THE ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY TEACHERS (the UK's trade union for University lecturers, equivalent to the AAUP in the United States) is considering a boycott of three Israeli universities. Individual scholars from these institutions who sign an acceptable political statement would be exempted. (This is the post promised in the previous post
Lecturers may boycott Israeli academics
State's policy in occupied territories fuels union debate
Polly Curtis and Will Woodward
Tuesday April 5, 2005
Israeli academics who refuse to condemn their government's actions in the occupied territories risk a boycott by the UK's leading lecturers' union.
The Association of University Teachers' annual council, which begins on April 20 in Eastbourne, will also debate whether to boycott three of Israel's eight universities - Haifa University, Bar Ilan University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem - over their alleged complicity with the government's policies on the Palestinian territories.
The union voted against an academic boycott policy two years ago, but campaigners believe the motions are more likely to be passed this year.
Palestinian academics have also issued a call for an international boycott of Israel.
(Via Andrew Sullivan
The AUT website
has more information on the relevant motions to the AUT council. I'll just excerpt it here, but please do read it all. First of all, let's be clear about the long-term agenda:
56 Open and Birmingham Council notes:
1. That nearly sixty of the most prominent academic, cultural and professional associations and trade unions in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza, including the Federation of Unions of Palestinian Universities' Professors and Employees and the umbrella organization of Palestinian Non Governmental Associations (NGOs) in the occupied West Bank (PNGO), and thus highly representative of the views of major sectors in Palestinian civil society, have now called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions.
2. That AUT is affiliated to Friends of Bir Zeit University and Trade Union Friends of Palestine.
3. That the full text of the Palestinian Call can be found on the following websites: http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/news/article178 http://www.bricup.org.uk
4. That the wording of this call is as follows:
'In the spirit of international solidarity, moral consistency and resistance to injustice and oppression, we, Palestinian academics and intellectuals, call upon our colleagues in the international community to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel's occupation, colonization and system of apartheid, by applying the following:
1. Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;
2. Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;
3. Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;
4. Exclude from the above actions against Israeli institutions any conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial and racist policies;
5. Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;
6. Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.'
Council resolves to circulate the full text of the Palestinian call to all LAs for information and discussion.
To be moved by Open and seconded by Birmingham
To put it simply, the long-term goal here is an outright boycott of Israel it its entirety
. The specific boycotts called for below are the thin end of that wedge. The Executive has agreed to circulate this call for a general boycott "for information and discussion" during the meeting. (That's what "EA
There follow three motions for the boycotts of the three specific Israeli universities. I will quote one of them below but, again, do follow the link and read the whole document.
As I said in my previous post, I am not a member of the AUT, in no small part because of their habit of championing this sort of trendy political cause. But as a British academic who specializes in Judaism, I think I need make some comments.
1. I wish that the AUT would concentrate on its real job of working to supporting British academics and improving our working conditions. There's work enough there to keep them busy.
2. I have no trouble with AUT members or anyone else criticizing the actions of the Israeli government or of particular Israeli institutions or particular Israelis. I'm not happy myself, for example, with the Israeli government's neglect of the safety of the archaeological relics on the Temple Mount, as I've said before. But the full agenda of the people who wrote this is a complete boycott of Israel, which is not reasonable. This fits in pretty well with the AUT's policy statement on Israel and Palestine
, which is entirely one-sided against Israel.
3. I am not well acquainted with the particular cases above involving the three Israeli universities. At least two of them (the Hebrew U and Haifa) deny that the charges are true. Such cases get very complicated and often come down to "Did too! Did not!" and can take years to decide in court. Moreover, there are some warning signs in the AUT document that make me nervous. The first specific motion reads as follows:
57 Birmingham Council notes:
1. That on Sunday, November 21 2004 at 7:15AM, bulldozers and armed security guards hired by Hebrew University Properties, Ltd. Arrived at the home of the Al-Helou family in Jerusalem to announce that their land would be confiscated for the expansion of the university.
2. That the Al-Helou family is among seven Palestinian families whose houses are trapped among the university dormitory buildings.
3. That the families have lived in this area, called Ard Al-Samar, since 1948 when they were forced out of the Jerusalem village of Lifta with the establishment of the state of Israel.
4. That after the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem began in 1967, these families' land has been confiscated repeatedly by the university to build student dorms, so that the families are now confined in small pockets of land surrounded by the fences.
1. To call on all AUT members to boycott the Hebrew University of Jerusalem until it calls a halt to all attempts to confiscate land from Palestinian families, and reaches an acceptable settlement with the families' lawyers regarding restoration or compensation in the case of land already confiscated.
