Aca­demics’ mo­tion seen as a boy­cott by the back door

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY LEON SY­MONS AND SHELLY PAZ

THE UNIVER­SITY and Col­lege Union lived up to ex­pec­ta­tions on Wed­nes­day by car­ry­ing a mo­tion at its an­nual con­fer­ence in Manch­ester that has been chal­lenged as an at­tempt to rein­tro­duce a boy­cott of Is­raeli aca­demics by the back door.

Tom Hickey, the phi­los­o­phy lec­turer from the Univer­sity of Brighton be­hind the mo­tion, said the UCU was “urg­ing peo­ple to re­flect on whether it was ap­pro­pri­ate for them to main­tain their links with Is­raeli in­sti­tu­tions”.

The mo­tion talked about the “ap­par­ent com­plic­ity of most of the Is­raeli academy” and re­solved that “col­leagues be asked to con­sider the moral and po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions of ed­u­ca­tional links with Is­raeli in­sti­tu­tions, and to dis­cuss the oc­cu­pa­tion with in­di­vid­u­als and in­sti­tu­tions con­cerned, in­clud­ing Is­raeli col­leagues with whom they are col­lab­o­rat­ing”.

But while the UCU tried to con­vince a doubt­ing world that the mo­tion was about sol­i­dar­ity with Pales­tinian aca­demics rather than boy­cotting Is­raelis, crit­ics were cau­tiously op­ti­mistic that the ex­er­cise could suf­fer the same fate as last year’s at­tempt.

Af­ter the mo­tion was car­ried with­out op­po­si­tion — there were an es­ti­mated 400-500 del­e­gates present out of a mem­ber­ship of up to 120,000 — ob­servers pointed to a com­ment made by UCU gen­eral sec­re­tary Sally Hunt, who said: “Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the mo­tion with the law will now fall to the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee.”

They saw this as a clear in­di­ca­tion that the union’s ex­ec­u­tive must en­sure the mo­tion is scru­ti­nised in de­tail by its le­gal ad­vis­ers. Iron­i­cally, the first mo­tion passed by the congress this year called for the nam­ing and sham­ing of univer­si­ties and col­leges that failed to im­ple­ment anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion law.

Jeremy New­mark, joint chair of the Stop The Boy­cott cam­paign, who was at the con­fer­ence, said: “UCU chose to ig­nore both its own le­gal ad­vice and the le­gal opin­ion sought by Stop the Boy­cott. Our le­gal opin­ion, pro­duced at the re­quest of UCU mem­bers, has shown that this mo­tion pro­moted dis­crim­i­na­tion. But the union moved ahead with the de­bate as if none of it mat­tered.

“The mo­tion passed over­whelm­ingly, in part be­cause of [UCU pres­i­dent] Linda New­man and Sally Hunt’s in­sis­tence that it was pretty harm­less and not a boy­cott. The pro­ce­dure dur­ing the de­bate was a to­tal mess, with con­fu­sion over an amend­ment. In the end, there were no speeches against the main mo­tion.”

Mr New­mark added: “This mo­tion calls for UCU mem­bers to con­sider whether they should cut off their links with Is­raeli univer­si­ties, to speak to any Is­raelis they know and com­plain to them about Is­rael’s ac­tions. This is a boy­cott mo­tion, and at­tempts to pre­tend oth­er­wise are disin­gen­u­ous and wrong.”

Bicom chief ex­ec­u­tive Lorna Fitzsi­mons, Mr New­mark’s co-chair, said: “What was true last year re­mains true to­day. Boy­cotts of any kind do noth­ing to pro­mote peace and mod­er­a­tion in the Mid­dle East, while un­der­min­ing the aca­demic free­dom and in­tegrity of Bri­tish aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions.

“As a trade union­ist my­self, I find it as­tound­ing that the union was pre­pared to con­tra­dict its found­ing prin­ci­ples of pro­tec­tion in the work­place.”

Ron­nie Fraser, di­rec­tor of the Aca­demic Friends of Is­rael, com­mented: “It beg­gars be­lief that such a bla­tant ‘McCarthyite’ de­mand, which we be­lieve is in clear vi­o­la­tion of the UK Race Re­la­tions Act, is al­lowed to be pub­lished and de­bated by a union that prides it­self on sup­port­ing aca­demic free­dom.

“Nei­ther the union nor many congress del­e­gates have ac­cepted that by pass­ing this mo­tion, it has be­come in­sti­tu­tion­ally racist by cre­at­ing a dis­crim­i­na­tory at­mos­phere to­wards Jewish aca­demics, many of whom are mem­bers of the UCU.”

Pro­fes­sor David New­man, of BenGu­rion Univer­sity’s Pol­i­tics and Gov­ern­ment De­part­ment, who is the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Is­raeli univer­si­ties in the UK, told the JC that the UCU’s con­tin­u­ing at­tempts to boy­cott Is­rael were hav­ing the op­po­site ef­fect.

“Th­ese re­peated ef­forts to boy­cott Is­raeli aca­demics and the Is­raeli academy will have a very lim­ited in­flu­ence on the se­ri­ous sci­en­tific re­search and the new col­lab­o­ra­tive projects the two coun­tries share,” Pro­fes­sor New­man said.

“Sur­pris­ingly, ever since their strug­gle was launched, the aca­demic re­la­tions be­tween Is­rael and the UK have only strength­ened. How­ever, they can’t re­nounce their re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­mos­phere they have cre­ated in which stu­dents and aca­demic staff find it hard to work,” he added.

Pro­fes­sor Gideon Doron, pres­i­dent of the Is­raeli Po­lit­i­cal Science As­so­ci­a­tion at Tel Aviv Univer­sity, told the JC: “We are not deal­ing with aca­demics, but with a po­lit­i­cal group, who among other things hap­pen to work in univer­si­ties. Aca­demic peo­ple work to pro­mote science, hu­man­ity and the well­be­ing of hu­mankind. Th­ese peo­ple use their pro­fes­sion as an ex­cuse to make po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal.”

PHOTO: LAWRENCE PUR­CELL

PHOTO: VICKY AL­HAD­EFF

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