Only a few countries’ affairs were addressed in the international business of the University and College Union conference, and all of the motions not to do with Israel were submitted as late motions and breezed through in ten minutes. The Israel business took well over an hour.
Why is this? Standing up to ‘Zionists’, ‘the law’, ‘Zionist law’, ‘Zionist power’, pusillanimous leaders and trustees – the only thing constant is the sense of standing up to something in a heroic “truth against power” kind of way – strongly motivates these Conference delegates, who are often marginalised in their institutions. So, members who actively oppose the boycott – it is no coincidence that most are Jews – are identified as Zionist, and inexorably, connections are made in many minds, such as Sean Wallis’, linked below. And yet allegations of antisemitism within the union are now viewed as vexatious, because they often emanate from members who oppose the boycott and among these members was a group who decided to pursue litigation. This view that claims of antisemitism are vexatious is a good way to grow antisemitism. It’s not dissimilar from our own situation in the Greens.
Conference delegates are rarely chosen by their members, and the important thing to keep in mind is that the boycott has been extensively discussed for many years in branches, and no boycotter has ever managed to get a motion on boycott passed in their branch. Branches don’t want to boycott Israel, althoug Conference delegates do.
Engage has written on Conference:
- Why the lecturers’ union must oppose a boycott of Israeli universities – Jon Pike’s piece in the Education Guardian
- SWP backs down, and then indulges in disgusting anti-democratic display – Jon Pike
- The UCU boycott campaign is about fuelling hatred against Israel – John Strawson
- David Hirsh’s live blog of the international business of UCU Congress – notes of the debate
- UCU Conference votes down amendment to investigate antisemitism-related resignations
- UCU Congress has ruled out debating a ballot
- UCL UCU branch secretary Sean Wallis lines up with antisemitic Lehman Brothers conspiracy theorists
Here’s something still relevant by Mark Osborne, about the pro-boycott resolution 2 years ago.
“Somehow I can not imagine Sally Hunt fighting the battle of ideas against the SWP, slugging it out, campus by campus. I can, however, imagine her attempting to use some bureaucratic trick to cheat a pro-boycott UCU conference majority in a year’s time (after having done nothing much to tackle the politics of the matter over the next year).”
This is, in fact, what seems to have happened. In this year’s conference, boycott motions appeared in the agenda with a disclaimer that they would be voided if passed, and a strange pantomime of defiance predictably ensued.
This is likely to lead – and it will be stealthy and confusing for the target, because this kind of discrimination is against the law – to some Israeli exclusions, but given the clear views of the grass-roots, it is unlikely to be many.
This gesture by UCU once again subordinates academic freedom to its own self-indulgent gesture of defiance – for a clear view of what academic freedom actually means, read Jon Pike’s Education Guardian piece, linked above. It was also devoid of any conflict-resolving content. The word ‘peace’ was mentioned only once in the agenda, as part of the comically-worded Motion 27:
- Lasting peace in Palestine.”
But this gesture has side effects on us with respect to UCU’s Jewish membership, the deficit at which Jewish members who want to participate find themselves, and the diversity of views, including Jewish views, which are heard. To make this point is not to campaign for Zionism – rather it resists a campaign to force notional ‘Zionists’ out of the union; a campaign which ends up forcing out Jews because, along with the needs they share with other members, many Jewish members also have a strong concern about how the union should comport itself with respect to a boycott campaign against Israel, a concern which is very widespread among Jews in general, but this particularly Jewish aspect of their membership is unwanted, and to express it, deeply antipathetic to the views of those who claim the right to be their branch representatives at Conference, the supreme policy-making body of the union. David Hirsh worries about the absence of Jewish voices speaking against the boycott at Conference, and he is right to worry.
This is institutional racism – institutional antisemitism.