The Academic Friends of IsraelPlease read this note from David Hirsch and Jon Pike that I have been asked to circulate. You should sign the letter against the proposed NATFHE boycott only if you agree with the contents of the letter.
I have written a letter opposing the latest proposals to boycott Israeli academia (see below) that I intend to send to the guardian for publication later this week.
I would like as many academics as possible to put their names to it - particularly people working in the UK - particularly Natfhe and AUT members - although I will be happy to include academics from all over the world and academics who are not in a union.
If you would like to put your name to it, please email alex@EngageOnline.org.uk.
Please put "Add my name to the letter" in subject heading of your email. If possible, for purposes of verification, please use your academic email address. Please include the following information:
- Your name
- The academic institution where you work
- Your trade union membership
Please do pass this letter around to all academic colleagues who you think might be interested in signing it. Please ask them to pass it on too.
Please do not post it on websites publicly at the moment because I think the guardian will be reluctant to print something that has already been published.
We call on Natfhe (National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education) conference this weekend to reject motion 198c. This motion "invites" academics to blacklist from the global academic community Israeli "institutions and individuals" that do not " publicly dissociate themselves" from "Israeli apartheid policies". The purpose of the apartheid analogy here is not to shed light on the conflict between Israel and Palestine but to mobilise an emotional vote for a blacklist.
We oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and we oppose the daily violence that is necessary to sustain it; as we oppose campaigns to kill Israelis. We are for peace between Israel and Palestine on the basis of mutual recognition. But this boycott proposal would do more harm than good if the aim is to bolster the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements and move towards a peace agreement.
The political test for Israeli academics builds on a tradition established by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the USA and by the antisemitic purges in Communist Eastern Europe in the 1960s. We oppose the idea that academics would be forced to sign a statement in order to demonstrate their political cleanliness.
Trade unions should have a consistent policy with regard to human rights abuses abroad and the curtailment of academic freedom that goes with them. We oppose the plain inconsistency of drawing up a blacklist of Israelis but adopting an entirely different attitude to academics in the USA, China, Russia, Britain, Sudan , North Korea, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt - or in the long list of other states that are responsible for equal or worse human rights abuses.
Israeli universities are amongst the most open and anti-racist spaces in Israel and so are the wrong target. They are places where words and argument are the norm rather than guns and bombs. They have large numbers of Arab students (20 percent in Haifa and Jerusalem) as well as significant numbers of Arab staff. The Oslo peace process was forged by links between Israeli and Palestinian academics.
While many voices in Palestine do call for a boycott (although not for a McCarthyite test), many do not. The PLO, the Palestinian Authority and the President of Birzeit University have not called for a boycott. The President of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem argues clearly against a boycott.
Natfhe and AUT (the Association of University Teachers) are currently involved in a bitter and difficult dispute with university managements over pay. This boycott proposal degrades our unity at a moment when academics need to stand together. After the most democratic discussion that AUT ever had, it decided last year to oppose the policy of boycotting Israeli academics; not one AUT branch voted in favour. Natfhe has not organised a democratic discussion within its universities and colleges; if this motion was to pass then it would be passed by a small coterie of Natfhe activists and would not represent the democratic will of academic trade unionists.
The two unions will merge three days after the Natfhe debate. We do not want the new union to be born, while fighting a dispute, into a row over the wrong-headed and counter-productive policy of blacklisting Israeli colleagues.
David Hirsh, Goldsmiths College, AUT
Jon Pike, Open University, AUT