UCU debate closed down

Moshé Machover's article was written in 2005, before the Association of University Teachers and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education merged, in June 2006, to form the University and College Union. The UCU's inaugural congress in May 2007 carried a motion agreeing to circulate a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions and to encourage members to debate it. But on September 28 the UCU leadership, pleading 'legal advice', declared that any such boycott, and even the proposal to debate it, would be 'unlawful'. This letter of protest was sent to The Guardian, but has not been published

The decision of Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, to close down debate on the boycott of Israel, on the basis of an unseen legal opinion, is not only an affront to solidarity with the Palestinians but a direct attack on the democracy of the union.

The call for a boycott of Israeli institutions was made, not by Hamas or Fateh, but by hundreds of grassroots organisations and individuals. It was a response to the boycott and blockade by Israel of Palestinians.

The implication in Ms Hunt?s action is that the call for a boycott fell foul of the Race Relations Act. We reject this. The boycott call was directed against Israeli institutions, not individuals. The purpose of the boycott was to end the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in the occupation and oppression of Palestinians.

Actions such as the barring of Arabic language signs on Haifa University?s campus and the disciplining of seven students for objecting to the racism of student union spokespersons there or the validation of the settler college of Judea and Samaria by Bar Ilan university.

Since the proposal to debate a boycott by UCU there have been more Israeli academics speaking up about the problems that Palestinian students face than in the previous 40 years of occupation.

If the boycott against Israel is unlawful then the same would have applied to the boycott of South Africa. It would be ironic if a piece of anti-racist legislation was used to undermine a boycott aimed at ending apartheid in Israel.

Yours faithfully
Tony Greenstein
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Deborah Fink
Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods