Mackney was sent over 15,000 messages from boycott opponents. At least 50,000 more were sent to other leaders of Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers, which passed a similar motion last year. Petitions with more than 17,000 signatories were sent to the union. While much of the criticism was well formulated and respectful, there was something troubling about the massive international campaign.And doesn't that last paragraph sound just like Engage?
Mackney's family gave shelter to Jewish refugees during the second world war. He has campaigned on behalf of Jewish members for policies for those who do not want to work on the Jewish Sabbath. He opposed the boycott, speaking out passionately against it just before the votes were counted at the conference late last month.
But, he said, a reasoned debate was made extraordinarily difficult by an aggressive campaign involving tens of thousands of activists. "The ironic thing," Mackney said despondently after the motion was passed, "is if we had put this to delegates a couple of weeks ago, before the international pro-Israeli lobby started this massive campaign emailing delegates and trying to deny us our democratic right to discuss whatever we like, it probably wouldn't have passed. People feel bullied, and what we have seen is a hardening of attitudes. All they achieved was making the delegates determined to debate and pass the motion."
After a month covering the debate for our respective newspapers, we are inclined to agree. Most delegates displayed more passion in their outrage at the heavy-handed tactics used to affect the union's decision than they did in their support of the rather divisive resolution. It passed with only a 53% majority. The campaign served the exact end it sought to avoid.
This is not to criticise the desire of the boycott's opponents to affect the decision. Natfhe was debating a proposal calling on British lecturers to boycott Israeli colleagues who do not "publicly dissociate themselves" from "Israeli apartheid policies". The motion contained provocative judgments of the Israeli academy and called for a curtailment of Israeli academic freedoms. Why shouldn't those who value such freedoms and those who support Israel and its academy lobby members of the union?
The pickle is trying to determine whether the campaigns against such boycotts are actually motivated by concerns for academic freedom, or whether they are using the universalist ideal to stifle critical discussion of Israel.
June 20, 2006
You heard it here first
Do you remember me saying that I hoped that delegates to the recent NATFHE conference would read the Engage site where their absurd, dishonest and insulting antics would surely backfire on this sorry bunch of zionists? Well a Guardian article is saying pretty much the same thing, only, bizarrely without mentioning Engage itself.