25 May 2006
This weekend sees the NATFHE conference in Blackpool and I will be there along with the Trade Union Friends of Israel opposing the proposal for an academic boycott of Israel. Earlier this week I became a delegate for London region will hopefully be allowed to speak against the motion in the debate. It is my understanding that the NATFHE national executive committee [NEC] will be meeting tomorrow to decide whether to support or reject the motion.
Five reasons why the motion should not be allowed to proceed:
1. There has been no consultation with the 67.000 membership at any level over the proposal to boycott Israeli academics and Israeli institutions. Paul Mackney gave a commitment at the 2005 conference that NATFHE must learn from the AUT experience and take steps to consult thoroughly throughout the Union at all levels of the membership with regard to the proposal for an academic boycott of Israel. He also warned the delegates that if they were to follow this course of action they must ensure they do not put the assets of the union at risk. The AUT boycott motions were overwhelmingly overturned after the AUT consulted their members. As there has been no consultation with the membership during the past 12 months I ask that the motion be withdrawn.
2. Both NATFHE and the AUT agreed that both unions’ pre-merger conferences would not make new policy as this could create problems for the new union, the UCU. Motion 198C is new policy and should be withdrawn for this reason alone.
3. It is not clear at this stage if the motion will be binding on the UCU if it is approved. NATFHE is on record in saying that it is not binding but only “advisory” on the merged union yet the AUT on its website in answer to the question: Do all agreements and policies have to be re-signed or ratified in the new union? “And the answer is “No, there will be an assumption that the acts of the predecessor unions are adopted by the new union except where it specifically decides otherwise" See http://www.aut.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=1386#17
Another view of what may happen if this motion is passed has been set out by Professor Michael Yudkin a member of the AUT who fears that the if NATFHE conference passes a boycott resolution against the wishes of the majority of AUT members, the new union will use its funds to finance speakers who will travel from place to place inciting academics to boycott Israelis. You can read his views http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=432
4. This motion should not be allowed to proceed because South East region submitted too many motions to the Annual Conference, 4 instead of 3. The Conference steering committee has “bent” the rules to allow this debate to take place. They decided that it would not set a precedent as this is the last NATFHE conference! Rules are rules and have been put in place for a good reason and should not be broken just because it is the last conference. This is blatant misuse of the power of the steering committee and one can only conclude that they made their decision because they wanted the motion to be discussed at all costs regardless of whether it would be an embarrassment to NATFHE, the AUT or the new merged Union.
5. The call for a personal boycott of Israeli academics in resolution 198C of the annual conference agenda goes against the rule 2.4 [below] of the Union which clearly states that it opposes discrimination on grounds of class, colour, religion and ethnic or national origin. If passed the motion not only will break the rules but will introduce a discriminatory and racist policy into the union.
Rule 2.4 To oppose actively all forms of harassment, prejudice and unfair discrimination whether on the grounds of sex, race, ethnic or national origin, religion, colour, class, caring responsibilities, marital status, sexuality, disability, age or other status or personal characteristic. I have written to the NEC registering a formal request for a ruling as to legality of the resolution before the conference is due to debate next Monday.
Why NATFHE should reject an academic boycott of Israel
Unlike the AUT resolution last year, this motion dos not specify particular universities but refers to “Israeli educational institutions” in the general sense, one can assume therefore that NAFTHE members are being asked to boycott all Israeli universities and academics. The motion has been very deliberately worded to be in the form of a “silent boycott” in order to avoid the possibility of legal action being taken for defamation or misuse of Union funds. In other words, individuals will not be detected if they carry out a boycott nor, the motion proposers hope, will the Union be responsible for promoting a boycott.
The very notion of an academic boycott against Israel has been rejected by academics around the world including our colleagues at the AUT who last year overwhelmingly repealed their council motions calling for such an embargo. An academic boycott against Israel, in the name of equality and anti-discrimination, is wrong-headed in principle. For all those concerned at the continuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and looking for ways of encouraging dialogue and trust between them, there can be few more counter-productive measures than to attempt to isolate Israeli academics and universities.
