The UCU voted to ask its members to discuss boycotting Israel, creating a great backlash in Britain against the boycotts and their initiators.
UCU Boycott backlash
Why Boycott Israel?
Boycott Israel: British Academics against Israel Boycott
May 2006 - NATFHE passed the boycott motion, which later was nullified when it merged with AUT to become the UCU.
The British Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted to boycott Haifa and Bar-Ilan Universities. Student fear this will generate further anti-Semitism on campus.
From The Guardian:
Table of Contents
The Guardian [UK] April 26, 2005 Waiting for the boycott to bite Could the vote by lecturers to suspend links with two Israeli universities fuel a rise in anti-Semitism on campus? Donald MacLeod and Polly Curtis report
In theory, Friday's now notorious decision by British lecturers to mount an academic boycott of Israel has nothing to do with their students. It might affect joint research projects or conferences, perhaps the occasional PhD student.
In practice, the boycott vote has fanned a bitter row about anti-semitism already smouldering in the National Union of Students and in several student unions around the country. Coming after the resignations of three Jewish student officers during this month's NUS annual conference, claiming the union leadership was turning a blind eye to anti-semitism, the Association of University Teachers' vote provoked instant condemnation from the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).
"We see it as a another nail in the coffin of Jewish students," says Danny Stone, campaigns director of UJS. "The AUT should be ashamed of themselves. We are going to call for AUT members to resign. It is absolutely appalling. How can they justify teaching about the Middle East conflict when it is clear that those who voted for the boycott are biased?"
Stone says the boycott could cause tension and hatred in universities. "The worry is that it separates 'good Jews' from 'bad Jews' on campus by whether they speak out in favour of a boycott, or support Israel, or say nothing."
And there is already tension. The NUS is holding an inquiry into the complaints by Luciana Berger and Mitch Simmons, who resigned from the national executive, and Jonny Warren, who resigned from the steering committee. They felt the NUS leadership had failed to react robustly when a pamphlet referring to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was discovered on a Palestinian students' stall. The Protocols, a 19th-century forgery about a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, has a grim record of being used to whip up anti-Jewish feeling and justify pogroms even before the Nazis used it.
Warren, who says he got involved in the NUS to combat the appearance of the British National Party at Leeds University, where he was studying, says he felt utter revulsion that such a "disgusting" leaflet should be on show at the union conference. The "tepid" response of the leadership prompted his resignation, along with Simmons and Berger, who complained the NUS had not dealt firmly with other incidents during the year, particularly provocative statements at the union of the School of Oriental and African Studies, in London.
Their resignations prompted "distress" from the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, that Jewish students should feel intimidated. Islamic and Palestinian student groups issued sympathetic statements but clearly felt the complaints were being overdone -they saw the same incident in a different light.
The General Union of Palestine Students (Gups) said it disassociated itself from the leaflet on Zionism on its stall and that it did not represent its views in any way. "Once Gups became aware of the existence of the leaflet, it was removed from the stall," said a statement last week.
The group added: "The NUS was extremely supportive and efficient in helping to resolve the matter fairly, justly and rapidly. Gups met with the UJS at the invitation of the NUS and an amicable resolution was reached and the leaflet removed.
"Gups condemns any act of racism or discrimination. We ourselves have suffered several attempts to stop our meetings in universities in the last academic year."
Last week, the group had not commented directly on the AUT boycott but its attitude is clear. "We understand the Palestinian struggle as a quest for freedom and self-determination by our people against illegal occupation. We believe that the only way to end the Israeli occupation is by putting pressure on Israel to adhere to international law and to stop its policy of occupation and land confiscation," said the statement.
"We believe that the people of the Holy Land (Muslims, Jews and Christians) deserve to live there in peace. We in Gups had the courage to take the road to peace even when this meant a state of Israel on 78% of our historical Palestine, and we invite pro-Israeli organisations to take such a step so that we all can live in a lasting and just peace."
Wakkas Khan, president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis), said: "We condemn all forms of anti-semitism towards any Jewish student within the national union. Recently Muslim students have been on the backlash of increased Islamophobia. We need to tackle all forms of discrimination. We empathise with our Jewish friends and stand shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community to rid society of these grotesque forms of discrimination."
However, Fosis could not resist pointing out that anti-semitism was not the main form of discrimination within the student movement. "Recent figures released show that while a Jew is three times more likely to be attacked, an Asian or a black person is 10 times more likely to be attacked, and an Arab or Muslim is 11 times more likely," said the group.
Fosis felt it had a good conference, helping to defeat the Labour group in the executive elections and hosting a meeting addressed by Professor Tariq Ramadan - seen by Muslims as a moderate scholar of international repute, but opposed by some as anti-gay and banned from the US.
