So the UCU Congress this afternoon agreed its proposed motion condemning Israel, Israeli universities and Israeli academics, and called for a boycott today. As I predicted it would. And I'm pretty sure the motion I reported earlier in my post on the line-up of pro and anti-boycott motioneers, which was to compel any move to a boycott to be put to the whole UCU membership was lost. If it had been agreed, we would have heard about it. That fact tells us pretty clearly that not just the hard-left packed Executive, but also the Congress delegates were in favour of cutting the membership out on this issue.
Now, what's really interesting is that both Sally Hunt, the General Secretary of UCU, who is known to be against the boycott, and the soft Trotskyist anti-boycott group Engage (self-proclaimed vanguard in the UK of the fight against anti-semitism) have issued statements appearing to claim that other policies also adopted by UCU Congress today make a boycott virtually impossible. In fact the Engage web covering the story carries the headline "UCU Congress backs the boycott campaign and opposes the boycott."
I hesitate to use over-strong language like "crap" and "bullshit"-- which I really don't like to use anyway. So that leaves me at a loss for any way to describe their statements as anything better than, well.... misleading.
The policies they refer to are in fact a previous set of guidelines about boycotts and when they can be adopted, which were originally passed by one of the predecessor unions, AUT, the prestigious universities' union, before its disastrous merger with NATFHE into UCU.
David Hirsh of Engage tonight claims that they would make a boycott de facto impossible.
Here's why, according to him:
1.This is not a decision to institute a boycott. That decision can only be made by the whole membership through a ballot. That was the commitment on which Sally Hunt was elected as General Secretary. Congress also backed a policy which does not allow a boycott of Israeli academic institutions unless it is called for by Israeli campus trade unions. Which it won't be.
2 UCU Congress has today voted for a roadshow touring colleges and universities drumming up support for an exclusion of Israelis - and only Israelis - from our campuses, our conferences and our journals. The union is mandated to finance this tour and to stack the debate in favour of a pro-boycott outcome.
UCU can still be rescued by its membership. It is not bound by Congress' support for the boycott campaign. It will have the last word.
If you read the reports of Sally Hunt's response following the meeting, you might therefore have thought that she was confirming that the whole membership will be balloted:
As I have made clear in the past, and as I reiterated on the floor of congress this morning, I do not believe a boycott is supported by the majority of UCU members, nor do I believe that members see it is a priority for the union.
'Today's motion on boycott means all branches now have a responsibility to consulate all of their members on the issue and I believe that every member should have the opportunity to have their say. The earlier motion means that any future calls for a boycott must pass key tests before a boycott can implemented.'
Well, no. The motion will be sent to all branches-- along with a great deal of radical pro-Palestinian propaganda calling for a boycott and no response material of any sort from the Israel government or universities, and it will be debated by each branch. That's all a "responsibility to consulate[sic] their members" means. The overwhelming majority of UCU members never attend branch meetings, for the good reason that (a) they are busy people (b) they take up many an hour of interminable obfuscatory babble (c) many branches are monopolised by hard left activists and most members would rather go for root canal surgery in their lunch hours.
And those "key tests"? Not at all what David Hirsh says. Or even what Sally Hunt appears to be hinting at. It's true that in any ordinary situation, a boycott on an institution or a country could only be instituted if the academics of that country called for it.
But have a look at the motion in question, conveniently placed for you tonight on the UCU web site by its own officers.
The commission believes, after careful consideration, and noting that we are not capable of policing the academic world in a pro-active way, that triggers for actions leading to greylisting and boycott can only result from a request from a legitimate organisation within the state, or within the occupied territory or institution in question. Legitimate organisations would include a trade union movement, a recognised higher education union or other representative organisation. Exceptionally, a decision to impose greylisting or boycotting might be taken following consultation with Education International in circumstances where legitimate organisations cannot be lawfully established within the state or institutions in question, or in circumstances where institutions or branches of institutions, are established in territories under unlawful occupation as defined by UN resolutions.
So, as this wording makes clear, it is actually open to being called for by a union in occupied territory against the occupiers. Leading boycott activist (and now UCU Executive member) Sue Blackwell wasn’t on the body that put the policy together for nothing. And that call, referred to in the boycott motion passed today is exactly what the Palestinian unions have made. That call is not just for an academic boycott, but for a total boycott of all Israeli products, and cultural, academic and other institutions. The fact that UCU endorsed this appalilng triggering motion unanimously speaks for itself.
And in any case readers may be aware that Hamas controlled universities consider that the whole of Israel is territory under unlawful occupation as defined by UN resolutions (it doesn’t, for example say which UN resolutions...those of its Human Rights Commission or its General Assembly, for example?) Quite apart from the fact that the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign features the whole of the territory of what is now the sovereign state of Israel, as well as the Palestinian Authority land, on its logo.
So what can one say about David Hirsh and Engage's view? That he hasn't read the motion? Or that he hasn't understood what it so very clearly says? Or could it possibly have anything to do with the repeated claims of Jon Pike of Engage, who has kept claiming that a new boycott would never happen in UCU? And who was also on the commission, together with Sue Blackwell, that put this easily passed "key test" for would be boycotters?
I see from the BBC News web site tonight that Jeremy Newmark, the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council will be calling on Sally Hunt to ensure a full ballot of UCU members. He may well have been reading David Hirsh's nonsense too trustingly. I understand it was partly under his direction that the Board of Deputies previously came to the view that fighting academic boycotts in the UK could safely be outsourced to Engage. But he is certainly misguided in believing that Sally Hunt can unilaterally call a ballot of UCU members. She has no such powers. And there is no way the hard left-packed UCU Executive is going to do so at her request.