Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Tactics of Boycotting Israel

I've been thinking about the boycott of Israel a bit recently and, as UCU are discussing it today, I thought I might as well bring it up. I'm particularly interested in whether *tactically* a boycott is the most effective form of solidarity we can provide to those at the sharp end of Israel's policies.

I say UCU are discussing it, in fact they have a proposal where "colleagues [should] be asked to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions" which is a long way from the idiotic caricature that Melanie Phillips puts forward in The Spectator.

She says "Today, the Universities and Colleges Union is discussing whether universities should single out Israeli and Jewish scholars for active discrimination... What makes it all the more appalling is that it is Israelis and Jews alone who are being singled out for this treatment." But of course Jews aren't being singled out for anything, a completely dishonest and stupid response - let's look at the actual motion shall we? Then we can judge for ourselves how accurate Melanie's "journalism" is.

25 - Composite: Palestine and the occupation University of Brighton - Eastbourne, University of Brighton - Grand Parade, University of East London Docklands, National Executive Committee

Congress notes the

1. continuation of illegal settlement, killing of civilians and the impossibility of civil life, including education

2. humanitarian catastrophe imposed on Gaza by Israel and the EU

3. apparent complicity of most of the Israeli academy

4. legal attempts to prevent UCU debating boycott of Israeli academic institutions; and legal advice that such debates are lawful

Congress affirms that

5. criticism of Israel or Israeli policy are not, as such, anti-semitic;

6. pursuit and dissemination of knowledge are not uniquely immune from their moral and political consequences;

Congress resolves that

7. colleagues be asked to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating;

8. UCU widely disseminate the personal testimonies of UCU and PFUUPE delegations to Palestine and the UK, respectively;

9. the testimonies will be used to promote a wide discussion by colleagues of the appropriateness of continued educational links with Israeli academic institutions;

10. UCU facilitate and encourage twinning arrangements and other direct solidarity with Palestinian institutions;

11. Ariel College, an explicitly colonising institution in the West Bank, be investigated under the formal Greylisting Procedure.

25A.1 University College London (amendment)

1. Delete point 3.
2. Point 8: After respectively; Add 'and statements from Israeli academics and British academics who have links with Israel'
3. Point 9: After appropriateness. delete 'of' and add 'for and against'.
4. Add a new final point 12 (will become 11 if 3 is deleted):
'No decision on cutting educational links with Israeli academic institutions will be made without a ballot of all members.'

25A.2 Compositing amendment University of Brighton Eastbourne, University of East London Docklands

Point 3, delete 'apparent'

25A.3 Compositing amendment University of Brighton - Eastbourne

Add new point 6: 'a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions at this time is unlikely to maximize and unify international solidarity.'

25A.4 Compositing amendment University of East London Docklands

Delete point 11, replace with 'Ariel College and similar institutions in the Occupied Territories are illegal, and will be investigated under UCU's Greylisting Procedure'
Now to me the initial motion looks pretty strong - but it also falls well short of a blanket boycott in that it allows for nuance and thoughtful engagement - which is the kind of thing I like. Now in UCU this is a very divisive issue, and to be honest if I was a UCU member I'd be pissed off that conference had to deal with the same issue time and again, but that's by the by and is meant as no slight to the importance of the issues.

To an extent this careful wording is a compromise due to the extreme level of heated wrangling within the teachers' union, but it also seems to be an improvement that does not cut off the ability to engage with progressive Israeli's and the peace movement. In fact it actively encourages it stating that colleagues should "discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating".

Obviously characters like Melanie Phillips make me want to sign up to Hamas, but in my usual, more rational, state I'm looking for the best way to support those who suffer at the hands of the Israeli government whilst going beyond the kind of black and white, pro- and anti- position that seems to be the common fare of this debate. I think asking people to consider "moral and political questions" is as good a starting point as any.


George said...

This motion is indeed much better than proposing a blanket ban on Israeli accademics and institutions (that I opposed when I was a member of UCU, then the AUT.)

Point 3. is still most problematic stating the "apparent complicity of most of the Israeli academy". What does that mean? Is most of the UK accademy complicit in the war in Iraq? What about its complicity in erroding our civil liberties, or implementing immigration controls? This statement is meaningless and dangerously conflates the opinions of individuals with those of the Israeli (or UK) state.

