Israel, UCU, etc.

Below the fold is a statement from the Oxford branch of UCU, which will appear in the next issue of the Oxford Magazine.


OXFORD UCU AND THE RECENT UCU CONGRESS VOTES RELATING TO ISRAEL

The voting on motions relating to Israel at the University and College Union‚s Congress held in Bournemouth from 30 May to 1 June 2007 has been widely reported. The reporting has not always given an entirely clear and accurate picture of what took place, nor of the possible consequences.

The full text of motion 30 as amended and carried at Congress is as follows:

Congress notes that Israel’s 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement.

Congress deplores the denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students.

Congress condemns the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation, which has provoked a call from Palestinian trade unions for a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.

Congress believes that in these circumstances passivity or neutrality is unacceptable and criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-Semitic.

Congress instructs the NEC to

· circulate the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches/LAs for information and discussion;

· encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions;

· organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic/educational trade unionists;

· issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action;

· encourage and support branches to create direct links with Palestinian educational institutions and to help set up nationally sponsored programmes for teacher exchanges, sabbatical placements, and research.

This is not, therefore, as one serious newspaper this week describes it, a “motion to recommend a boycott”.

Whatever may have been the intentions of those who drew up the motion, the action called for is essentially a discussion within UCU’s branches and local associations of what response (if any) UCU and its members should make to the tragic situation in Israeli and Palestinian territories. It seems reasonable to assume that at least some of the delegates at Congress who voted for the motion did so in the belief that the provision of information and discussion are conducive to the better understanding of issues, as indeed is the basis for most arguments against boycotts.

The “moral implications” of links between UK and Israeli academic institutions include, of course, those which point in the direction of maintaining such links as well as any which might be thought by some to point in the opposite direction.

Congress also endorsed a policy which begins with the statement

In considering the provision of solidarity to colleagues abroad, the [UCU] shall ensure that the main intention of any proposal is

1. The protection and extension of academic freedom to teach, research, and otherwise collaborate with fellow academics around the world.

2. The protection and extension of trade union rights as defined by the ILO within education, and the support of fellow trade unionists in their practise of those rights.

The statement of policy incorporates a detailed process to be followed in cases in which any possibility of eventual “coercive action” is contemplated, which includes a carefully graded approach. Consultation is to be had with “other national and international organisations, in particular ETUC, TUC and Education International”, and only if there is “a consensus that action needs to be taken” will UCU “join with those organisations in developing a common approach to the greylisting and [subsequent] boycotting of the institutions concerned”.

Sally Hunt, the General Secretary of UCU, said immediately after the votes on motion 30 that “all branches now have a responsibility to consult all of their members on the issue and I believe that every member should have the opportunity to have their say”, and that “I do not believe a boycott is supported by the majority of UCU members, nor do I believe that members see it is a priority for the union”.

Oxford UCU will consult all its members openly and fully, as it has done on previous occasions. At present we await further advice from the General Secretary as to the information to be provided to and the questions to be asked of members.

The views of members of Oxford UCU (and those of its predecessor, Oxford AUT) on the issue of boycotts have, however, already been established on a number of occasions. Members of the local association have hitherto consistently expressed their firm rejection of academic boycotts in any but the most exceptional of circumstances. Most recently, following discussion of these matters at two meetings of the local association, a member of the Oxford UCU delegation to Congress spoke unequivocally in opposition to any boycott of Israeli academics or academic institutions. It seems natural to expect that any further consultation that is held now will yield a similar outcome. If that is the case, it will be reported in clear and strong terms to UCU Head Office and the National Executive Committee, and there is good reason to suppose that the same position will be taken by a sizable majority of UCU members around the country.

Terry Hoad (St Peter‚s)
President, Oxford UCU

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