Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's spring boycott season

The UCU (British University and College Union) is once again bringing a boycott motion to the floor for its Congress happening at the end of this month. The motion is below. I've underlined the sentences which actually call for implementing the boycott. The most bizarre part of this motion, however, is to be found in the italicized paragraphs, which advise that the lawyers consulted by the union have determined that support of it "would be unlawful because it is likely to be viewed by a court as a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions." If the motion is passed as it currently stands, "the President has been advised that she will have to treat it as being void and of no effect."

28 Composite (Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Committee, North West Regional Committee) Gaza

Congress notes:

1. The deaths, injuries and destruction caused by the Israeli government’s assault on Gaza.
2. The sale of over £18.8 million of British arms to Israel in 2008, up from £7.5 million in 2007

Congress condemns:

1. The Israeli attack on Gaza and refusals by the US and UK governments to condemn it
2. The total support for Israel by the US government
3. The siege of Gaza by the Israeli government in breach of international law.

Congress resolves:

1. To congratulate student unions who have occupied and protested over Gaza
2. To call for an immediate lifting of the siege
3. To demand the British government end its complicity in denying Palestinian rights
4. To demand the British government bans arms sales and economic support for Israel
5. To support self-determination for the Palestinian people
6. To call for a ban on imports of all goods from the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories
7. To demand the British government expels the Israeli ambassador
8. To donate to the special Stop the War fund for Gaza.

Amendment 28A.1: The union received advice from Leading Counsel that to pass this amendment would be unlawful because it is likely to be viewed by a court as a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The union has previously followed advice from Leading Counsel that such a call would be outside the powers of the union to make. If the amendment is further amended to remove the affirmation of support for the Palestine call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign, Leading Counsel has advised the union may lawfully pass this amendment. If the amendment is passed in its unamended form the President has been advised that she will have to treat it as being void and of no effect.

28A.1 North West Regional Committee

Add at end:

‘Congress affirms support for the Palestinian call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign.’

Motion 29: The union received advice from Leading Counsel that to pass this motion would be unlawful because it is likely to be viewed by a court as a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The union has previously followed advice from Leading Counsel that such a call would be outside the powers of the union to make. If the motion is amended to remove the affirmation of support for the Palestine call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign, Leading Counsel has advised the union may lawfully pass this motion. If the motion is passed in its unamended form the President has been advised that she will have to treat it as being void and of no effect.

29 Composite (University of Brighton Grand Parade, College of North East London, University of East London)

Congress notes:

· targeting by Israel of civilians, homes, hospitals, UN facilities, university and school buildings to overthrow a democratically elected government;
· blockade of medicine, food, fuel, trade and education of Gaza, and continued occupation and settlement of the West Bank;
· complicity of Israeli educational institutions in colonisation and military preparation;
· student occupations globally demanding justice and solidarity.

Congress believes:

· a solution is impossible until Israel dismantles illegal settlements, withdraws to 1967 borders, and negotiates with Hamas;
· international pressure is necessary to force Israel to abide by international law.

Congress affirms support for the Palestinian call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign.

Congress resolves to:

· intensify solidarity and renew urgently its call to members to reflect on the moral and political appropriateness of collaboration with Israeli educational institutions;
· Support those Israelis who refuse to collaborate with Israel’s war against Palestinians
· Demand that the British Government condemn Israeli aggression and ban arms sales to Israel
· host an Autumn international, inter-union conference of BDS supporters to investigate implementation of the strategy, including an option of institutional boycotts.
One wonders what is the point of passing a motion which will automatically be of no force - except, of course, for the purpose of making the Jewish members of the UCU feel even more uncomfortable and making anti-semitism masked as anti-Zionism even more respectable among people who call themselves academics.

3 comments:

  1. I have also advocated such boycotts of Israeli academic institutions in Irish universities and it isn't something I did lightly or without anguish.

    If you are wondering what the point is of "passing a motion which will automatically be of no force" it can be seen to be a symbolic show of support for not just the Palestinian people, or of the Palestinian educational system under Israeli rule, but also of the Israeli academics who have been effectively muzzled from both holding top posts in Israeli universities and at the same time criticising many significant aspects of the state itself. (academic freedom in Israel is a large topic for debate itself so I won't explore this now).

