FFIPP-UK Newsletter, 1st July 2007

This newsletter contains information about:

1. The UCU resolution and forthcoming UCU action as a result of it.
2. Wider responses
3. The Norman Finkelstein affair
4. Arrest of Palestinian Minister of Education
5. Campus Antisemitism
6. Report on FFIPP-UK Seminar “Antisemitism & Israel: Responding to Censorship – Freedom, Speech and Action”

1. The UCU resolution and forthcoming UCU action as a result of it.

As you are aware UCU passed a resolution – against the advice of the Executive – on the situation in Palestine. Contrary to what has been widely assumed this does not at this stage commit the union to an academic boycott of Israel, however much the movers of the resolution may support one. See the text below and the union advice following it being passed.

a) The UCU resolution – at http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=2555

30 – Composite: Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions (University of Brighton, Grand Parade; University of East London, Docklands)

Congress notes that Israel’s 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement.

Congress deplores the denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students.

Congress condemns the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation, which has provoked a call from Palestinian trade unions for a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.

Congress believes that in these circumstances passivity or neutrality is unacceptable and criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic.

Congress instructs the NEC to

* circulate the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches/LAs for information and discussion;
* encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions;
* organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic/educational trade unionists;
* issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action.


b) Policy on International Greylisting and Boycotts – at http://www.ucu.org.uk/circ/html/ucu16.html

This defines the procedures which must be followed before the union can take drastic action like boycotting and will structure proceedings over the next months

c) UCU immediate response to boycott vote, 30 May 2007 at http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=2595&from=1676&start=11

Delegates at the inaugural UCU congress voted this afternoon in favour of a motion calling for the circulation of ‘the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches for information and discussion’.
The delegates earlier overwhelmingly (just one vote against) voted to accept the recommendations of a report from a body set up in the fallout of the 2005 decision by AUT to impose an academic boycott of Israel.

That interim report accepted by the union this afternoon says: ‘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.

‘It is recognised that this is a difficult area. We are aware of great wrongs being committed throughout the world against colleagues in other countries. But there is always a balance to be drawn between boycotting and damaging those colleagues in the hope that the state will address the harm that it is inflicting on academia, and the harm that the boycott itself inflicts on academia.’

Responding to the votes this afternoon, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘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 consult 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.’
UCU boycott motion

d) Statement on 8th June 2007 at http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=2622

Following a meeting of the UCU’s national executive committee on Friday 8 June, the union has confirmed that it is now considering the necessary steps for members to be able to debate the arguments for and against an academic boycott of Israeli universities. This does not mean an academic boycott is in place, it means that individual branches will debate the pros and cons of boycott.
Following the outcome of that debate, the union’s democratic structures will be used to ensure any decision on boycott is one that best represents the views of the majority of members.

An exact timetable is not yet known. With the summer break fast-approaching it seems likely that the consultations will begin next term. The union will release further information when it has it.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘As I have repeatedly said, I do not believe an academic boycott of Israel is the issue UCU members want the union to prioritise.

‘Personally I believe that any decision to boycott another country’s academic institutions should only be taken if the majority of UCU members support it. This remains my position’.

2. The wider response

There was a furious reaction to the UCU resolution – in advance of the debate and in its immediate aftermath – as well as jubilation form those in Palestine and elsewhere who viewed it as a significant act of solidarity. Here is a very short selection of reports and analyses. For a general overview of opposition to the boycott call, consult the Engage website at http://www.engageonline.org.uk/

a) Boycott will destroy British academia, warns US professor

Under this heading, the Education Guardian carried a report on 9th June of that prominent British lawyer Anthony Julius has teamed up with Alan Dershowitz (the Harvard law school professor who played a prominent role in the Finkelstein affair – see next item) were working together to oppose the boycott – at http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,2099028,00.html
They published a joint article (The Times Online) which concludes that ‘he fight against the boycott is one aspect, perhaps the most urgent aspect, of the contemporary fight against anti-Semitism.’ – at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article1928865.ece

b) Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, ‘Boycott? This is a witch hunt’, Jewish Chronicle 15th June

An extraordinary misguided and disturbing over-reaction by the Chief Rabbi in which he seriously brackets UCU with the fundamentalist Hizb ut-Tahrir organisation.
‘Today the target is Israel. A coordinated campaign has begun. Expect boycott after boycott, demonisation after demonisation, witch hunt after witch hunt. But that… is only the beginning. The target is liberal democracy. We must work together to defend it. All it takes for evil to triumph is for free men and women to do nothing when the witch hunt begins. It has begun.’

c) ‘We are under siege’, An interview with Lisa Taraki, dean of graduate studies at Bir Zeit University, Education Guardian, June 20, 2007

Conal Urquhart reports from Bir Zeit University on the West Bank, where moves to discuss an academic boycott of Israel have been welcomed. At http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/worldwide/story/0,,2106625,00.html

d) Steven Rose: ‘Why pick on Israel? Because its actions are wrong’, The Independent 29th June at http://comment.independent.co.uk/commentators/article2611732.ece

3. Norman Finkelstein affair

What should have been a routine tenure application by Prof Norman Finkelstein in the 10th April FFIPP-UK Newsletter. As feared, his application was turned down. Here are a few relevant items about it.

