Hey guess what-the Academic Boycott of Israel is back in the UK!
If the motion gets to Congress it will succeed because the UCU Left has an inbuilt majority with it powerbase from the ex-NATFHE Further Education Colleges. The question is will it get to Congress?
A legal challenge is quite possible as the UK Jewish community leadership has already said it will support any UCU member who wishes to make take this through the courts. Whether it does or does not make it to Congress in May, I fully expect the list of motions which will be published during the week beginning Monday 14 April to contain motions supporting Hamas and calling for an academic, or cultural boycott of Israel or even divestment. We know of this NEC motion already because it was leaked and published on the web in advance of the official list. I wouldn't bet on there being motions on the situation in Darfur or Tibet but it's a certainty there will be ones criticising Israel.
We can’t beat the boycotters on the Congress floor because of their numerical voting strength, but there are other ways to win especially as we have the UK Government, our Universities and the law of the land on our side. The academic boycott campaign has never been about enforcing a boycott because serious academics want to work with their Israeli colleagues; it is a vehicle that Israel’s enemies have used to draw attention to their campaign for Israel’s destruction and delegitimisation.
Tom Hickey is like a dog with a bone over boycotts he just won’t give it up. This year he is promoting a discussion by colleagues of the appropriateness of continued education links with Israeli academic institutions; Last year he was calling on members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions; and in 2006 at the final NATFHE Conference he was inviting members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies. Even in 2002, which may or may not have been down to him the NATFHE NEC passed a resolution urging all UK institutions of Higher and Further Education to review with a view to severing any academic links they might have with Israel. This is all the work of a man who to my knowledge has never been to Israel or the Palestinian territories, so all his knowledge of what goes on there has to be secondhand.
Repeating yourself over the years does not make you right, calling on people to discriminate against one group of people - Jews or Israelis - is wrong and it breaks the law.
Hickey believes that because he criticises the State of Israel and its policies, we all tell him he is being antisemitic – Wrong. Along with his colleagues in the Socialist Workers Party and many on the Left, he will not accept that criticism of Israel is only antisemitic when Israel is being demonised or deligitimised, or whether a double standard is being applied to it. Mostly criticism of Israel like any government or country is okay, it’s when you cross that line, you are out of order.
Linda Newman, the current UCU President has surprised everyone by seconding this years UCU motion. This is a coup for the boycotters because at the time of her election last year she came out against a boycott and supported a ballot of the membership on the issue. She has changed sides only two months after returning from a visit to the West Bank as part of an official UCU delegation on a trip arranged by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. She is promoting a UCU speaking tour by Palestinian academics from the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees which supports an academic boycott of Israel. Her replacement as President from June onwards is a member of the UCU Left.
What many of us fail to understand is why, when we were led to believe the legal advice the UCU received gave them no choice but to drop the last year’s boycott Motions, that Hickey and Newman - who both must have seen the advice - have gone ahead with proposals that could breach the aims and objectives of the UCU and put the UCU's assets at risk, to say nothing of deflecting the real work of the Union. Do they know something that we don't?
It’s quite simple; if you discriminate against someone, you break the law, just ask Professor Andrew Wilkie who was punished by Oxford University in 2003 for discriminating against an Israeli who wanted to work in his research laboratory.
As I understand it the 2005 and 2007 legal advice cost the union between £250-400,000, money which it should have spent campaigning on pay and conditions for its members. It looks like the minority of UCU Left activists on the NEC are on course to cost the UCU a whole lot more of its members funds, this at a time of increased job cuts in the UK University sector and when strike action is being contemplated to support the current pay claim.