There is a certain amount of the usual infighting that characterises student politics as different factions try to assert themselves. The past few years have seen Muslim students arrive in strength at some UK universities and while the NUS can always agree to condemn racism, it is more concerned about Islamophobia than anti-semitism. And for both Jews and Muslims Israel-Palestine is a visceral issue that embitters student politics.
Three years ago passions were running high when students at Manchester University tried to commit their union to a boycott of Israeli goods. Manchester has a 500-strong Jewish society with strong local community networks. It also has about 2,500 Muslim students and a strong Islamic society, whose members have begun to play a more assertive role in student union politics.
Then as now, pro-Palestinian supporters cited the success of the boycott of apartheid South Africa as a good precedent and accused Israel of operating an apartheid system.
On that occasion, Jewish students, who feared an economic boycott was the thin end of a wedge that would lead to the proscription of Zionism and hence the banning of Jewish societies from student unions (something that occurred sporadically in the 1980s), successfully resisted the move.
Despite the defeat for the Manchester motion in 2002, there has been a total of 19 boycott motions at student unions since then, according to Stone. Even though they were unsuccessful, they soured relations on campus and made Jewish students feel less safe and welcome, he says. Then, as now, student politics and the stance taken by academics seemed to interact. In the same year, Professor Mona Baker, of the then University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (Umist), became a global cause célèbre when she sacked two Israeli academics from journals that she owned, in line with an academic boycott against Israel. She vehemently denied anti-semitism, saying the two professors were friends, but argued they were representing their universities and hence the state of Israel.
That did not stop Baker being investigated by her own university in the wake of a political outcry, despite the fact that her action related to her private business activities. She is still on the staff of the merged Manchester University, as is another Umist professor, Michael Sinnott, who was investigated over an intemperate email, in defence of Baker, that he sent to a Harvard academic, in which he described Israel as the "mirror image of Nazism".
Boycotting Israel can be viewed as blatant discrimination by a university, as Oxford's Andrew Wilkie, Nuffield professor of pathology, discovered to his cost in 2003. He told Amit Duvshani, a student at Tel Aviv University, that he would not agree to his request to work in his laboratory because the professor had a "huge problem" with the Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
Referring to the student's three years of Israeli national service, he wrote: "I am sure you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army." Wilkie was suspended - the stiffest disciplinary measure short of dismissal - and told to take part in equal opportunities training.
This is something the AUT will now have to grapple with, as its executive works out how to advise members. Will it be advising them to break the law? University managers will be in no hurry to help it out. Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, who has clashed with AUT general secretary, Sally Hunt, in the past, says pointedly: "[It is] deeply problematic and very unhelpful and opens up all sorts of questions and issues at a point when most people want to be getting on with the main job of academia and I would have thought that they would have wanted to get on with their role in implementing the pay agreement."
It was a swift reversal of the celebratory mood on Thursday night as the union leadership toasted the decision to merge with the other lecturers' union, Natfhe, after nine months of arduous negotiation. The next day that was shattered when the conference narrowly defeated the leadership's frantic attempts to dodge the boycott. It made several efforts to stop it: bringing its own motion to "remove barriers" between academics in Israeli and Palestinian universities, which was rubbished by the pro-boycott lobby when it referred to building links with an Israeli academic union that didn't exist. It also approved a separate motion to circulate information from Palestinian academics, without committing the union to action. Both were seen as attempts to persuade the wavering sympathisers to reject the main three boycott motions.
These, the leadership argued, should be referred back to the executive because the facts weren't clear enough. But the pro-boycott campaigners had got in there first with a supportive message from Ilan Pappe, the Jewish academic at Haifa University who is at the centre of claims that the university threatens the academic freedom of those who criticise Israel.
The boycott has been noisily condemned around the world. The merger honeymoon didn't last long.
For students, the AUT decision will make it harder for the NUS, which has opposed a boycott up to now, to patch things up between its warring factions. Kat Fletcher, the NUS president, is anxious to conclude the independently chaired inquiry as soon as possible and take action if it is recommended. Meanwhile, she is seeking clarification from the AUT. Asked about the conference incident and the resignations, she said she feels bound not to prejudge the inquiry but says the NUS has a proud history of fighting racism of all kinds.
Danny Stone says Jewish students will question whether there is a place for them in the NUS at all, if they do not get satisfaction. "We will have to consider very carefully our place within the NUS if there is no proper investigation, no serious thought given to it, and it is just swept aside."
The AUT Boycott was repealed, but more boycotts are in store
Press Release - Israeli to speak on Academic Freedom at UK National Postgraduate Committee (NPC)
European Comment on the Israel Boycott
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