Friday 19 December 2008

UCU calls off proposed Israel boycott

Now the UCU pretends there was never any intention to boycott Israel's academic institutions ...

"The British trade union at the heart of the call for a boycott of Israeli academia has dropped its proposed boycott following a threat by members to take legal action.

Last May, the University and College Union (UCU), the largest trade union for academics in the UK, voted at its annual conference in Manchester on a motion that proposed an academic boycott of Israel.

Motion 25 called for the dissemination of the testimonies of a UCU delegation that would visit the Palestinian Authority to "promote a wide discussion of the appropriateness of continued educational links with Israeli academic institutions." This was widely interpreted as a boycott call and led to many questioning how a minority had managed to hijack the agenda of union to pursue a sinister political agenda. The motion also demanded a boycott of Ariel University Center (Ariel College) in the West Bank.

After the motion passed, two eminent Oxford University academics and UCU members, Michael Yudkin, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry, and Denis Noble, Emeritus Professor of Physiology, pointed out that any academic boycott would violate a core principle accepted in the profession - that academics do not discriminate against colleagues on grounds of race, sex, religion, national or ethnic origin, or other personal characteristics.

"It's considered such an important professional principle that the union's rules set it out twice," Yudkin said.

The two academics put together a group of 12 UCU members from universities across the country and sought legal advice from the London-based lawyers Mishcon de Reya.

After obtaining an opinion from two eminent barristers, Michael Beloff and Pushpinder Saini, ruling the motion to be unlawful and contrary to the union's rules, the UCU group threatened to sue the union unless it dropped its boycott call.

"We are happy that the union has withdrawn the proposals that threatened the principle of non-discrimination," Yudkin said.

He said it went against the grain for members to have to use the law against their union but said that if it violated its own rules on such an important matter, there was no choice.

"It's now time for the union to give up its obsession with imposing boycotts and do its best to restore the reputation of UK scientists and scholars," he added.

"It is great news that for the fifth year running the union has, in the end, decided not to try to boycott Israeli universities," Dr. David Hirsh, lecturer at University of London's Goldsmith College and editor of the Engage Web site said. "It is not so great that the union's general-secretary continues to turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism, in spite of having been alerted, formally, informally, urgently, consistently and by a large number of both Jewish and non-Jewish members."

Speaking on behalf of the Stop the Boycott group, Henry Grunwald said: "The UCU's decision is a victory for common sense and for all those who oppose a boycott of Israeli academics. We have always known that such a boycott was discriminatory. We hope this marks the end of union's destructive flirtation with a policy that discriminates against Israelis and does nothing to help Palestinians."

However, the union has insisted there was never a boycott motion and thus its position has not changed.

Hunt insisted that the motion was a "to provide solidarity with the Palestinians" and not to boycott Israel's academic institutions.

"I made clear to delegates that the union will defend their right to debate this and other issues," she said.

"That position, and the position of the union, has not changed. There was no motion calling for a boycott and the implementation of Motion 25 within the law will continue," she added."

Article by Jonny Paul, The Jerusalem Post

- Jon Pike's report of the UCU NEC meeting which decided to implement the boycott by not implementing it
- UCU drops boycott of Israeli academics

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