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Friday, September 28, 2007

UCU academic boycott of Israel defeated

The academic boycott of Israel proposal that had achieved so much notoriety, was squelched Friday when the UK University and College Union (UCU) announced, after seeking legal advice, that a boycott would be unlawful and could not be implemented. This episode should make Israel boycott opponents think really hard about their strategy in the future, and gain a better understanding of the reasoning behind the Boycott Israel campaigns.

A union resolution last May had called for discussion about the boycott in union branches, but curiously, nobody checked if the proposal was legal. After finally getting legal advice, the union's strategy and finance committee unanimously adopted the recommendation of UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt that the union should immediately inform branches and members that a boycott call would be unlawful and cannot be implemented.

The legal advice given to the union stated that: "...It would be beyond the union's powers and unlawful for the union, directly or indirectly, to call for, or to implement, a boycott by the union and its members of any kind of Israeli universities and other academic institutions; and ... the use of union funds directly or indirectly to further such a boycott would also be unlawful."

The advice further warned that "to ensure that the union acts lawfully, meetings should not be used to ascertain the level of support for such a boycott."

So what is the point? The point is that it would have been no problem to investigate the legal aspects of the boycott before the vote, especially since the UCU motion was based on previous motions. UCU was the product of a merger of two unions. The Association of University Teachers (AUT) had passed a boycott motion and then reversed it, and then the NATFHE (National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education) voted to Boycott Israel. They went even further and voted to support the nice Hamas.

In a better world, it would not occur to academics to support a group of reactionary gangsters like Hamas, or to delude themselves that such support represented a "progressive" cause, or to boycott the universities of a country because they disagree with the political policies of that country. Legal coercion would not be necessary. But we don't live in a better world, we live in this one.

In all the time that has passed since the boycotts were first proposed, it would have been no problem at all to check the legal implications of such decisions, but nobody did it it. Either that, or they had checked and didn't care. The point of the boycott resolutions is not in the actual results they might or might not obtain, but in the great stir and discussion they cause, putting the spotlight on Israel. A good part of this publicity is due to well meaning supporters of Israel. In effect, tiny groups of fanatics are able to use these boycott calls to leverage on the substantial resources of supporters of Israel and ordinary decent union members in order to bring their odious ideas to the attention of the public and lend them the air of legitimacy that comes with notoriety.

And so, I ask again - "Are we victims of the Israel boycott con? "

Ami Isseroff

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