The Academic Friends of Israel
19 June 2007
When I came away from the UCU Congress I felt that after five years of campaigning against the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli polices of our academic unions nothing had changed. The atmosphere this year in some respects was worse than it had ever been at NATFHE conferences; the vitriol that was aimed at Israel reached levels beyond belief.
It is only now after having given serious thought to the situation that I would like to share some thoughts with you about the UCU pro-boycott road show, why we are unlikely to win any ballot and some proactive strategies we can follow.
After thinking long and hard whether to stay in the UCU I have decided not to follow Shalom Lappin and Yaron Matras and resign even though I agree with much of what they have said. I have always believed that it is better to fight from the inside than from the outside, by remaining a member any comments and criticism AFI makes have legitimacy. Once outside the UCU, we would join groups like the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Bicom and the Jewish Leadership Council whose locus is elsewhere.
The UCU pro-boycott road show
The UCU is committed to circulating the Palestinian boycott call and is therefore aligning itself with those whose aim is the dismantling of the State of Israel. In the autumn there will be a UCU pro-boycott road show, which will tour UCU branches featuring Palestinian academics, whilst encouraging members to consider the moral implications of links with Israeli academia. Sally Hunt wants the participation of Israeli academics and groups like AFI in the debates to provide a “balanced” debate.
I do have serious misgivings about taking part in debates of this nature and will personally refuse to have anything to do with the road show. Why should we do this if the Board of Deputies will not enter into discussions with the National Front or any organisation that promotes the delegitimisation of the state of Israel? I cannot speak for others on this matter; it is for them to decide what to do. I ask them to think very carefully on this matter as participation legitimises the boycott debate.
It is clear that the boycott issue will not go away and further attempts will be made in the future. As this is the fourth boycott attempt in the last five years the leadership of the UCU is either unwilling or unable to face up to its responsibilities for what ever reason. We know an academic boycott of Israel will not succeed and that the only loser will be British academia itself.
Unlike previously, the UCU’s boycott actions have been condemned by the British government, the press and media throughout the world, academics and some University Vice -Chancellors. They may not support Israel but are against an academic boycott. We would do well to build on this support.
Proposed ballot of UCU membership on the boycott
As any lawyer will tell you, you should only ask a question if you know what the question is and have a good idea of what the answer will be. It is therefore unwise to risk everything on winning the ballot of the UCU membership when you consider the following:
1. We don’t know the wording of the ballot paper question, which will probably be anti-Israel since it will have to be agreed by the UCU Left group who hold nearly 50% of seats on the UCU executive.
2. The ballot will be conducted by a postal vote; therefore members will have to be motivated to return the ballot paper.
3. The majority of the 120,000 UCU members in the 700 Higher and Further education Institutions in the UK do not attend meetings. To win we will need to contact members which will require a lot of intelligence work.
4. I have been told several times recently that academics will ignore and possibly vote against an advertising campaign that is led by non-academic groups.
5. The union membership is divided between 50,000 ex-AUT academics in 80 Universities and 70,000 ex-NATFHE academics in the other 620 institutions. Many ex-AUT academics will oppose a boycott but it is likely that many ex-NATFHE members who have no contact with Israeli Universities and very few Jewish colleagues will do the same. Their institutions also form the stronghold of the UCU Left.
What we should do- A proactive strategy for the future
1. Universities and Colleges
Our priority should be to encourage all UK Universities and Colleges to issue statements which condemn an academic boycott of Israel and supports academic freedom. In addition the Universities should agree to remind staff that boycotting Israeli academics could not only breach UK equal opportunities and discrimination legislation but University regulations and their contract of employment, which could lead to legal proceedings and dismissals.
1. If you are an UK academic based in the UK you should ask your University or College to issue a statement as above. Please send AFI a copy of the reply you receive.
2. If you are an academic based outside the UK for example in America or Israel you should contact your colleagues in the UK and ask them their views on an academic boycott of Israeli. If their answers are not satisfactory, then make them aware that you are not pleased. Please send AFI a copy of the reply you receive.
3. If you are invited to a conference in the UK either as a delegate or to present a paper, ask the organisers for their views and to issue a statement condemning a boycott of Israeli academics. Also ascertain if Israeli academics have been invited. If the organisers refuse then decline the invitation. Please send AFI a copy of the reply you receive.
3.Many of the UK’s top Universities raise funds in the USA from charitable institutions and former students and also benefit from large numbers of American students studying in the UK. I believe it is a legitimate tactic to advise these funders of any boycott call. They too should ask for statements from the Universities condemning an academic boycott of Israeli. Please send AFI copies of any correspondence.
4.If you studied at a UK University or College and/or have children or grandchildren at University or College you should ask for the same statement as in 1. Please send AFI a copy of any reply you receive.
Please spread the word amongst family and friends in the UK and abroad.
2. Join the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB) at: http://www.biu.ac.il/academic_freedom
3. Declare yourself to be an Israeli academic
Support the Alan Dershowitz / Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) initiative by declaring yourself to be an Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott and to decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded. To sign the petition, please do so immediately by clicking here.
4. Encourage the UCU to build positive relationships in Israel and Palestine
We must encourage Sally Hunt and the UCU at every opportunity into meeting and nurturing moderate counterparts in Israel and Palestine and providing the means, contexts, locations and funding for dialogue opportunities. Steering the UCU out of and away from this boycott direction would send a signal that rather than giving way to the boycotters the UCU could earn itself support and respect by signaling that it can and wants cooperation and not confrontation.
5. If you are a member of the UCU stop paying the political levy
UCU members can opt out of paying the political levy which is a small part of the membership fee and is used for UCU political campaigns. If you decide to opt out, contact email@example.com and don’t forget to tell them why. Please send AFI copies of any correspondence.
6. Promote the positive side of Israel academic excellence
There a need to promote the positive side of Israel academic excellence. When Israeli university presidents and senior academics come to the UK for visits or sabbatical or for study, use them to promote the excellence of Israeli academia. This also applies to Israeli artists, musicians, writers, sportsmen and others who would be affected by any cultural ban.
7. Relationships with Institutions, organisations, professional bodies and journals
We have already seen boycott calls in the medical and architectural professions. In order to prepare for further boycott attempts in the UK we must build relationships with Institutions, organisations, journals and professional bodies and encourage them to issue statements against a cultural and academic boycott of Israel. As a first step please contact AFI with your suggestions and we will attempt to coordinate efforts. Professor David Katz is coordinating the UK’s response to the calls for a medical boycott; he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
8. Help create a general action email database
Thousands of people have signed petitions and showed they want to do something to help fight boycott campaigns directed against Israel.
There is a real need to create a general action email database –Anyone can sign up to this and they will be contacted when the need arises E.g. sending an email to the Secretary General of a Trade union.
The Academic Friends of Israel is willing to support and develop this idea and hope other groups and organisations will join us.
Please spread the word amongst colleagues, family and friends in the UK and abroad and tell people to contact us on: email@example.com
The Academic Friends of Israel needs volunteers to help develop these ideas. Please email me your views and suggestions.
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
Dr Robin Stamler
Professor Leslie Wagner CBE
Rt Hon Lord Young of Graffham
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