I also feel that the motion does not go far enough in promoting ties with Palestinian institutions. This should be the cornerstone of any solidarity inititative, not excluding anyone.

Raphael said...


As an update, the UCU passed the motion:

In your analysis, you forget a few elements. The reason for the careful wording (or one of the) is that the motion was trying to circumvent a legal advice that a previous motion was breaching the Race Relation Acts (RRA), in other words, that it was, indeed antisemitic.

This legal advice was ordered by the UCU itself and never published.

According to another legal advice regarding the present motion, this attempt to circumvent breach of the RRA has failed, in other words, the motion is, antisemitic.

This second legal advice, ordered by the Jewish community of this country, can be read here:

May I also suggest, that instead of the easy target that Melanie Phillips is, you take on the numerous, strong, articulated, principled and left-wing critiques of the boycott which can be found on Engage.

For example, these:

I sincerely hope you will take the time to read these articles and offer a response.

Jim Jay said...

My argument about the careful wording is that it produced a much better motion. Much better. That was a product of the heated debate which made the Palestine solidarity people's position much more palitable.

My argument against Philips is that she didn't understand what she was arguing against and that the motion that was passed was *not* a boycott motion. I was careful to ensure that at no point did I imply that Philips' arguments are representative of anything except her own idiocy.

So I'm sure there are lots of articulate arguments against the boycott, and I have seen some, (if you'll note I do start the piece by saying I've been considering both sides of the issue recently and end the piece by saying that I'm not in favour of a black and white approach) but of course this motion wasn't for a boycott as we can see. I'll be wary of anything that says that it is.

Having said that I'll try to get round to reading those links, although I'm afraid it probably won't be today.

Raphael said...

Dear Jim

I fail to see what this motion is, if it is not a motion supporting the academic boycott of Israel.

I would even argue that you will be very isolated if you persist in this line.

It has been put forward and defended by people who are long-time supporters of the academic boycott. It will be branded as such by the supporters of the exclusion of Israeli academics, Israeli artists, Israeli everything, on the grounds that they are Israeli.

This motion is part of a long-running campaign of demonization of Israel and of everything Israeli. It does strictly nothing for Palestinian solidarity. If anything, it damages the chances of possible collaboration between Israeli academics and Palestinian academics. It is a blow to academic freedom, to Union values and to antiracism.

Can you explain to me, practically, what "consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating" is, if not a call for boycott?

Why should I discuss the occupation with an Israeli colleague before starting a project on nanosciences? More importantly, either the result of the discussion is going to affect my decision, and then, what you effectively have implemented is a boycott assorted of a political test to be applied to scientific collaborations, or it is not, and then, what is the point?

Why should I not discuss the occupation of Irak with US or UK colleagues before entering into a collaboration?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I mean, have a look at Normblog

Jim Jay said...

R - I think the text of the motion is the important thing here - as that is what the union will be committed to as policy - the intentions of those behind the motion, if they are for a boycott, wont have been met as this motion does not commit the union to a boycott - where does it say it does?

So the sentance that you point to "consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating" is explicit.

It does not ask a union member to "discuss the occupation with an Israeli colleague before starting a project on nanosciences?" (my emphasis) It asks you to discuss the occupation with people with whom you're already working.

It does not ask you to say anything specific to those people, it does not ask you to cease working with them if you don't like what they say, it does not even, really, commit you to doing it at all - its only your union, not your employer.

Talking to people is a good thing and building bridges and understanding is useful - that's what the motion asks you to do. It does not forbid you from working with any individual or organisation, in fact it doesn't even ask you to boycott them.

You ask "Why should I not discuss the occupation of Irak with US or UK colleagues before entering into a collaboration?" I'd suggest having that discussion would not be wholly harmful and I do note the union passed a number of international resolutions, including on the war, and is not solely focused on this issue.

If you think it's a boycott motion purely on the basis that the people putting it forward are in favour of a boycott (and I'll take your word on that) I'd suggest you consider that the important thing is what the union is actually committed to - not a subtext that has no standing in union policy.

Raphael said...


