Thursday, 31 May 2007


The lecturers' union the UCU has voted through a boycott of Israeli academic institutions; Here's the PA version:

By Tim Ross, PA Education Correspondent
Academics provoked outrage from the Jewish community tonight after voting to
back calls for a boycott of Israeli universities in protest at the treatment of
The University and College Union (UCU) passed a motion urging lecturers to
consider their consciences and boycott Israeli institutions.
But Jewish leaders condemned the vote as a "frightening" assault on academic
The motion, which was passed by a margin of two-to-one after more than an
hour's debate, came two years after the UCU's predecessor union, the Association
of University Teachers, backed a similar boycott.
That decision, in 2005, drew an angry response from diplomats, academics and
writers around the world.
Today's vote at the union's annual congress in Bournemouth reopened the
controversy and sparked immediate demands for the policy to be reversed.
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews said:
"Now is the time to strengthen the kinds of relationships that will bring all
sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict together.
"We call upon the union's leadership and all members who are rightly outraged
by the decision to work towards a reversal of this policy."
Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, branded the
motion "an assault on academic freedom".
He said: "While the vast majority of academics do not support a boycott, this
decision damages the credibility of British academia as a whole."
Tamar Shchory, chair of the World Union of Jewish Students, described the vote
as "frightening", adding: "The climate of hostility towards the state of
Israel and Jewish students is getting stronger.
"It seems UCU has chosen a one-sided position in a very complex and sensitive
Conference delegates backed the motion by 158 votes to 99, with 17
The motion urged lecturers to "consider the moral implications of existing and
proposed links with Israeli academic institutions".
And the union's leadership must now circulate calls from Palestinians for a
boycott of Israeli universities to all branches throughout the country for
discussion, the motion said.

But here's the difference - unlike the NUJ, where unrepresentative people at ADM can impose a policy most members do not support, the UCU has more democratic mechanisms. So their boycott will have to clear a number of hurdles - including discussions at branch meetings. What's more their General Secretary Sally Hunt said in her election manifesto that she thought an issue of this improtance ought to be put to a ballot of all members. Would that our own General Secretary had shown such leadership.


whealie said...

You say: "unlike the NUJ, where unrepresentative people at ADM can impose a policy most members do not support, the UCU has more democratic mechanisms. So their boycott will have to clear a number of hurdles - including discussions at branch meetings. "
The British public elects MPs in constituencies who then impose laws on us from Parliament. They do not have to then ballot the entire country on every decision they take. Are you opposed to representative democracy per se or only in the NUJ?
There are far fewer MPs per head of population than ADM delegates to members so, arguably, delegates are less remote than MPs.
Also, this motion was on the agenda well in advance and could have been discussed at branch meetings, had amendments proposed and so on.
I understand that the London Broadcasting delegates did call a meeting to discuss the agenda in full and nobody turned up, not even all the branch delegates.
You and your colleagues could easily have mandated branch delegates to vote against this motion.

Rory Cellan-Jones said...

The difference is that MPs are elected in a process which - despite voter apathy - still engages more than 50% of the electorate. What was the turnout in the election of ADM delegates? At my branch, as you make clear, somewhere close to 0%. Yes, we are all to blame for that - so, as I've written elsewhere, it may be time for the officials to sack the 98% of members who do not attend branch meetings and get on with running the union as they wish. Busy journalists just aren't going to attend branch meetings - but that does not mean the union can ignore its membership. There is also the need for leadership on this issue - and at least the UCU Gen Sec seems to understand the damage this is doing to her union.

John Jones said...

A lot of the damage done to the NUJ over this is because of people deliberately, and quite wrongly, propagating the myth that passing the boycott motion automatically makes the NUJ racist or anti-semitic.

I supported the motion at ADM and I abhor the oppression of Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories. At the same time, I detest all racism and anti-semitism, and support absolutely the right of all Israelis to live at peace with their neighbours, within internationally recognised borders.

I don't believe for one minute that opposing the less savoury antics of the Israeli state makes the opposer guilty of racism, but I understand entirely why supporters of the Israeli government try and muddy the waters by equating any opposition with racism.

If the NUJ were some sort of staff association, I'd quite agree that we shouldn't be concerned with international issues, but we're not. We're a trade union, and the oppression of workers eldewhere in the world should be a matter of concern to all of us.

Having said all that, I hope your campaign/petition goes a long way to stimulating better attendance at branch meetings, and reform of the NUJ's democratic structures. I support the concept of 'virtual' branches and anything else that will widen participation among members.

Short of holding a ruinously expensive Special Delegate Meeting, I don't see how the boycott policy can be changed until the next ADM in 2008.

Whealie's suggestion of trying to get the NEC to agree to ignore the ADM boycott vote is definitely wrong. It goes completely against the NUJ's own rules, and could lead to NEC members facing legal action for acting 'ultra vires'.

Believe it or not, ADM is not normally dominated by wild-eyed loony-left activists. There are normally enough moderates around to put the brakes on most of the more outlandish ideas, and outside of the larger, metropolitan branches, there are signs that the influence of more moderate activists is growing.

For instance, how widely has it been reported that ADM also passed a motion calling for even and balanced coverage of Middle-East issues within The Journalist, our own union paper?

whealie said...

I agree that most members are not going to go to branch meetings. I would like to see the rules changed so that these branches were not the place (or not the only place) that delegates got elected to ADM. Or I would like to see branches allowed to to operate virtually so that those who do not or cannot attend can still take part.
All these ideas have been proposed and rejected by ADM because the delegates there benefit from the current system. They are like turkeys refusing to vote for Christmas.
The only way to change that is to get different delegates elected under the current system who want to change it.
It would take two or three years of effort by members to attend branch meetings to get through the necessary changes to make branch meeting - as they exist now - redundent.
If you could turn your campaign into a longer term, wider, move for democratic reform of the NUJ I'd be happy to support you.
But it is low profile, lacks glory and will take real commitment and a readiness to engage witht he NUJ for the next few years. Are you up for it?
PS. My council, Lewisham, had a ballot on having a directly elected mayor. Turnout was 18% of the electorate, with 9% for and 9% against. The difference woud have been statistically insignificant in any other test (drugs or food would not have been approved for sale in such circumstances) but it was hailed as a resounding victory and we have had a directly elected mayor ever since. Democracy is a flawed suystem not only in the NUJ.

Hen said...

well i wont write big comment as my previous wrote,I just wanna say thanks for your Support. it mean alot
specially in time like this,


whealie said...

You are missing the point. This debate is not about whether or not Israel should be boycotted but about whether or not the NUJ should support a boycott, or at least how that decision should be taken.
Many paople who do personally support a boycott of Israel question how the NUJ policy was adopted and whether or not it is the right thing for the NUJ to have a policy on.
Do not take it as universal support for Israel. You would be counting your chickens.