Archives: June 2007

Mon Jun 11, 2007

The time is now

Just as I campaigned for boycotts against apartheid in South Africa many years ago, now I shall do so against Israeli apartheid, says Colin Green

The strong and hostile response from pro-Israeli groups, as well as the UK government fearful of offending Israel, to a recent motion carried by a two thirds majority at the University and College Union (UCU) congress is in marked contrast to the joyful response of Palestinians, which has been almost totally supportive.
Perhaps the former have misunderstood that motion. After an open and very serious debate, one outcome upon which all agreed was that Israel is an oppressive state, illegally occupying territory for 40 years while ignoring numerous UN resolutions, international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Disagreement centred entirely on what the trade union movement could or should do about it. More specifically, we discussed the role of academic boycotts, which to all academics is normally an anathema. Free exchange of ideas and debate, however fierce, is central to our life. However, after 40 years without resolution, many of us believe that the Israel-Palestine conflict is the epicentre of a global conflagration so dangerous for all of us that abnormal responses have become an urgent, indeed desperate, moral imperative.

Even then, urgency notwithstanding, the motion passed was not calling for a boycott, but for a 12-month debate about an academic boycott. I suggest that that is in the best tradition of academic freedom and free speech. We will encourage Israeli academics to visit us, as indeed they did for weeks before the recent debate, and put their case for or against.

There are, after all, many Israeli humanitarian organisations and many Israeli individuals who believe that boycotts, sanctions and disinvestment are the only non-violent ways to force Israel to escape its descent into a pariah and rogue state. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 11, 07 | 7:15 pm

Sun Jun 10, 2007

UCU action threatens to cause a lasting rift

The UCU vote for a possible boycott of Israel divides academe. Melanie Newman and Nathan Jeffay report.
Concerns are growing at home and abroad that supporters of a boycott have let the genie out of the bottle. It is feared that their actions may inflict lasting damage on the UK's reputation for academic freedom and fair play while failing to achieve the primary objective, namely securing a boycott against Israeli academe.

Academics and union members are also questioning the role of the University and College Union. Despite a personal condemnation of any move to a boycott by Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary, some claim that the union has been undermined by groups keen to hijack the organisation to further their political aims.

Some are calling for the union to become more like a professional association and focus on representing members' interests rather than political campaigns. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 10, 07 | 10:11 am

Retaliation! If we can only find a way

The British boycott exposed yet again the extent to which Israel depends on the help of the American Jewish community. But if American Jews react, what will the Brits say?

How to react to the so-called British boycott against Israel? This is a question asked by many players in the Jewish world after the University and College Union, Britain's largest teachers union, voted to consider an academic boycott of Israeli universities. How can one take revenge against a body on which one has no influence? And, even if it was possible, would revenge make British academia more reluctant to boycott Israel, or rather more prone to spite criticism and stay the course?

Various groups and activists were struggling this week to find a way with which to convey their protest and anger. The Jewish Funders Network, for one, started collecting money to support universities' exchange programs with Israeli institutions. "We are starting strong", Mark Charendoff of JFN wrote to Haaretz. He was the one taking the softer route, encouraging Israelis rather than retaliating against the Brits. One of JFN?s members, the Connecticut-based Goldhirsh Foundation, chose a more confrontational measure: it will not give any grants to British researchers. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 10, 07 | 9:55 am

'We will isolate them'

British academics' desire to boycott Israeli universities this week provoked the threat of legal action and counter-boycotts. Will it produce a fully-fledged international crisis?

As the pop group Girls Aloud ran through a sound check on the other side of the curtain, lecturers in the main hall at the Bournemouth International Centre tried to block out the music and concentrate on the matter in hand. In front of them was a motion calling for a nationwide debate on a proposed academic boycott of Israeli universities in protest at the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories.

As the discussions rumbled on, most of those in the hall for the University and College Union's (UCU) first annual conference on May 30 realised their decision would have ramifications beyond British academia. Few, however, could have predicted the scale of the backlash when the resolution, which called on the UCU to circulate a boycott request by Palestinian trade unions to all branches for "information and discussion", was passed by 158 votes to 99.

Within hours it was headline news in Britain and Israel, within days it was making waves in Europe and north America, and soon every newspaper from the Kansas City Star ("A stain on British academia") to the Turkish Daily News ("Israel discusses retaliation to boycott threats") was in on the act. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 10, 07 | 9:31 am

Fri Jun 08, 2007

U.K. public services union to consider boycott of Israel

BRITAIN - The United Kingdom's public services union UNISON will consider a proposal for imposing a boycott on Israel during its annual conference in mid-June, in the wake of Wednesday's decision by a British lecturers union to back a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

UNISON representatives who are in contact with the Histadrut labor federation have in recent days presented the Histadrut's international activities director, Avital Shapira, with a copy of the proposal.