I am confused.
Your post was entitled:
The Tactics of Boycotting Israel

And you start with "I've been thinking about the boycott of Israel a bit recently and, as UCU are discussing it today, "

And now, it seems that your argument rests on an analysis that, in fact, it is not a call for a boycott that was discussed.

There are other aspects of your arguments which need commenting and I will do that later.

But I am shocked by one thing. Two sets of legal opinions, one of which is available to read, have concluded that the motion breached the antiracist legislation of this country.

As someone who supports this motion, and, who is, no doubt about that, an antiracist, how this can passed undiscussed? It is a major fact that an union breaches the law that the left has won through battles and mobilizations against discriminations.

Derek Wall said...

Amazing how the US blockade of Cuba or the Israel blockade of Gaza (that kills) are not seen as racist.

its all about power speaking against truth...any way good this motion went through and good the Green Party boycott motion was passed both over whelmingly.

Even links with the PSC are being attack by some as racist..compassion is a forgotten virtue for some

Chris said...

For an alternative take on the motion, and related issues, see:

Mira said...

Derek, if you are saying that the PSC is above antisemitism, that would be hard to swallow. Why do you find it so far-fetched that the anti-Israel aspects of the PSC (e.g. negationist boycott instead of conflict resolution) would attract antisemitism? You are of course aware that the PSC resounding chucked out two motions from anti-Zionists who were trying to kick out antisemitism. These motions were advanced by pro-boycotters - the PSC is that far gone. What do you make of that? If nothing, what does anti-racism mean to you? Is it indivisible or not?

You also invoked the well-worn conspiracy theory of Jewish Power. It's the one with the tentacles and the string-pulling. Do you realise that this is an antisemitic cliche which has been applied to Jews for centuries? If not I think you should read more widely and make your point distinctly in relation to this trope. If so, then please - make it clear that you agree with an antisemitic cliche, and then we can all know where we stand.

JimJay, this is your place. Where do you stand?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Mira, but where does Derek invoke the "Jewish Power" conspiracy theory is his comment? I think that allegation is well wide of the mark and you owe him an apology.

Alan said...

Derek Wall said:
“Even links with the PSC are being attack by some as racist..compassion is a forgotten virtue for some”

For the record, here in Redbridge we have one BNP councillor. I bumped into him in the pub one day and sat and talked to him [I have even been known to talk to Arsenal supporters]. A former Labour councillor came in and when I went to the gents he followed me in and gave me a mouthful of abuse including “how can you sit with that scum”. I asked how else can I explain Green Party policy on immigration to him? He is a human being, a product of his genes and social conditioning. I condemn some of his views, not him. I even treat Derek in the same way.

I also condemn some of the actions of Israel, but not Israel itself nor Israelis and certainly not Jews in the wider context. Israel is a product of circumstances that are not its own fault.

The accusation that “compassion is a forgotten virtue” is a breathtaking misjudgement. In this context there are some who use the analogy of Northern Ireland whereby the Unionists eventually engaged with Sinn Feinn/IRA BUT….BUT I do not recall any boycott of the Unionists.

Therein lies the lesson for those who have eyes to see it.

Jim Jay said...

A few replies but I'll stick to one "post" so forgive the length.

R - you're quite right to be confused - I've contradicted myself.

I follow up the sentance you quote with "I say UCU are discussing it, in fact they have a proposal where..." and go on to say they aren't discussing boycotts even though it's been characterised that way. But the first para *is* confusing, well spotted! I'm kicking myself because I'm normally quite careful in my wording.

To clarify: My position is that this isn't a boycott motion - but that I've been thinking about how tactically useful the boycott is, and I like the flexibility and compromise in this motion. Apologies for any misunderstanding caused.

My understanding is that UCU lawyers said this does not breach any legislation and I don't see how it could... which bit is racist?

Derek: "Even links with the PSC are being attack by some as racist" well i think there is a reason for that unfortunately.

Whilst the vast majority of those who stand in solidarity with Palestinians in this country reject anti-semitism and are decent anti-racists it is not the case that all are and the movement has not done itself any favours by turning a blind eye when anti-semitism colours the debate.

The example that first springs to mind is the SWP's adoration of Gilad Atzmon. That's why, and I think you'll agree with this, we should remain critical where necessary even of those we share some common positions with - and even be willing to break ties with them.

