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The Academic Friends of Israel

NATFHE's policy on Palestine / Israel and relations with Israeli

 

Academic Institutions-  circular issued 11 May 2003

I am writing to you concerning the evolution of NATFHE's position in regard to Palestine and Israel, following decisions taken by the NEC meeting on 2 May and at our Annual National Conference lat the end of May.

On 13 April 2002, in the wake of the Israeli incursions into the Palestinian West Bank towns, the NATFHE NEC passed a resolution which concluded, 'NATFHE NEC further resolves that all UK institutions of Higher and Further Education be urged immediately to review ­ with a view to severing ­ any academic links they may have with Israel. Such links should be restored only after full withdrawal of all Israeli forces, opening of negotiations to implements UN resolutions and the restoration of full access to all Palestinian HE and FE institutions.' This policy, which we sought to implement by asking branches to approach their institutions requesting that they review their links with Israeli academic institutions with a view to severing them, has now been reviewed by the NATFHE NEC in the light of changing circumstances.

NATFHE Head Office has had no reports of substantive take up of this policy over the last year, although it has aroused significant press interest. There have been a small number of resignations and some new recruits in response to our policy on Palestine / Israel, although 'boycott' has sometimes been the peg on which objections and resignations have hung. However, the debate about the rights and wrongs of 'boycott' (never our word, but foisted on us), has obscured the real issues of the rights and wrongs of the Israeli actions which led to the original NATFHE position.

The situation in Palestine / Israel has significantly worsened since the policy was adopted, with even greater brutality on the part of the Israeli forces, the hardening of attitudes by a re-elected Sharon government and for the first time the threat of actual starvation among sections of the Palestinian population, in the context of a much more all embracing international crisis. On the other hand, in however flawed a way, as part of their attempt to legitimise the attack on Iraq and set it within the notion of a wider settlement in the region, the US administration supported by the British government, have put forward a 'road map' to Palestinian statehood. Meanwhile a range of voices sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, from Education International to individuals like Noam Chomsky, have called for keeping the lines open to Israeli academics. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign distinguishes between academic and economic boycott, and focus their work on the latter. An EI mission to Palestine and Israel last autumn called for unions outside the region to have dialogue with the teacher unions in Palestine and in Israel, and to promote dialogue between the two. The anti-war movement has made a strong and clear link between the Iraq crisis and justice for Palestine; has played a prominent part in the anti-war campaign, and the General Secretary spoke at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally on 17 May.

The NATFHE NEC believe that it is now time to move on, including making
common cause with other trade unions in the UK and within EI, and supporting bodies like the Friends of Bir Zeit University (FOBZU). We are still waiting for the situation to improve sufficiently for FOBZU to engage with its 'right to education' work, which we have agreed to support. I reported on the possibility of a higher education trade unionists delegation to Palestine / Israel, funded by WUS, and this will be part of a process of re-focusing our work.

These are not ’soft options':building contacts and supporting dialogue and the re-building of Palestinianeducation are hard and painstaking tasks, which few from outside the region have worked hard to make limited progress. Dialogue with Israeli and Palestinian academics has never been easy and attitudes generally will have hardened, and despair increased, in the last year.

There is a job of work to do within EI to get it to implement its existing policies and to improve on them.

In summary, the NEC believes that NATFHE policy should be re-focused:

1) The NEC believes we should now move on from the policy of 'reviewing links' enunciated in the April 2002 resolution.

2) The NEC has agreed that NATFHE should pursue a policy based on
active support for Palestinian post-school education including work with
FOBZU on the Palestinian 'right to education' campaign'; promotion of links
with Palestinian and Israeli unions, and exploration of possible twinning
with Palestinian and Israeli universities; work within EI, including making use of the forthcoming EI World Congress in July 2004; participation in a possible forthcoming WUS mission; work within the UK political and trade union framework to press for the 'road map' to the establishment of a Palestinian state is actually put into effect. (The AUT agreed similar policies at its summer Council meeting, and it is hoped that we can work closely with them on these issues.)

3) The NEC has agreed that NATFHE affiliates to the Trade Union Friends of
Palestine and/or Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

In the light of the scale of the current international crisis, the General Secretary made a printed report on international developments to delegates to the Annual National Conference, which touched on some of these issues and NATFHE's work in the Stop the War campaign.

If you have any queries relating to the issues raised in this circular, or if you or your colleagues wish to help carry this work forward, please contact Paul Bennett at Head Office.

Yours sincerely
Paul Mackney
General Secretary