Perhaps more than any other institution in Israeli life, Israel’s universities epitomise the country’s democratic and open society. Israeli academics have long been at the forefront of initiatives aimed at building bridges between Jews and Arabs and, through international collaborations, they exemplify the role that academia can play in fostering goodwill between nations. Internationally, Israeli universities are renowned for their research into fields such as water resource management, cancer treatment, desalination, and regional disease eradication. In recent years Israeli educational institutions have been deeply engaged in regional development issues in countries as diverse as Cameroon, Eritrea, India, and Turkey. And all this achieved with an ethos based purely on academic excellence and merit; not on nationality, religion or political views.
While many Palestinians do call for a boycott, The President of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem argues clearly against a boycott: "An international academic boycott of Israel, on pro Palestinian grounds, is self-defeating: it would only succeed in weakening that strategically important bridge through which the state of war between Israelis and Palestinians could be ended and Palestinian rights could therefore be restored. Instead of burning that bridge, the international academy should do everything within its power to strengthen it, including, foremost, through its own collaborative intervention".
The resolution being proposed by NATFHE members refers to Israel’s “discriminatory educational practices”. In reality, Israel’s Arab minority – about 20% of the population – is well represented at Israel’s universities. (The statistics certainly compare very favourably with the proportion of certain minority communities in further or higher education in the UK) Indeed, at three of the state’s top universities, Haifa, Bar-Ilan and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, 20% of the students are Arabs. Omar Barghouti, one of the most vociferous Palestinian voices supporting the academic boycott, also happens to be studying for his PhD at Tel Aviv University.
The motion refers also to “Israeli apartheid policies”, presumably to evoke the academic boycott, twenty years ago, of South Africa. There the white minority pursued a policy of segregation and political discrimination against the black majority population and denied them basic human and civil rights – this was apartheid. The term does not apply to Israeli polices towards any of its citizens – Jewish, Arab or Christian; white or black. Israeli Arabs actually have more political rights than any other Arab population in the Middle East, most of whom live under autocratic monarchies or dictatorships.
One wonders in fact why, if some members of the union are so concerned about discriminatory practices abroad, there are no proposals for academic boycotts of any of Israel’s neighbours? British trade unionists have a proud record of fighting inequality and discrimination, yet NATFHE has chosen to focus their condemnation on Israel rather than certain other states in the Middle East where non-Muslims are persecuted, where discrimination against women is routine, where homosexuality is a crime punishable by death and where universities have been used as pulpits for the preaching of antisemitism. If this motion was to be approved it will cause an unnecessary rift between the AUT and NATFHE at a time when unity is needed during the current pay campaign.
This motion is itself an act of discrimination, singling out one country and one nationality for boycott, on grounds which objectively could be applied with far more validity elsewhere. Ultimately, NATFHE officers have an obligation not to commit the Union to pursue policies which encourage union members to break discrimination and equal opportunities legislation as well as their own contracts of employment. Finally the reaction from the international community has been amazing.
I would like to thank everyone who has sent messages of support, written letters and emails to NATFHE.
Special thanks go to Scholars for Peace in the Middle East [SPME], The International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB) at Bar Ilan University and the Anti-Deformation League [ADL] for organising petitions condemning the NATFHE resolutions.
Academic Friends of Israel
The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks
Dr Manfred Gerstenfeld - Chairman of the Board of Fellows, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Henry Grunwald Q.C. - President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews
John D A Levy - Director of the Academic Study Group on Israel and the Middle East
Andrew R. Marks, M.D. - Columbia University, USA
Professor Leslie Wagner CBE
Rt Hon Lord Young of Graffham
The Academic Friends of Israel Ltd is limited by guarantee and registered in England No 5297417.