Sunday, December 14, 2008

UK Academics have "abandoned" Israeli boycott

From The Guardian, Wednesday 10 December 2008, by Donald MacLeod:

The UK lecturers' union has abandoned attempts to boycott Israeli universities after years of international controversy....

In the face of legal threats, the leadership of the University and College Union has quietly dropped plans to implement a conference motion that instructed members 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".

The union was asked to "widely disseminate" testimony from Palestinians and union delegations to Palestine. This too was shelved by the national executive at a meeting last month.
The union's director of legal services, Michael Scott, has written to lawyers representing opponents of the motion, refusing to repudiate the motion itself but clarifying what action the union will take to implement it.

Any mention of the proposal to discuss the occupation with Israeli colleagues, or consider the moral implications of links with Israel, has been dropped.

Instead, the union will issue guidance to branches about twinning with universities in Zimbabwe and Burma, as well as Gaza and the West Bank; commissioning an independent report on academic freedom; and ensuring expenditure on the motion is within the budget for international work.

...In 2007, a motion openly calling for a boycott was passed but was subsequently overturned at a special conference - though not before it had caused an international row that opponents claimed damaged the reputation of British academia.

In response to this year's motion, a group of 12 members threatened to sue the union, arguing that it amounted to a boycott in all but name and was illegal discrimination contrary to the UCU's own rules.

Prof Michael Yudkin, the group's spokesman, said today: "It is clear that the union has backed down, but they don't want to say it in so many words. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see the difference between what was said in May at the congress and what the NEC decided to do. In effect, it means they are dropping the boycott."

In view of the decision by the union's national executive, his group was dropping its legal action but would sue in the event of any fresh attempt to bring in a boycott, said Yudkin, emeritus professor of biochemistry at Oxford.

"We are not talking about freedom of speech but proposals to discriminate unlawfully against a group of individuals," he added. A boycott against Burmese universities in protest at the military regime there would be equally illegal and abhorrent, he argued.

The UCU's general secretary, Sally Hunt, insisted the union's position had not changed... "Because of the constant misreporting of the motions considered by UCU's congress, I feel I have to state that we have passed a motion to provide solidarity with the Palestinians, not to boycott Israel or any other country's academic institutions. Implementation of the motion within the law will now fall to the national executive committee."

Anthony Julius, of solicitors Mishcon de Reya which represents the opponents, responded to the union today 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."

Although efforts to boycott Israel appear to have been curtailed, intense argument will continue among UK academics...

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