Mira: I deon't think it does your argument any credit to misrepresent those you're arguing against. You raise a valid (if one sided) point about anti-semitism in the movement in solidarity with palestine but then say Derek's raised the idea of "Jewish power" and I see nothing in his comment that even implies this. It is not conducive to fertile debate to invent positions for those you are arguing against.

To address the point about where I stand on PSC... I've had no dealings with them nationally and tend to treat organisations and groups dependent on their local activists. So I'd work with almost any group in my area if I felt they were decent sorts and we shared a common goal.

I have, a number of times (although thankfully not too many), had to argue with others in anti-war and pro-Palestinian circles about language or political positions which shift the focus away from the actions of the Israeli state towards generalised and wrong positions about Jews, Judaism or Israelis.

Racism should be opposed where-ever we find it and that goes doubly for the progressive movement. Of course there is no blue print for how this is done as different contexts may require different approaches.

Alan - I admire your ability to talk with those like the BNP, but I fear I don't have your patience or strong hide.

Alan said...

Jim said:

“Alan - I admire your ability to talk with those like the BNP, but I fear I don't have your patience or strong hide.”

So, what do you do when you encounter a BNP voter on the doorstep? Or a BNP member in a social setting? I’m not talking about taking on the BNP at one of their meetings here, just having a chat with a bloke in a pub where I might be able to make him think and ask questions.

If we take the view that those who transgress should be rehabilitated rather than punished or excluded [boycotted] then that process involves engagement with the transgressor [whether it be a person or a State].

My reading of you Jim is that you are far more patient than I and have a thicker hide.

Jim Jay said...

I tend to be ruthlessly nice whilst simultaneously being totally uncompromising with them.

My best/worst experience was when I had a foreman who was a BNP activist who was more than aware I was a leftist activists and had sent me death and other threats. Man - he was HUGE.

Anyway, it's a long story but it ended with all the workers shutting the store down forever. I'm rather proud of it.

i hope I had a positive effect on him, but certainly not in a way he'd have chosen.

Alan said...


The tactics to which you were subject are not the preserve of the BNP. I refer specifically to some Animal Rights activists who are by and large thought to be of the left. Not all of them would be tempted to indulge in such extreme actions, so why should we consider that to be the case for the BNP?

Raphael said...

It says it all that someone like you, who carefully choose his words, did "unconsciously" let it slip that the UCU was discussing a boycott motion.

The motion is an incitation to severe academic links based on nationality (assorted of a political test as if the political opinions of a person were relevant to the decision of collaborating, or continuing a collaboration, on, let's say water treatment, solar cells, etc). It is a boycott motion. I hope you will find the time to read the links I have provided, because, hopefully it should convince you of how problematic that is.

You write that "My understanding is that UCU lawyers said this does not breach any legislation and I don't see how it could... which bit is racist?"

Well, it would seem that your understanding is wrong. The previous motion was deemed illegal by UCU's own legal advice. It will have now to order a new advice about this motion. In the meantime two professional lawyers have put their reputation at stake by providing a (now published) legal opinion that concludes that indeed the motion breaches RRA and discriminates against Jews.

I have also providing the link to this piece of legallies. It is fairly easy to read and understand.

The posts by Shallom Lappin, provided by Chris, is also illuminating in this regard.

Finally, about Jewish Power. This time, I have to stick with Mira. Derek ought to clarify urgently what he means by "its all about power speaking against truth..."

Which "power" is he referring to which "truth"? What do the [...] are supposed to suggest that cannot even be said? Brrrrr... I find that chilling. It may be just one more stupid misunderstanding, in that case, Derek just needs to clarify in two sentences what he meant.

Jim Jay said...

a - sure, i don't think all BNP members (or fascists in general) are all personally violent - that's a complete characture that I've never accepted - I was just thinking of personal examples of how I deal with BNP members I meet.

r - this is very helpful for two reasons. Because it allows us to clear up some crossed wires.

Firstly we seem to be discussing the legality of two different motions. You're discussing a previous boycott motion - I'm discussing the current, non-boycott, one. It is the current one that I'm saying is a far better, more nuanced motion that does not, in any way, commit UCU members from ceasing work with people because they are Israeli.

