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There's a ray of light or two in the dismal NATFHE (National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education) boycott fiasco. The boycott resolution is meaningless because NATFHE is merging with the AUT (Association of University Teachers) on June 1. AUT has disociated itself from the boycott (see below). In fact, NATFHE General Secretary Paul Mackney spoke against the motion, though he defended it after it was accepted. He did react adversely to the wave of over-vehement mail that was sent, some of which was racist apparently, and much of which accused him of anti-Semitism. It is evident however that even though this particular boycott motion will probably have have no validity, the union leadership is determined that some campaign against Israel will be undertaken.

According to an account of the meeting (with his interjections marked by ++ about what happened) Mackney said in part:

1. I do not want our policy to be made on the basis of an email campaign mostly from the USA and many of them offensive and harassing officers and NATFHE staff.

3. Most of us are very angry about the occupation of Palestine and want to find ways by which we can assist in building civil society in the occupied territories.

4. I want us to develop a sustainable policy of support for the rights of Palestinians. For example campaigning to stop the sale of arms to the Israeli Government until the occupation is over.

5. This isn't the motion and this isn't the way - not just because it will
have a only 3 days shelf-life

++ ... ++ NATFHE amalgamates with AUT on 1 June and 198C will not be binding onthe new union - UCU - as policy..

7. This motion did not come from a branch. It came from the pen and the not insubstantial mind of Tom Hickey at the meeting of South East Regional Council. And it was the fourth motion from South East Region to be placed by Steering Committee on the general conference agenda when it is only allowed 3 under the rules.

8. An effective boycott requires member support. I've been asking around and so far as I can see 198C has not been discussed by more than a couple > of branches.

9. In case I'm wrong, I'd like to check that view here: could anyone whose branch has discussed 198C please stand up ... or put up your hand.

++ ... ++ only one delegate (Tom Hickey) indicated their branch had discussed the motion.

15. The process here lacks legitimacy. The AUT did something similar last year and were then overturned by a revolt from their membership.
18. This is our last conference. We are staunch in our solidarity with the Palestinians and will work to commit our members to it in UCU. But this is not the way ahead.

19. President, I ask you to take the motion in parts and urge delegates to vote against paragraph 3.

These do not seem to be the words of an anti-Semite, or a reactionary who would support Hamas, nor even of a person opposed to the existence of Israel. Rather, it seems that Mackney and others are sincerely mistaken regarding the intentions of the boycott campaign. It seems hard to believe that anyone could not understand the inferences to be drawn from the use of the word "apartheid" or the support for the Hamas expressed in the NATFHE resolutions, but apparently that is the case.

There is no point in calling for counter boycotts if this boycott will have no effect. In fact there was no point in actively opposing the doings of NATFHE, since the campaign against the boycott got it much more attention and publicity than it otherwise could have gotten.

The AUT announcement is below (at the Web site if you are reading this in a letter).

Ami Isseroff

NATFHE motion on proposed boycott of Israeli academics --an AUT statement

At its recent annual conference NATFHE passed a motion inviting their members to consider boycotting Israeli academics under certain circumstances.

AUT does not endorse this policy and is strongly advising its members not to implement it.

In May 2005 AUT council overwhelmingly rejected an earlier decision to boycott two Israeli universities and reasserted its belief that freedom of expression, open debate and unhampered dialogue are prerequisites of academic freedom.

In addition, the meeting went on to set up a commission to investigate the whole issue of international boycotts. The report of the commission was agreed at May 2006 AUT council. It sets out a very careful, staged approach to boycotts which ensures that they are applied only in exceptional circumstances, are fully justified by the facts, and can be shown to be an effective way of furthering academic freedom and human rights.

The commission considered only the collective boycotting of institutions by the union's membership. It did not consider the boycotting of individual academics by individual union members. This tactic is fraught with difficulties and dangers and should not be followed by AUT members.

On 1 June AUT and NATFHE join to form the University and College Union (UCU). The NATFHE motion is not binding on the UCU. The AUT will argue for the UCU to adopt the report of its commission. It will not support or cooperate in any way with any attempts to implement the NATFHE motion in advance of the first UCU annual national congress in June 2007.

Press officer, Dan Ashley (press@aut.org.uk)
Tel: 020 7670 9705 | Mob: 07789 518 992


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