According to the proposal, UNISON, which has some 1.4 million members, will urge other British unions to follow its lead and cut off all economic and cultural ties with Israel.

Histadrut sources said the impression they have received is that UNISON will vote in favor of the boycott. The conference will be held June 19-22 in Brighton.

If approved, the boycott would have a significant practical, and not just symbolic, impact, given that the union enjoys large economic influence in Britain. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 08, 07 | 7:42 pm

Government to form joint task force to counter U.K. boycotts

The foreign and education ministers are setting up a public relations task force to prepare a public relations campaign against the boycotts of Israel being forged in the United Kingdom.

The joint task force will consist of representatives of the two ministries, the Histadrut and heads of universities and colleges.

Anti-Israel boycotts are spreading in the U.K. from university teachers' unions to other professional associations.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said in a debate on the task force yesterday that "we're dealing with hypocrisy and hatred, which must not be allowed to emerge, even if they are marginal bodies. Whoever promotes such a boycott must understand that it has a price." More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 08, 07 | 7:39 pm

Fine words come cheap, strong action is needed

The growing boycott movement has put Israeli academe on the defensive, but more is required, says Lisa Taraki

On the day that UK academics debated motions to boycott Israel the international media reported on a letter addressed to the Israeli defence minister. It had been sent by academics and intellectuals, including the presidents of four Israeli universities, and it called for the lifting of the ban on Gaza students travelling to the West Bank. This move, as well as the recent lobbying tour of UK universities by Israeli academics opposed to the proposed UCU action, and the Israeli foreign minister's intervention with the British government, show that the boycott is already beginning to bite. Far from being ineffective, the action's inexorable expansion into the mainstream is worrying its intended targets. However, the Israeli response is as revealing as it is pathetic.

The intellectual elite's letter notes that "blocking access to higher education for Palestinian students from Gaza who choose to study in the West Bank casts a dark shadow over Israel's image as a state that respects and supports the principle of academic freedom and the right to education". This statement and its timing reveal that far from being motivated by lofty sentiments it has more to do with the public relations campaign to shore up Israel's badly deteriorating international image. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 08, 07 | 7:37 pm

Thu Jun 07, 2007

Why pick on Israel? Because its actions are wrong

Academic freedom, it appears, applies to Israelis but not to Palestinians

The University and College Union annual congress last week voted by a two-thirds majority to organise a campus tour for Palestinian academic trade unionists to explain why they had called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, and to encourage UCU members to consider the moral implications of links with Israeli universities. Not surprisingly, this overwhelming vote met with a roar of hostility from what we have learned to call the Israel lobby.
Our government, long accustomed to sitting on its hands when any serious attempt to censure Israel is made, predictably joined the chorus. More surprisingly, the Independent's editorialist and its columnist Joan Smith followed along. The boycott, we are told, damages academic freedom, picks on Israel, and encourages anti-Semitism on British campuses.

Entirely suppressed in this harrumphing has been any thought about why Palestinian university teachers and their union, as well as all the NGOs in the Occupied Territories, have called for a boycott. Academic freedom, it appears, applies to Israelis but not Palestinians, whose universities have been arbitrarily closed, Bir Zeit for a full four years. Students and teachers have been killed or imprisoned. Attendance at university is made hazardous or impossible by the everyday imposition of checkpoints. Research is blocked by Israeli refusal to allow books or equipment to be imported. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 07, 07 | 8:30 pm

Mon Jun 04, 2007

We Deserve the British Academic Boycott!

Last Friday morning I drove to the Palestinian village of Bil'in. Bil'in, the village that has turned into a symbol of the struggle

against the Apartheid Wall and against the confiscation of Palestinian land by fraudulent Jewish real-estate sharks who hide behind fake patriotism. Bil'in, a Palestinian village geographically close to Tel Aviv and central Israel and to call the fake leftists who inhabit Tel Aviv's coffee shops.

It's easiest to cry over the occupation from afar, without ever seeing a Palestinian close up. I believe that there may not be a solution to the Palestinian issue, but that's nothing to do with the fact that one can act like a human being and to show Palestinians, who are imprisoned behind fences and walls only a few kilometers from us, that we share their pain and sadness.

This time I went to Bil'in with my daughter Talila, whose idealism and love of others never stops amazing me and that is expressed in so many different ways.

