Socialist Worker

Lecturers to vote on Israeli boycott

by Tom Hickey, UCU national executive (personal capacity)
Issue No. 2153

The University and Colleges Union (UCU), which represents 120,000 lecturers in further and higher education across Britain, will debate whether to support a boycott of Israel at its annual congress this week.

The question to be debated is whether the Palestinian call for the boycott of, disinvestment from, and sanctions on Israel should be supported. It is known as the “BDS strategy”.

Once again UCU members will become the focus of a storm of condemnation and legal threats. The union should refuse to be intimidated.

Supporters of sanctions will be called antisemitic for criticising Israel and told that the behaviour of Israel is no business of a British trade union.

Yet our debate follows the decision of the Scottish TUC to support BDS and a similar decision by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

For 40 years, Israel has been engaged in the brutal occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip.

It has refused to allow the Palestinian people an independent state and has sought to render normal life for Palestinians impossible.

Just a few months ago it bombarded Gaza, killing over 1,400 civilians and mutilating thousands more.

In addition, it targeted infrastructure, destroying schools, hospitals, universities, roads, water purification and electricity.

The purpose of all this is to punish the people of Gaza for engaging in the democratic process that elected the Hamas government.

Meanwhile in the West Bank, Israel has continued its policy of murdering Palestinian leaders and imprisoning thousands of Palestinian youth. It continues to construct the Apartheid Wall that cuts off tens of thousands of Palestinians from their land and crops.

And it continues to build illegal settlements on confiscated Palestinian land.

An unpredictable roadblock system makes it almost impossible for students and workers to travel to colleges or universities outside their villages.

Colonisation

And Israel encourages institutions such as Ariel College, whose sole purpose is the further colonisation of the West Bank.

Israel has been uniquely exempt from international condemnation. But now that is beginning to change.

People across the world are speaking out and more and more groups of workers are using their trade unions to campaign for justice for the Palestinians.

In Ireland, Sweden, Canada, the US, India and South Africa trade unions are insisting that the world cannot be allowed to avert its eyes from Israel’s actions.

Importantly, a number of Israeli organisations and some prominent members of the Israeli academic community are calling for international action against the state.

There is an overwhelming case for an academic boycott.

All Israeli universities are key players in military research and development that directly serves the occupation.

Geophysicists detecting tunnels, computer scientists and mechanical engineers designing robot soldiers and drones, and microelectronic scientists developing long-distance video for surveillance and other intelligence purposes are just some examples.

Israeli universities have forged extensive, institutionalised links with the army of occupation.

Freedom

Some argue that a boycott should be opposed because it would infringe the principle of academic freedom.

But UCU members should consider the lack of academic or educational freedom for the Palestinians.

This is not the first time that the UCU has discussed the issue of a boycott. We take the issue very seriously. Delegations have traveled between Britain and Palestine to discuss the situation on the ground.

A report was commissioned from Education International on the condition of education in Israel and Palestine, and on the nature of Ariel College.

Members have been alerted to the Palestinian call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel and asked to reflect on the appropriateness of any links with Israeli educational institutions.

Israel’s supporters have mounted a high profile campaign against the UCU.

The union has been accused of encouraging antisemitism by allowing condemnatory motions on Israel. Attempts have been made to conflate criticism of Israel or Zionism with antisemitism.

Threats were also made to serve a legal injunction against the union to prevent implementation of the resolutions if they are passed.

The union stood firm. The national executive refused to be intimidated by the law and has ensured that the motion on BDS will be debated this year.

Delegates need to ensure that it is debated and to oppose any last-minute challenges or timewasting manoeuvres.

Not to act in these circumstances is to make oneself complicit with Israeli state oppression.

Congress needs to make sure that motion 29 is debated and passed on Wednesday afternoon.


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Tue 26 May 2009, 18:19 BST
Issue No. 2153
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