The campaign for an academic boycott of Israel has ended today in an absolute and final political, legal and moral defeat.I'm not sure how using equal opportunities legislation or policies to defend the most thorough-going racist state on the planet amounts to a "moral" defeat for those who support an academic boycott, but then frankly, I couldn't bear to read the whole article.
The University and College Union’s (UCU) own lawyers advised it that a policy to exclude academics who work in Israel from the global academic community – and to exclude nobody else on the planet - would have been a violation of equal opportunities legislation in Britain.
Given this legal advice, the leadership of the UCU had no choice but decisively to end the union’s flirtation with a boycott of Israeli academia. To persist in a ‘discussion’ of an illegal and discriminatory policy would have opened the union up to potentially fatal lawsuits on the grounds of unfair discrimination. Union members could have been held personally liable if they had ignored clear legal advice. The Opinion was given to UCU by a widely respected barrister.
But international solidarity has always been part of the credo of the trade union movement so work still needs to be done for the Palestinian cause in the unions. Of course zionists will try to have international solidarity itself outlawed but the focus now will have to be simply on drawing attention to Israel's crimes. This of itself won't stop Israel's crimes but ultimately it might stop or hinder our own government from supporting, indeed participating in, these crimes.
I actually first got to hear about this discussion (or not) business via Justin in the comments to the post below this one. I also got to hear about this Socialist Worker article in the same thread.
The effort by supporters of Israel to prevent any debate on the role of the state’s academic institutions is itself an attack on the human rights of British lecturers and should be dismissed with contempt.Yup, that's the question now. But will the zionists at the UCU get the question outlawed as well?
Nevertheless, while the decision to discuss a boycott was a victory for the left, it is also a potential trap. The first elections to the new union’s leadership earlier this year produced a split result.
Sally Hunt, with the support of the right and centre-left in the old Association of University Teachers, won the position of general secretary. But the left won a majority on the executive.
Hunt came out very strongly against the decision to discuss a boycott. She has also expressed sympathy with calls from the Zionist camp to hold a membership ballot on the issue.
The signs are that Hunt wants to rush through the debate that the congress decided on and probably to weight it in favour of opponents of a boycott. She will then in all likelihood attempt to move quickly to mount a ballot with the aim, not simply of throwing out the boycott, but also of isolating the left within UCU.
The left faces two problems here. The first is that the boycott is an issue that divides critics of Israel. Even as sterling an anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist as Noam Chomsky opposes it.
The second is that any ballot would be dominated by a well-funded Zionist campaign that would enjoy the overwhelming support of the mass media. Under such pressure, the boycott would almost certainly be heavily defeated. Such an outcome would set back the cause of solidarity with Palestine in British universities for many years.
The left should refuse to walk into Hunt’s trap. We should make it clear now that we do not intend to propose an actual boycott of any Israeli academic institutions at the next union congress.
We should do so in order to achieve the maximum unity over the question of Palestine.
Many opponents of the boycott have been fulsome in their support for the Palestinians. We should put them on the spot and demand to know, if a boycott were off the agenda, what they intend to do help the Palestinians.