British academic union deals one more blow to business-as-usual with the Israeli academy

Once again, the membership of the University and College Union (UCU) has not let Palestinians down. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) salutes our British colleagues for their steadfast and principled support for the cause of justice and peace in Palestine and for adopting, at the UCU”s annual congress on 27 May 2009, significant steps in the direction of applying effective pressure on Israel and holding it accountable for its colonial and apartheid policies which violate international law and fundamental human rights. Coming four months after the end of Israel”s brutal war of aggression on the occupied Gaza Strip, the UCU motions on Palestine could not be more appropriate or relevant, emphasizing the need to end Israel”s criminal impunity through pressure on it and on institutions complicit in its violation of international law and fundamental human rights.

The UCU”s recognition of “the complicity of Israeli educational institutions in colonisation and military preparation,” its belief “that international pressure is necessary to force Israel to abide by international law,” and its determination to “renew urgently its call to members to reflect on the moral and political appropriateness of collaboration with Israeli educational institutions” as well as to urge “branches to discuss prior to Congress 2010 the Palestinian call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign” are the strongest indicators to date that the Union has taken another significant step forward in the consistent direction of ending business-as-usual with Israeli academic institutions.

Several of the UCU Congress resolutions on Palestine amount to a clear decision to challenge the notion that Israel”s complicit institutions, including the academy, can be “normal” partners of any self-respecting British institution. Indeed, it has to be recognized by academics the world over that Israeli universities, in particular, are part and parcel of the structures of domination and oppression of the Palestinian people. Far from being neutral, Israeli academic institutions are all state funded; they have played a direct and indirect role in promoting, justifying, developing or otherwise abetting the state”s racist policies and persistent violations of human rights and international law. It is significant that not only have Israeli academic institutions failed to condemn the state”s colonial policies and practices and the longstanding siege of Palestinian education, they have facilitated and enabled the collaboration of their academic departments, faculty members and researchers with the Israeli military-security establishment, above all in the occupation regime, in flagrant violation of the principles of the independence of universities and academics.

Moreover, by welcoming “the campaign amongst students … for disinvestment from arms companies” trading with Israel; calling for “ending of [Israeli] apartheid;” demanding that “the British government bans arms sales and economic support for Israel;” calling for “a ban on imports of all goods from the illegal Israeli settlements in the [occupied Palestinian territory];” and insisting that “Israel [is] tried for human rights violations,” the UCU has unequivocally decided to contribute in an effective and morally consistent manner to Palestinian and international efforts aimed at ending Israel”s impunity and holding it accountable for its atrocities and grave violations of Palestinian rights.

PACBI especially welcomes the UCU congress decision to host an international, inter-union conference for supporters of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) this coming autumn “to investigate the lawful implementation of the strategy, including an option of institutional boycotts.” Convening such a forum will be a crucial opportunity for Union members to engage publicly with the issue of academic boycott and to have a chance to openly discuss and debate the rationale for such an institutional boycott and the consistency of its implementation with the law, countering attempts by Israel lobby groups to interpret the law in the most anti-democratic and draconian form with the intention of silencing debate.

The historic significance of the UCU membership”s vote to overwhelmingly endorse BDS cannot be overshadowed by the Union”s decision to declare the relevant resolution void due to legal advice. PACBI is quite disappointed that legal threats are being used by the Israel lobby to intimidate academics supporting the boycott and to curtail freedom of expression. We recognize that groups opposed to the Israel boycott have resorted to such anti-democratic measures after their resounding failure to stop the spread of support for the academic boycott, particularly in the United Kingdom. The argument they repeat, that a boycott of Israeli universities would be somehow “discriminatory,” is absolutely erroneous and intentionally deceptive, particularly because it accuses boycott supporters of targeting Israeli academics, disingenuously ignoring the fact that the PACBI Call for boycott has consistently targeted Israeli academic and cultural institutions, not individuals, and is based on universalist values that reject all forms of discrimination and racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

We sincerely hope that the UCU will soon follow the admirable example of the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC), which resolved at its meeting in April 2009 to support the steadily spreading BDS campaign against Israel.

This genuine expression of solidarity with Palestine by British academic trade unionists is particularly timely in light of the recent Israeli war of aggression against the Palestinian people in Gaza. During this lethal assault, during which many well-documented Israeli war crimes were committed, 1440 Palestinians were murdered (of whom over 400 were children), 5380 were injured, and scores of institutions–including a university and several schools– and residential neighborhoods were partially or completely destroyed. Israel’s diplomatic immunity and status as a state above the law of nations must be challenged. Academic and cultural boycotts are effective measures available to world civil society to indicate its intolerance of oppression and as a means to bear pressure upon Israel to cease its campaign of ethnic cleansing against and colonial control over the Palestinian people. The 2004 PACBI call for boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions [1], like the Palestinian civil society”s widely endorsed call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) in 2005 [2], is based on the same moral principle embodied in the international civil society campaign against the apartheid regime in South Africa: people of conscience must take a stand against oppression and use all the means of civil resistance available to bring it to an end.

The UCU has proven beyond doubt that effective solidarity with the oppressed is the most morally and politically sound contribution to the struggle to end oppression and to promote human rights as well as a just and peaceful future for all.

[1] The Palestinian call for boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions ( ) is endorsed by the major federations and associations of academics and professionals, including the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). It is supported by dozens of civil society institutions in Palestine, like the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations” Network (PNGO).

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