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 CommitteeNow 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.
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'
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.