June 12, 2008

Lorna Fitzsimons "misstates the position"

The chief executive of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, joint head of the Stop the Boycott campaign, and former Labour MP for Rochdale, Lorna Fitzsimons had an article in last week's Independent's Education section. I didn't see it when it first appeared but I respect Mike Cushman's opinions and trust in his integrity so here's what he had to say in today's Independent Education section:

Lorna Fitzsimons misstates the position of the University and College Union regarding Israeli universities ("The UCU is wasting time and money" EDUCATION & CAREERS, 5 June 2008. There was no boycott motion debated at congress. Linda Newman, outgoing president of UCU, explicitly stated this in seconding the Palestine motion, saying she would not have supported it if it were.

The motion was supported by an overwhelming majority of congress, including boycott supporters, many opposing the boycott and more who are undecided. What united the people voting in favour was their anger at Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian territories; the constant disruption in the daily lives of Palestinian lecturers and students, making normal university life impossible; and the involvement of many academics in Israeli universities as members of the Israeli army enforcing the occupation and in research contributing to the maintenance of it.

The motion does not refer to nationality: it includes non-Israelis working in Israeli universities and excludes the many Israelis working abroad. That Mr Rammell was similarly misinformed does not strengthen Ms Fitzsimon's case. The motion addressed two main issues: the institutional position of Israeli universities; and Ariel College, set up within an illegal settlement on land criminally expropriated and with an academic mission to support the still-expanding settlement programme.

I have not seen the legal opinion the union received and was calling for its publication long before Fitzsimons asked for this. I have, however, read the Stop the Boycott opinion and, even as a non-lawyer, can see it is riven with weak logic and poor argument: it is not a dispassionate account of the law, it is an advocacy brief making the best of a weak case. It rests on a series of dubious extrapolations of the type: if A is true and A were to lead to B and B to C and C is illegal then A is illegal, but throughout, neither the initial postulate not the chain of causality stand up to scrutiny.

The union is not "sanctioning discrimination and harassment of its own members, based on their passport or affiliations" and no evidence is given for this assertion. If we saw the UK Government applying pressure to the Israeli government to end the occupation it might not be necessary for UCU to take the lead, but we see no such pressure.

Mike Cushman, LSE UCU delegate to congress

Catch that? "Lorna Fitzsimons misstates the position". Now where's that thesaurus. Aha! found it.

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