The Academic Friends of Israel


 Vol 7 No 9                                                                                                      26 May 2008


This Wednesday 28 May, the UCU Congress will debate a motion which not only calls yet again for an academic boycott of Israel but demands of Jewish and Israeli academics that they explain their politics as a pre-condition to normal academic contact. 


 The motion asks colleagues “to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating”. If Jewish and Israeli academics support the Palestinian point of view they will be protected from further action, if they are against it or non-committal then they maybe considered unsuitable for continued association.  


It beggars belief that such a blatant “McCarthyite” demand which clearly is discriminatory and antisemitic and is also in clear violation of the UK Race Relations act is allowed to be published and debated by a union that prides itself on supporting academic freedom, and according to its rules “equality for all” and actively opposes “all forms of harassment, prejudice and unfair discrimination.”  


In the absence of public access to the UCU legal advice that was obtained last year The Board of Deputies of British Jews  decided to obtain their own opinion on the legality of a boycott call and how it would affect Jewish academics working in this country as 15% of the Jewish community work in education. The Board of Deputies is the democratically elected body for Anglo Jewry which defends the rights of the 280,000 Jews in this country, the overwhelming majority of whom are opposed to a boycott.  


Any reasonable person would say; “Okay, maybe you have a point here and we will look again at the motions and take advice and if there is any possibility that the union and its assets are at risk we will make sure that the resolution will be either withdrawn or modified before the debate takes place.” 

Not so the UCU and its General Secretary, Sally Hunt who is quoted in the Guardian;

"It is not for UCU to comment on legal advice received by other organisations, especially since we have neither seen the instructions the advice responded to nor do we know the context or purpose for which the advice was given……..There is no call for a boycott; the motions to congress call for a wider debate about what is happening over there and members will initiate that debate, as is their right, at congress.”


The likelihood therefore is that unless the UCU lawyers intervene the debate will go ahead and the motion will be passed by the majority of the 300 delegates representing the 120,000 members of the union. The depressing thought is that although pro and anti-boycotters will talk to each other and argue their respective points of view, Sally Hunt and her advisors have made no attempt to talk to the Jewish community to reassure them of their fears and the union’s intentions.   


The Academic Friends of Israel fully supports the right of the UCU to debate the issues surrounding the Israel /Palestine conflict and how they can support Palestinian academics as long as it does not include calls for the destruction, demonisation or delegitimisation of the State of Israel which is the EUMC definition of antisemitism. The problem is that many of the Congress delegates as well as the union itself do not accept this definition of antisemitism or that the UCU has become institutionally racist by creating a discriminatory atmosphere towards Jewish academics many of whom are members of the UCU. This has a bigger impact than one first realises because more Jews in the UK today belong to the teaching unions than any of the other trade union.  

This action by the UCU can only contribute to what the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks said recently when he called on University Vice-Chancellors “to take greater action to defend Jewish students who are made to feel like “pariahs” on campuses around the UK.” One must assume he would say the same about Jewish academics. The Jewish community is doing everything within its powers to oppose these boycott proposals but no matter what we say or do these people do not care how they hurt or offend us. They fail see why anything they say or do should affect us personally.  


Ronnie Fraser 


Academic Friends of Israel



 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

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 

The Academic Friends of Israel Ltd is limited by guarantee and registered in England No 5297417.