Second, Derek's use of the terms power and truth. He can speak for himself, of course, but "green truth" is a phrase often used by green fundies and it is frequently counterposed to the elites of capitalist society.

It seems to me D was just using it in this sense, and it's extremely unlikely he was invoking "Jewish Power".

Now, personally I really dislike the terms "green truth" and "speaking truth to power" but that's more to do with disapproval of the idea that there is a single truth or that greens have any special access to it. For me that allows us to stop further thinking rather than deepening our understanding of other points of view.

I'm glad there's this opportunity to clear up that misunderstanding and it is a good reminder for people that if they use their own internal language they shouldn't be surprised if people create new and entirely unexpected interpretations of what they said.

For my part I should say it was not an unconscious slip around the motion being a boycott motion. It was, as I've said, more that I've phrased this sloppily - but I have been thinking about how effective boycotting Israeli produce/institutions is tactically and this motion was a useful way of bringing up that for discussion.

i will make time to read those links, sorry I've been unable to do that yet.

Raphael said...


It does not commit, it incites. Incitement to discrimination, instead of commitment to discrimination.
Such incitement has real effect, see for example Lappin's piece linked above. See Mona Baker/Toury. This is an example where the discrimination has been made publicly. How many silent discriminations? Is the role of the union to incite or combat discrimination?

I am discussing both motions. The most recent legal advice, available here, concludes that the motion is in breach of RRA. It also explains why you have to consider both motions. Motion happen in a context. The first motion, and the legal advice given to UCU regarding the first motion, is part of the context of the second motion.

I am glad of your explanations regarding power and truth, but I fail to understand.

What are these "elites of capitalists society" which are suddenly appearing in the discussion, and how does this relate to the boycott debate? Derek post appeared to relate to my comments against the boycott. Is Derek saying that those who oppose the boycott, some of whom happen to be Jewish, in addition to "lacking compassion" (an ad hominem which he has now made twice publicly) are the "elites of capitalists society" ?

If it is what he is saying, I am afraid, he is furthering antisemitic ways of thinking, and this, even if he, himself, is not antisemitic.

Why could he not clarify himself precisely what he meant? It would be quite simple, no?

If you had said things which could be mis-interpretated as offensive and someone asked you to clarify, you would do that first thing, no?

ps: for the same reason as you, I very much dislike "green truth" (never heard before though).

Jim Jay said...

Dear God I've just erased a massive and considered response to this - urgh - do I have the will to rewrite it? Sigh.

Watch this space...

Jim Jay said...

Right, apologies but this is going to be much less detailed than the original otherwise I'm going to be at the computer all day.

- much of the 21 page document relies on interpretting the call to open a dialogue as harrassment. I think that's an extremely partial view which, if not correct, essentially makes the whole paper valueless.

- it consistently talks about the motion being a call to vet people, and Engage (that you link to) talks about people having to "explain their politics as a pre-condition to having normal academic contact". This just isn't true. I don't know why this particular subject attracts people who can't read but it seems to (on all sides).

Again the vetting point relies on a very one sided interpretation on what a discussion involves and an ability to ignore the fact it talks about people with whom members are already working.

- it consistently confuses Jewish members and Israeli colleagues in, I think, a very weak way in order to bolster its case for racial descrimination. This motion does not discriminate against Jews, nor does it mention them.

- I think it's correct where it says that if the debate became an attack on Jews in general it would contravene legislation. I think this is certainly true if the chair did not take steps to prevent this should it occur. I've not heard anyone say this happened, and it seems unlikely. Are there any reports that the debate *did* descend into anti-semitism?

- I also thought the point about Israeli academics losing job opportunities due to the motion was interesting and, whilst I don't think the motion promotes this, if there is any confusion over this point the union should issue a clarification that this would, indeed, constitute illegal discrimination and should not occur.

I expect there were other points that have now been lost in the ether. The eseence of my response is that I don't feel this is an impartial legal assessment but an attempt to find legal ways of supporessing the motion, in which I suspect it fails.

Oh yes - and on Derek - i suggest you email him direct if you need a response as he may well not read any comments here and I shouldn't speak for him.