I am so very lucky that none of my children are among those vile conformists who attempt to show how interesting they are by traveling to India and South America! More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 04, 07 | 7:18 pm

Fri Jun 01, 2007

Silence means a boycott is justified

Israeli academics are not standing up for their Palestinian counterparts, and a boycott is the best way forward, says Amjad Barham

Recently, Israeli academics have toured the UK to dissuade British academics from supporting a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. The Israelis have made two arguments against the boycott, both of which are seriously flawed. The first, as reported by the Israeli media, is that the boycott "defies the universal principle of academic freedom" and would hurt Israeli academics. The second, variants of which are routinely presented by apologists for Israel, is that Israeli academics are in the vanguard of dissent and are crucial forces for change; the boycott will only weaken them and thus is counterproductive. Such claims are at best disingenuous. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 01, 07 | 10:52 pm

Lecturers vote for boycott of Israeli universities

University lecturers threatened yesterday to provoke international condemnation by forcing their union into a year-long debate over boycotting work with Israeli universities.

Delegates at the first conference of the new University and College Union in Bournemouth voted by 158 to 99 for "a comprehensive and consistent boycott" of all Israeli academic institutions, as called for by Palestinian trade unions in response to Israel's "40-year occupation" of Palestinian land.

The union's leadership must now circulate calls from Palestinians for a boycott of Israeli universities to all branches throughout the country. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 01, 07 | 10:45 pm

Top architects accuse Israelis of oppression

Leading British architects have accused their counterparts in Israel of complicity in schemes that contribute to the "social, political and economic oppression of Palestinians".
The architects, including Will Alsop, Terry Farrell, Richard MacCormac, Royal Institute of British Architects president Jack Pringle and president-elect Sunand Prasad, have signed a petition organised by the group Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine.

"APJP asserts that the actions of our fellow professionals working with these enterprises are clearly unethical, immoral and contravene universally recognised professional codes of conduct," a spokesman said. "We ask the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) to meet their professional obligations to declare their opposition to this inhuman occupation."

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 01, 07 | 10:36 pm

PACBI Press Release--Boycotting Israeli Apartheid Back on the Agenda

For Immediate Release

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) salutes the historic decision by the University and College Union (UCU) Congress today to support motions that endorse the logic of academic boycott against Israel, in response to the complicity of the Israeli academy in perpetuating Israelís illegal military occupation and apartheid system.

Academic boycott has been advocated in the past as an effective tool in resisting injustice. In the 1920s, Mahatma Gandhi called for boycotting British-run academic institutions, to increase Indian self-reliance and also to protest the role of those institutions in maintaining British colonial domination over India. In the 1950s, the African National Congress (ANC) called for a comprehensive boycott of the entire South African academy, as a means to further isolate the apartheid regime. To their credit, British academics were among the very first to adopt the latter boycott. Moral consistency makes it imperative to hold Israel to the same standards. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 01, 07 | 10:29 pm

In solidarity with Palestinians

An international, non-violent movement supporting divestment, sanctions and boycott of Israel is gathering strength. While progress has been made in Northern Ireland and South Africa, Israel continues to settle and occupy Palestinian land in defiance of international law.

The question for British academics is whether they should join this international movement, and refuse to do business as usual with Israeli academic institutions. At stake is not the boycott of individual Israelis, nor their subjection to some political test, but the withdrawal of institutional collaboration with Israeli universities. The boycott implies the refusal to participate in conferences or research sponsored by Israeli authorities or universities; withdrawal from institutional level cooperation; opposition to the award of grants by the EU to Israeli institutions, and refusal to serve as referees for publications based at Israeli universities. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 01, 07 | 10:26 pm

British Professors Approve Israel Boycott

Britainís largest teachers union voted this week to press forward with a proposal to boycott Israeli academic institutions, setting the stage for a bitter struggle to reverse the decision.

The University and College Union, representing more than 120,000 college-level educators, voted May 30 to pass a motion imploring its branches to circulate and discuss a Palestinian call for boycott of Israeli academics and universities.

At the same time, a professor in America was painting himself as the victim of an Israeli universityís own version of political blackballing. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 01, 07 | 10:19 pm

Israeli boycott divides academics

Academics are being urged to reject calls from colleagues for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The University and Colleges Union is debating a motion that academics should consider the "moral implications" of links with Israeli universities.

The proposal condemns Israel for its "denial of educational rights" for Palestinians, citing invasions, curfews, checkpoints and arrests. More...

Posted by: Mona Baker on Jun 01, 07 | 10:15 pm