NATFHE Council has voted to boycott and blacklist Israeli universities and academics by a majority of 106 votes to 71.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of NATFHE, had already contemptously dismissed the thousands of emails and petition signatures against the proposed NATFHE boycott and blacklist of Israeli universities and academics in a speech to one of the NATFHE conference meetings on Saturday:
"I have received literally thousands of emails seeking to 'educate' me on the foolishness of our stance in support of the rights of Palestinians," Paul Mackney, the secretary general of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), said at the association's annual national conference Saturday. "Many emails berate threats to deny academic freedom for Israeli professors but fail to mention that academic freedom in Palestine is a hollow joke. Even where staff and students are allowed freedom of movement to attend university, the material basis for a functioning academic life barely exists."
Mackney said that more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed since September 2000, the unemployment rate is higher among Palestinians and 185 Palestinian schools have been shelled or fired at, compared to one Israeli school.
Mackney also rejected charges that an academic boycott of Israel is anti-Semitic. "Criticizing the Israeli government does not make me anti-Semitic, any more than criticizing Bush and Blair makes me anti-Anglo-Saxon," he said.
The only surprise to me was that there was as large a vote against the boycott as 71 votes.
Last year's pro-boycott motion at the NATFHE conference was passed by a majority of something like over 200 to 2.
I've previously written about Mackney's role as a hard line agitator for extreme policies, including a major platform role in the Stop the War Campaign, which operates out of NATFHE premises, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which is the major UK organization promoting boycotts of all things Israeli. Mackney's track record in promoting political radicalism in NATFHE has also been highlighted here and here.
NATFHE is not in fact a union whose members actually have much academic contact with Israel, because it represents the academics in the less prestigious universities, those which are less likely to be involved in international conferences, refereering political journals and conducting internationally acclaimed research.
But because it is about to merge with AUT, which does represent the academics of the most prestigious universities, its new policy will undoubtedly set the agenda for the newly merged union. NATFHE anyway has far more members than the AUT, and it is dominated by very experienced hard line far left apparatchiks who see their union as a sphere for promoting political action for which they would never get popular support in the national and local political arenas.
And since the AUT has now unanimously adopted a policy on boycotts which supports "triggering" by calls from "representative organizations" in "occupied territories", I'd say the chance of a boycott and blacklist motion being adopted by the merged union next year is very high indeed.
This article by my friend Colin Shindler presents eloquently the way in which such a boycott as NATFHE has just voted for will impact on his research:
As an academic teaching Israeli studies, the implication for me now is that any research that I carry out must be predicated on Israeli institutions and individuals providing the "correct" answers to me. Moreover, since my area of expertise is the Israeli Right and its origins, I believe that I would have a good case in arguing that the union would be deliberately impeding me in my legitimate work as an academic.
This new McCarthyism clearly challenges the very basis of freedom of expression and imposes limits on academic discourse.
I think the policies by Israeli universities of getting concerned academics and other opposers of this boycott to bombard NATFHE and its officers with emails were mistaken. As Mackney's remarks show, this merely enables them to present themselves as being harassed and of course the victim of orchestrated threats.
I especially think the Jewish community in the UK, and many academics in Israel, have made a disastrous mistake in deferring to the anti-occupation, Trotskyist-influenced group Engage as "leaders" of the opposition to the boycott. Engage consistently glossed over the risk of the situation that has now come to pass when it supported the merger of the two unions. Engage activists argued throughout last year that there would be no further danger of any boycott after the original AUT boycott motion was overturned last May. Their website currently carries articles claiming that the AUT's current policy on boycotts is one that virtually rules out any future boycotts, when the opposite is the case. It has consistently sought to fight the boycotts by staging the response as being one that there are better ways to fight the occupation, as if that is the legitimate course for academics to be pursuing.
In my view, the way to fight this and future boycotts is threefold.
Firstly, academics, and those who support academic freedom, and especially freedom from political manipulation, can fight on those grounds alone.
Secondly, the track record of the leaderships of these unions, and their use of their positions to promote extreme political positions unrepresentative of their memberships needs to be constantly exposed and publicised, They need to exposed as discreditable and discriminatory, and as the manifestations of a profoundly undemocratic agenda which has its origins in the Stalinist campaigns of the past.
Thirdly, those of us in these unions need to campaign for genuine democracy in the unions, where decisions about political action are only taken with the agreement of the whole of the membership.
HAT TIP: AC
MAJOR UPDATE HERE