gehrig | 28.09.2007 16:03 | Education
This is exactly what opponents of the campaign have been claiming from the beginning: such a boycott would be illegal, divisive within the union, wasteful of union resources better put to productive use elsewhere, and certain to come to nought. They were right on all counts.
We have received with dismay, although not entirely with surprise, your letter of September 28, 2007 to members of the delegation of Palestinian academic trade union members informing them of the decision by the University and College Union's leadership to cancel their speaking tour to the UK to discuss the academic boycott of Israel with their colleagues at universities there. We wish to state clearly that we believe that our British colleagues have been deprived of an opportunity to better inform themselves about an issue which is of concern to conscientious academics and intellectuals the world over. Moreover, we are disappointed to see that the leadership of a prominent organization of academics such as yours has not defended the right of its members to engage in debate on this matter. Open debate and discussion are the foundations of academic freedom, and thus we cannot understand why the door to open consideration of controversial ideas has been so abruptly closed.
We shall continue to pursue other avenues to make our case heard in the academic community in the UK, and shall not be deterred by the cancellation of the invitation extended to us by the UCU. While we do not have the resources of the Israel lobby in the UK, we do think that fair-minded British academics will be willing to listen to our case and give it thoughtful consideration. Truth is stronger than power, and we trust in the integrity of British academics to know that instinctively.
We do not think that your members are unaware of the significant role played by the UCU's predecessor, the AUT, in upholding academics' commitment to justice. During the struggle against the odious apartheid regime in South Africa, British academics were at the forefront of the academic and other boycotts of the racist state. We do not see why considering ways of fighting Israeli oppression of Palestinians should be subject to different considerations.
We appreciate the sentiments expressed in your letter about "finding a way of opening a dialogue with the Palestinian academic community on building solidarity." The best form of solidarity with Palestinians, whether they are academics or ordinary people, is direct action aimed at bringing an end to the occupation and the regime of apartheid in Palestine. Isolating Israel in the international arena through various forms of boycott and sanctions and forcing it to obey international law and respect Palestinian rights is one of the strategies open to international civil society, including members of the academy. We are confident that our British colleagues will begin to realize that true solidarity with Palestinian academics requires a political commitment to bringing about an end to oppression and injustice.
Dr. Amjad Barham
The President of Federation of Union of Palestinian Universities' Professors & Employees.
In May 2007 in Bournemouth, UCU Annual Congress voted by 158 to 99 in favour of a resolution which instructed the National Executive Committee to
circulate the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches/LAs for information and discussion;
encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions;
organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic/educational trade unionists;
issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action.
actively encourage and support branches to create direct links with Palestinian educational institutions and to help set up nationally sponsored programmes for teacher exchanges, sabbatical placements, and research
The UCU senior office holders led by General Secretary Sally Hunt argued fiercely against this motion. The motion’s effect was to initiate a year-long debate about boycotting Israeli universities. Having lost the argument they are now finding other means to subvert the democratic vote of the union’s highest decision-making body.
This use of the law to interfere with democratic freedoms is a deeply worrying tendency – witness the 2005 Serious and Organized Crimes Act preventing protests around Parliament and Downing Street, and the decision last week to ban the march in Central London planned by the Stop the War Coalition.
BRICUP has the deepest doubts about the validity of the ‘legal advice’ which UCU is claiming as the reason for its cancellation of the tour by Palestinians, and the effective banning of discussion of the boycott topic in union branches. BRICUP demands answers to the following questions:
who provided the legal advice?
what was the verbatim advice received? It needs to be published so that it can be open to critical scrutiny
was any previous advice sought from other sources, and if so what was its content?
According to BRICUP co-chair Professor Jonathan Rosenhead “It is all too common for governments and other bodies to go to a lawyer who will give them the advice they want to hear. This is how the then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith got the advice that the invasion of Iraq was ‘legal’”.