To the memory of the refugees who reached this soil and those who were forced to leave it”. But Sand must also realise that he was amongst that first group which displaced the second. I don’t want to get too ad hominem about it, but could this have something to do with the vehemence with which he puts his case?

  11. Absolute Observer Says:

    Let me get this right.

    Sue Blackwell in a debate about boycotting Israel cited (with, or as is more likely) without being aware of the fact, a Dr whose rationale for singling out Israel for such treatment rests, at least partially, if not totally, on the re-working of an antisemitic myth,

    “The fact is that Zionist influence spreads far beyond Israel’s area of dominion and has, for a long while now, exerted a corrupting power within many of the policy making institutions of western governments, and particularly that of the United States.”

    I wonder what delegate will raise this fact when in this afternoon’s session on the EUMC definition of “antisemitism”.

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      Thanks AO. To clarify:

      He could not agree to any “tactical withdrawal” along the lines I had suggested. The world was undoubtedly a mess and had been for a long while. However, while there are many horrible _local_diseases _raging across the globe, _Zionism _represents_an_infectious_one that our own governments (including the UK) have caught. We have to treat it first just because it is infectious”. [his italics.]

      I said that I had been troubled by the connotations of his phrase “Zionist influence [spreading] far beyond …” &c It was important, I said, for campaigners to be aware that Jews will be sensitive to vocabulary, certain ways of phrasing things.

      I told him that I had been disturbed by the resonances set up by his metaphor of Zionism as an infectious disease. I said I was sure that he had not intended this offensively or to cause upset, but that “such a notion at once puts someone like me in mind of all the old prejudices of Jewish influence in the world being some kind of disease or toxic pollution”.

      He replied that he was sorry if he had upset me but he really believed that my judgement on his word usage was the product of a confusion between Zionists /Zionism with Jews/Judaism. When I wrote, “the problem is that Jews simply are going to be very sensitive to some kinds of vocabulary”, his riposte was to ask me, Which Jews? The Zionist Jews or the non-Zionist Jews? The Jews who still listen to Zionist propaganda or those who have turned off from it? The Jews over 60 or under 60?

      And he added that one thing that Israel and its racism had managed to do was divide the Jews.

      He then admonished me for what he saw as one example of my “confusion” – my fear that his analogy with disease “somehow vilified Judaism”. He pointed out that he did not call Judaism an infectious disease, he had merely said that Zionism represented one. Such confusion, he continued, could only be sustained by buying into the Israeli propaganda that tried so hard to merge the two.

      In his opinion those efforts by “Israeli propaganda” made Zionism the most dangerous threat to the Jewish religion since the Holocaust.

      The time for tip-toeing around the problem of racist ideologies like Zionism had long passed. He thought increasing numbers of Jews now understood that. In his view it was truly unfortunate that the more Israel acted out its racist-nationalist fantasies the more it, not he nor any of its other opponents, would trigger a rise in antisemitism.

      He felt it quite possible that some of Israel’s leaders would like to see that, and then shift the blame onto others. But in his view fewer Jews are fooled by such Orwellian tactics.

      At one point I had cited Jeff Halper when he’s giving (unsolicited) “advice” to American governments, “The first thing you gotta say is that you love us”, ie Israel. I mentioned Aesop’s old fable about whether the warm sun or the harsh wind could get the man to take off his overcoat.

      He thought that Halper’s “love us” phrase was part of his strategy for saving Israel from itself. He had no problem with that strategy, which he likened to that of Tikkun, it just wasn’t his. In his view the few Israeli peace activists who exist are not saying “Love us”, they’re asking us to say, “I am boycotting Israel”. And that was the team he was on.

      All of this correspondence was sent not just to me, but was copied to at least 7 other medical colleagues, some of them very distinguished in their field. Not one of them made any comment on the discussion I’ve reported above (apart from the private ‘crucifixion’ note I’ve already referred to).

  12. Absolute Observer Says:

    Thanks so much for the added detials (and the time).
    Davidson’s comments could be cited as an illustration of everything that is present with “criticism of Israel” slips into antisemitism.

    Interesting that he deprived you of autonomous thought but rather as someone “duped” by propaganda.

    Interesting too that no other recipient thought to comment.


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