2. That the boycott should take the form described in the Palestinian call for academic boycott of Israeli institutions.
The source of this report appears to be an article from the Electronic Intifada
dated 22 November 2004. It reads in part:
On Sunday, November 21 at 7:15AM, bulldozers and armed security guards hired by Hebrew University Properties, Ltd. arrived at the home of Al-Helou family in Jerusalem to announce that their land will be confiscated for the expansion of the university dormitories. ... The Al-Helou family is among seven families whose houses are trapped among the university dormitory buildings. They have lived in this area, called Ard Al-Samar, since 1948 when they were forced out of the Jerusalem village of Lifta with the establishment of the Jewish state. ... After the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem began in 1967, their land has been confiscated time and again by the university to build student dorms. The dormitory buildings have been closing in on the families, who are now confined in small pockets of land surrounded by the fences.
As you can see, the information in the AUT resolution is lifted without attribution and pretty much verbatim from the Electronic Intifada piece. The Electronic Intifada is not the first place I would go to for objective news. It may well be that the story is entirely true, but I think it's a matter for serious concern that it has not been picked up by any of the major mainstream media. As far as I can tell, this is the one and only source for the story. My own rule is to be very wary of any report that comes only from a single source with a clear ideological agenda. I certainly would not make a big deal about such a story until I saw it was taken up by, Reuters, the A.P., or the like. The AUT is calling for an academic boycott of a major, world-class university on the basis of what certainly appears to be a single ideologically-oriented Internet source which they copy almost word for word without naming the source. If they have made any efforts to verify the account, they say nothing about it in the motion. That doesn't strike me as impressive research or presentation and I strongly encourage anyone who attends the meeting to point this out and call for further verification.
This post is getting too long, so I'll refrain from commenting on the other two motions. My point is made.
4. Even if all the charges are completely true, the call for a boycott is very extreme. It's one thing to criticize particular problems or abuses, it's quite another to cut off communication and any relationship entirely, and nothing here justifies it. Moreover, the call for a boycott occurs in a curious vacuum. The AUT is putting itself forward as a champion of human rights, yet a search of their site for "Saudi Arabia
" and "Syria
," both renowned for their gross human rights abuses, including of academics and students (notably censorship and denying the rights of women), comes up empty. (Try it!) Where is the call to boycott Saudi Arabia and Syria, whose abuses are flagrant, widespread, and systemic? Where is the condemnation of the Saudi education system
or the now defunct pseudo-academic Zayed Centre for Co-ordination and Follow-up
in the UAE?
And is everything really quite satisfactory with the Palestinian Authority? What about the destruction
of the Temple Mount antiquities by the WAQF? Or the hate filled Palestinian Authority sermons
that encourage children to become suicide "martyrs"? Or the eleventh-grade Palestinian Authority textbook
that calls for the execution of anyone who abandons Islam? It's illuminating to note that the author of that textbook is offended by Christian missionaries not so much because they teach faith in Jesus, but because they promote Western culture, history, and literature; lead people to take an interest in ideas such as capitalism, atheism and communism; and promote the freedom of thought to criticize Islam and its teachings, including polygamy. Is this really the education the AUT wants Palestinian students to enter university with?
I could go on and on in this vein but, again, the point is made. Should Israel and Israeli institutions be criticized if they do something wrong? Of course. But is it right to single Israel out and boycott its institutions and even the whole country, especially in light of the ghastly human rights abuses in Israel's neighbors in the Middle East? I think not. The causes promoted by the AUT are very selective, very oddly prioritized, and advocate disproportionate and inappropriate responses.
As for me, the two conferences I organized at St. Mary's College in 1998
included invited Israelis. I maintain close relations with Israeli colleagues and am happy to be involved with Israeli academic institutions. This is not going to change, and if the AUT has a problem with that, it's their problem.
I hope very much that these proposals are defeated by the AUT when they are voted on this Friday. It is embarrassing enough for British academics that the motions are being considered at all.
Some other recent articles on the ongoing annual AUT council in Eastbourne and the proposed Israel boycotts include these: "Academics vote on Israel boycott"
(BBC); in the London Times
: "Jews criticise lecturer boycott"
and "Dons' boycott raises Jewish student fear"
; and in the Guardian
: "Why we ask for a boycott"
; "To Boldly Go"
; "Blunt Boycott"
; "The Sins of the Few"
; "Israeli debate threatens to eclipse university pay talks"
. And a response from Israel: "Who's turning up the heat on Palestinian academics?"
UPDATE (22 April): More here
. For shame.
UPDATE (24 April): More here
UPDATE (26 April): More here
UPDATE (28 April): More here
. Resistance is mounting.
UPDATE (29 April): More here
UPDATE: (7 May): More here
. A new debate has been scheduled for 26 May.
UPDATE (8 May): More here
UPDATE (13 May): More here
UPDATE (15 May): More here
. (Response of Haifa University.)
UPDATE (18 May): More here
UPDATE (23 May): More here
UPDATE (24 May): More here
UPDATE (26 May): The boycott has been repealed
. This is good news, but do follow the link and read the rest of my comments.