Academic Boycott makes progress in University College Union

Whatever you’ve heard about the University College Union being “institutionally anti-semitic”, this report from the British Committee for Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) on Monday May 30 will set the record straight.

BRICUP today welcomed the motions passed at UCU Congress, held in Harrogate over the Bank Holiday weekend, which will give encouragement to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Higher Education Sector Conference met on Saturday and passed Motion B7 from the University of Birmingham branch, concerned with ethical investment for the USS pension scheme, which mainly applies to staff in the pre-1992 university sector.

While not naming any particular country or company, the motion mentions examples of unethical investments in the top 100 companies of the USS portfolio, including the arms industry.

It instructs UCU’s representatives on the USS board “to press for policies of ethical investment, including divestment from companies whose practices cannot be reformed because of the intrinsic nature of the companies’ activities, and companies which refuse to reform their practices”.

The first step will be to campaign for UCU representation on the scheme’s Investment Committee.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, of BRICUP and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG), said “This seems to lay the foundation for tackling pension scheme investment in companies which are complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine”.

The full Congress of UCU later passed a number of motions which related in various ways to Palestine. An emergency resolution condemning Israel’s “administrative detention” of academic and writer Dr. Ahmad Qatamesh, in response to an urgent appeal by Amnesty International, was passed with no dissent. UCU’s General Secretary Sally Hunt will now be raising the matter with the Israeli Embassy and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Motion 36 noted the recent moves in the Israeli Knesset to penalise Israeli academics who support boycotts, and agreed to circulate both the call from Israeli academics to boycott cultural and academic activities in the settlements and the Palestinian call to boycott /all/ Israeli cultural and academic institutions. Opponents of the motion who suggested that such support for BDS would be illegal were told by the union’s trustees that if this had been the case, Congress would have been informed of it.

Mike Cushman, who proposed the motion on behalf of the London School of Economics branch, said, “UCU has always supported academics under threat, no matter where in the world they are.Palestinian and Israeli academics are no exception.”

The motion, which was also supported by the National Executive, was overwhelmingly carried.

It was British academics who were the focus of an emergency motion entitled “In defence of academic freedom”. Liverpool University was roundly denounced for withdrawing an entire course in the medical faculty because of a complaint made by a single student about a talk which described the medical situation in Palestine.

The last day of Congress saw what was probably the liveliest debate on a motion related to Palestine and Israel.Motion 70 from the National Executive dissociated the union from the “so-called EUMC working definition of anti-semitism”, expressing concern at its use in attempts to ban speakers and prevent free speech on campus. UCU will now “campaign for open debate on campus concerning Israel’s past history and current policy, while continuing to combat all forms of racial and religious discrimination”.

Sue Blackwell, who has co-authored a recent academic paper on definitions of anti-semitism, moved the motion on behalf of the NEC. She said, “the EUMC definition was created by Zionist organisations in order to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-semitism.The people who defend its use want us to believe that any support for boycotts of Israel is anti-semitic.I am proud that UCU has become the first British trade union to speak out against this nonsense. This marks the beginning of the end for this pernicious definition.” BRICUP deplores those who accused UCU of “institutionalised anti-semitism”. Many of the speakers in the debates who supported the motions on Israel and Palestine were in fact Jewish.

Tom Hickey, who serves on the union’s Strategy and Finance Committee, said “UCU has a proud tradition of fighting racism in all its forms and is affiliated to Unite Against Fascism. Several of the motions passed at Congress were concerned with opposing racism and fascism”.

Notes for Editors

1.Please note: while we believe that the motions have been accurately summarised above, this press release represents the views of BRICUP and not of UCU.

2.The full text of all the motions mentioned above can be read on the UCU website:

*USS and ethical investment*

http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=5541#B7

* Threats to academic freedom in Israel and Palestine * http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=5537#36

* Detention of Ahmad Qatamesh by Israeli security forces* http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=5537#B27

In defence of academic freedom

http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=5538#L11

EUMC working definition of anti-semitism*

http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=5540#70

4.The PACBI (Palestinian BDS campaign) call to boycott: http://pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=869

PACBI article:”Boycott ‘Ariel’ and the Rest! All Israeli Academic Institutions are Complicit in Occupation and Apartheid”:

http://pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1175&key=Ariel

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