    Indeed there are several well known figures in Israeili academic life who have criticised their government on the issue of the Palestinians, among them are Baruch Kimmerling, Tanya Reinhart and Israel Shahak. This boycott will 'punish' collectively persons who should not be held criminally accoutnable for the actions of their government. Criminally a populace cannot be held accountable for the crimes of their leaders but politically every citizen does have a political culpalablity when it comes to their nation. So while collective punishment of the families of suicide bombers, or of Israeli families suffering Hamas rocket attacks is to be utterly abhorred, political responsibilty must be assumed by the people in a society inbued with power (of the Bourdieu illustrated). I become involved in campaigning against my own state if Ireland were to commit unlawful acts. In other words, this boycott is designed, among other reasons, to push Israeli academics into acknowledging the problems their government creates in the Palestinian territories. I would ask you to recognise the constraints Palestinian scholars and students exist under for over a decade and how there seems to be less interest in rectifying this 'assault' on academic freedom.

    Basically my point is that any such boycott is being directed at institutions and now academics. No-one is attemtping to silence individual professors and no other university, no matter tha opinions of a scholar, is being targeted in this boycott push. And as seen under the Apartheid boycott of the mid 20th century, academic discourse on the political issues actually, and counter-intuitively, flourish.

    My question for you would be how such a boycott is anti-Semitic? do you believe anyu such criticism of the state of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic, or do you believe anti-Semitic professors are using this boycott as a facade over their dislike of Jewish people?

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. No one is attempting to silence individual professors? Are you serious? The academic boycott is intended to cut off Israeli academics from world intellectual life - it absolutely cuts off their freedom of speech.

    I would guess that you don't know much about Israeli academia, which in my experience is the home for many people who oppose the occupation and work against it, much more so than any other institution in Israeli life.

    And yes, I do believe the attempted academic boycott of Israel is anti-semitic, in effect if not sometimes in intent. I believe this especially for my own academic field, Jewish Studies, because if such a boycott were really to come into effect, it would strangle any effective cooperative work between Israeli scholars and those outside Israel.

    No, I do not believe that all criticism of Israel is anti-semitic. I myself often engage in criticism of Israel, and I am not a Jew-hater.

    I do believe that some of the people calling for the boycott are anti-semitic and are masking their anti-semitism with anti-Zionism. Others I believe are just fools, who imagine that they are bravely acting for the poor Palestinians by sitting in their comfortable professorial chairs and passing useless resolutions.

    Something far more useful would be organizing to support Palestinian universities, inviting Palestinian students to work in other universities, going oneself to teach in those universities, etc. Not passing resolutions whose only purpose is to alienate Jews in western countries from their non-Jewish colleagues, who so self-righteously believe that they are doing something for the Palestinian people.

    If you would like to know more about my opinions, check out any number of Engage or Harry's Place articles on this topic.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for your reply and I will now read some of the articles you've suggested.

    But you have't addressed exactly how you believe the boycott is anti-Semitic. I know you believe some 'behind it' are anti-Semites, and others are simply bleeding hearts but can you explain what makes this boycott anti-Semitic? I understand that the effect on such fields as yours could be temporarily catastrophic (and it doesn't fill me with pleasure)... is it the effect of the action that makes it anti-Semitic? I can't see how this could be because any action which hurts your field such as cutting the funding due to budget issues would then be autmoatically anti-Semitic despite the intentions of the majority of people involved in the decision.

    You mentioned some alternative actions that could be done on behalf of the Palestinian education system, for example supporting and inviting Palestinian students to attend other universities. Well, those who care about academic freedom in Israel tend to show a stunning indifference to the situation facing Palestinian universities, which have been bombed, split in two by Israel's "security fence," and regularly shut down under Israeli military order. Checkpoints routinely prevent students and faculty from attending classes. Immigration and security officials deny visiting scholars their visa. Students winning scholarships abroad (in cases even to American universities) are denied permits to leave. And these are not universities under the control of Arab governments but under the control of Israel, the very country whose universities are supposedly the "freest in the Middle East."

    The last point is that in your blog you haven't mentioned the academic freedom of even American scholars who (probably in line with your political opinions) condemned the recent Gaza attacks. Would it not be fairer to mention the case of William I. Robinson who is facing hearings over alleged anti-Semitism for comparing the Gazan offensive to the Warsaw Ghetto. However unfortunate the analogy, is he not facing censure over his opinions?

    I enjoy reading your blog and I would enjoy continuing to comment. If you haven't the time to always reply, don't feel like I insist on it! And I will stop commenting completely if you ever request so.

    ReplyDelete