Thursday, October 4, 2007

"Ban on Israel boycott discussion"

Monday October 1, 2007
The Guardian,,2181001,00.html

Your description of the University and College Union decision to cancel the UK tour by Palestinian academics (Lecturers drop Israeli universities boycott call after legal advice, September 29) says both too much and too little. Too much, because there was no "boycott call" to drop. The decision at May's UCU congress was to have a year-long debate so that members could be better informed. Too little, because it is this debate, as well as the tour which was part of it, that has been cancelled. Extraordinarily, the union top brass has interpreted the legal advice as effectively banning any discussion of an academic boycott of Israel, even in branch meetings. A quite remarkable gag, which many autocratic regimes round the world will envy.

What is this advice which has such dire consequences for democratic process? The members haven't been told - not even who gave the opinion. We are told only that such a boycott would infringe anti-discrimination legislation. If sustained, this position would not only demolish the international policy of the UCU, aimed at expressing solidarity with overseas trade unionists, it would do the same to the whole UK trade union movement.
(Professor) Jonathan Rosenhead

The suspension of the regional meetings called to discuss the moral implications of links with Israeli academic institutions was a political decision and not a legal imperative. It will be misleading and dangerous to claim or imply that it was a consequence of legal advice because it creates a myth that it is unlawful for trade unions to discuss a boycott.

I am familiar with the advice that the union received from Anthony Lester QC, as well as the independent advice the trustees commissioned from Anthony White QC. Both were at pains to emphasise that their advice "does not mean that the union cannot in any circumstances organise meetings or internal discussions relating to international issues of interest to their members". According to Lester, the regional meetings could have been held, provided they are not "used to ascertain the level of support" for a boycott, which was never the original intention of the resolution.
Fawzi Ibrahim
Trustee, UCU

The legal advice seems to amount to the following: that even discussion of proven educational discrimination by the occupying power in Palestine "runs the risk of infringing [British] discrimination legislation", and that to discuss the oppression of fellow academics and students could be considered ultra vires "the aims and objects" of UCU. As absurdities mount, so too do injustices.
Professor William Roff

If the UCU leaders have suspended their members' calls to discuss a response to Palestinian trade unionists living under Israeli occupation, what will they allow their members to discuss? And what pressure on Israeli institutions will they bring to bear if they cannot even allow discussion of the issues?
George McLean

So Israel can carry on with its segregation barrier, settlement expansion and human rights abuses, but the UCU can't even discuss an academic boycott.
Janet Green