The Academic Friends of Israel


AFI Digest Vol 7 No 14                                                                    16 December 2008

 UCU decides not implement its boycott policy – Again

I now understand what Bill Murray went through in the film “Groundhog Day” because for the fourth time in four years a British academic trade union has decided not to implement an academic boycott of Israel. The decision by the UCU at its recent National Executive Committee [NEC] meeting to abandon the contentious parts of this year’s motion 25 was the outcome of a threat of legal action from Oxford University Professor Michael Yudkin and 11 fellow UCU members.  

The UCU has now shelved its plans to "widely disseminate" testimony from Palestinians and union delegations to Palestine along with the proposal to discuss the occupation with Israeli colleagues, or consider the moral implications of links with Israel. The union's director of legal services, Michael Scott, wrote to lawyers representing opponents of the motion, refusing to repudiate the motion itself but clarifying what action the union will take to implement it.  

In response Anthony Julius, of solicitors Mishcon de Reya which represents the 12 UCU members, responded to the union saying: "The NEC is not implementing the motion … Just as motion 25 was a boycott motion without the use of the word, so the NEC's 'implementation' is a repudiation of it, without use of that word." 

General Secretary Sally Hunt’s “cunning plan” to ensure that the union stays with in the law is to replace the “ boycott” parts of motion 25, amid cries from her colleagues ”but its not a boycott motion, ” and replace it with an implementation plan that will include: 

1. Facilitate twinning with universities and colleges in those “countries” covered by the international motions passed at 2008 Congress, namely the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Burma etc. 

2. The union will commission an independent report on academic freedom and the rights of staff and students within all those institutions and countries covered by 2008 Congress international policy including Gaza and the West Bank. The union intends to publicise the report widely. 

If motion 25 wasn’t a boycott motion in the first place which the UCU still maintains it wasn’t then why aren’t they implementing it in full?  The answer is that the UCU knows that, based on legal advice received the boycott parts could not be implemented because they would run a serious risk of infringing UK discrimination legislation – so therefore it has to be a boycott motion. 

Has the UCU finally abandoned its dream of an academic boycott of Israel? 

Sadly the answer is NO, from what I have read on the UCU activists list and elsewhere it is clear they have no intention of abandoning their support for Palestinian academics, nor the UK Palestinian Solidarity Campaign whose policies include boycott and divestment or their partners in the area the Palestinian Professors union [PFUUPE] 

You may remember last year the UCU brought to the UK, members of the PFUUPE for a speaking tour. The PFUUPE which is a signatory to and active supporter of the Palestinian Boycott call is a small union that is not affiliated to main Palestinian trade union organisation the PGFTU. The PGFTU, which along with the TUC, the Israeli trade union organisation the Histadrut are all members of the International trade body, the ITUC.  Efforts to find out more about the PFUUPE have so far failed to confirm if it is based in Gaza which would mean it probably has links with Hamas.  

Because the UCU’s partners the PFUUPE have no contact with the Histadrut or even the PGFTU I can understand why Sally Hunt refuses to talk to the Israelis but the question is why does the TUC General Council allow Sally Hunt to continue in her role as TUC spokesperson on International affairs when the TUC has a policy of working with both the Histadrut and the PGFTU and relations between the Israeli and the Palestinians are extremely good at present? 

Will there be a boycott motion discussed at next years Congress? 

What the UCU and the boycotters have to understand is that Anthony Julius’s letter on behalf of Michael Yudkin and his colleagues  withdrawing their threat to sue  clearly stated that:

“I do hope that it will not be necessary to reopen this correspondence between us in the New Year. In the event of a fresh boycott, or otherwise unlawfully discriminatory motion I have instructions to sue.” 

However since the NEC and the boycotters have made a great play of not giving in to legal threats they may try and call Anthony Julius’s bluff by discussing a boycott motion at next years Congress especially as Sally Hunt told delegates at this years Congress that although they have the right to discuss and vote on any motion before them it will be up to the UCU NEC to decide whether the resolution can be implemented in order to ensure that the union stays within the law.  

 Jews have for centuries experienced and have had to suffer discrimination, racism antisemitsm and boycotts and when we say something is either antisemitic or racist or discriminatory or a boycott we know what we are talking about. The UCU may not believe motion 25 is a boycott motion but we recognise one when we see one.  So when Anthony Julius says he will sue in the event of a fresh boycott, or otherwise unlawfully discriminatory motion, the UCU and the boycotters better believe him, because he will. 

The UCU implementation plan for motion 25  

The implementation plan was devised by the same people who wrote motion 25  which ensures that when the time comes to publish the report on academic freedom there will be an opportunity for "Israel bashing" whether it is justified or not. It is more than likely that the section in the report on the Universities in the West Bank and Gaza will be longer, more detailed and much more damning of the Israeli authorities than it will be of the Governments of Zimbabwe, Colombia and Burma and their treatment of their universities.


After nearly five years of boycott motions Sally Hunt, the senior UCU management and at least 50% of the current NEC are still are prepared pursue a policy that is divides the membership, does not provide genuine support for the Palestinians and the union cannot implement.

After spending at least £500,000 of members’ money on these abortive campaigns, when are these people going to realise that they could have put this money to far better use on real beneficial international Trade union work. I can only conclude that because it's not their money they don't care because for many of them the real agenda is not support for the Palestinians but the delegitimisation and destruction of the state of Israel.

Supporting an academic boycott of Israel also allows these individuals a personal importance they would have nowhere else. On what other platform would people like Sue Blackwell et al get so much publicity and media attention ?

It is noteworthy that the meeting between Sally Hunt and the lawyers which led to the UCU abandoning its attempt to boycott Israeli academics was to my knowledge the first for several years between the UCU and those opposed to a boycott, why does it take legal threats to get both sides round a table?
Will anything change, will I be getting a call from Sally Hunt - I doubt it 

 Ronnie Fraser

Academic Friends of Israel    

The relevant documents can be found here: 

1. The letter from the UCU to Anthony Julius calling off the boycott:  

2. The reply from Anthony Julius to the UCU:

3. The press release, put out by the 12 UCU members:  

4. UCU refutes claims it has 'dropped boycott motion': 

5. Resolution 25: 

6. Jon Pike's report of the UCU NEC meeting which decided not to implement the boycott:

Patron: The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks 

Advisory Board: 

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

Amir Lev  

ohn 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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