If you want to express solidarity with Prof Finkelstein, or see other expressions of support, go to http://normanfinkelstein.wordpress.com/

a) DePaul Rejects Tenure Bid by Finkelstein and Says Dershowitz Pressure Played No Role

News report in the Higher Education Chronicle at http://chronicle.com/news/article/2462/depaul-rejects-tenure-bid-by-finkelstein-and-says-dershowitz-pressure-played-no-role

Norman G. Finkelstein, the controversial political scientist who has been engaged in a highly public battle for tenure at DePaul University, learned today that he had lost that fight. In a written statement released to The Chronicle, the university confirmed that Mr. Finkelstein had been denied tenure.

Mr. Finkelstein’s department and a college-level personnel committee both voted in favor of tenure, but the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences wrote a memorandum against it, and the University Board on Promotion and Tenure voted against granting tenure. The final decision rested with the university’s president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, who said in the statement that he had found “no compelling reasons to overturn” the tenure board’s recommendation.

“I played by the rules, and it plainly wasn’t enough to overcome the political opposition to my speaking out on the Israel-Palestine conflict,” Mr. Finkelstein said in an interview. “This decision is not going to deter me from making statements that, so far as I can tell from the judgment of experts in the field, are sound and factually based.”

Mr. Finkelstein’s case has excited widespread interest, in part because of the involvement of Alan M. Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard University. The two scholars have sparred repeatedly in public. Last fall, Mr. Dershowitz sent members of DePaul’s law and political-science faculties what he described as “a dossier of Norman Finkelstein’s most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions.”

Informed of the news this evening, Mr. Dershowitz said, “It was the right decision, proving that DePaul University is indeed a first-rate university, not as Finkelstein characterized it, ‘a third-rate university.’ Based on objective standards of scholarship, this should not have even been a close case.”

In the DePaul statement, Father Holtschneider decried the outside interest the case had generated. “This attention was unwelcome and inappropriate and had no impact on either the process or the outcome of this case.” —Jennifer Howard

b) Many academics sent individual letters of protest at the decision.

Here is one from Hagit Borer, Professor of Linguistics, University of Southern California which pinpointed well the dismay many felt at this decision..

From: “Hagit Borer” <borer@usc.edu>
To: <DePaulPresidentsOffice@depaul.edu>
Subject: Tenure denial, Professor Finkelstein
Date: Thu, 14 Jun 2007 04:43:36 +0200

June 14, 2007

Dear President Holtschneider:

At the end of the day, evil is not about meaning it. Hanna Arendt, in her historical study of the Eichman trial, has taught us that evil is really quite banal. It is not about running evil campaigns. Rather, it is about following, blindly, the technicalities of a system without stopping for a minute to think about its meaning. And so, meaning it or not, it results in perpetrating and enforcing it. In Hebrew, which happens to be my native language, it has come to be known as ‘small head’. It is the attitude many Israeli citizens and soldiers have explicitly adopted in the face of illegal and immoral system and orders. It consists of the approach that “we will do, thoughtlessly, that which is expected, literally, and we will refuse to let it touch us, thereby hoping that we will not be morally culpable.” They are, however, morally culpable. As is De Paul University and you as its president.

By denying Professor Finkelstein tenure, you have refused to face the central issue with any degree of moral courage, and opted, instead, to succumb to pressure masquerading as following technicalities, hoping that it will enable you to thereby assuage both responsibility and culpability. You have avoided none. You are responsible and you are culpable. What De Paul University, and you as its president, have done, will be neither forgotten, nor forgiven by history. We all know, academicians and others, that a precedent has been set which officially initiates the curtailing of academic freedoms and the freedom of speech so essential for academe in particular and for society in general. The purging of universities of any species of dissenting views has been the first step taken by dictatorial and undemocratic regimes throughout the 20th century, as well as prior to that, and history will hold you, personally, responsible for having carried it into the 21th .

By any and all criteria acceptable in US academe, Professor Finkelstein deserves to get tenure. Your statement, that you “find no compelling reasons here to overturn the University Board on Promotion and Tenure decision” is at the same time craven and contemptible. There is little for people like me to do or say, short of pointing this out, in the hope that this act alone will at least contribute to the emergence of the moral opposition which your actions deserve.

Many more letters of support at http://normanfinkelstein.wordpress.com/

c) Raul Hilberg and Avi Shlaim support for Finkelstein

The Amy Goodman interview with Raul Hilberg and Avi Shlaim on 9th May, before the decision was made – there is a transcript at http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/05/09/1514221

• Raul Hilberg. One of the best-known and most distinguished of Holocaust historians. He is author of the seminal three-volume work “The Destruction of the European Jews” and is considered the founder of Holocaust studies. He joins us on the line from his home in Vermont.
• Avi Shlaim. Professor of international relations at Oxford University. He is the author of numerous books, most notably “The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.” He is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Democracy Now! is a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on over 450 stations in North America. Pioneering the largest public media collaboration in the U.S., Democracy Now! is broadcast on Pacifica, NPR, community, and college radio stations; on public access, PBS, satellite television (DISH network: Free Speech TV ch. 9415 and Link TV ch. 9410; DIRECTV: Link TV ch. 375); as a “podcast,” and on the internet.

The program is hosted by award-winning journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez and produced out of the Downtown Community Television Center, a community media center in New York City’s Chinatown (shown to the right).

d) Anti-Defamation League response at http://geo.yahoo.com/serv?s=97359714/grpId=2409472/grpspId=1705759335/msgId=
20992/stime=1181834722/nc1=3848619/nc2=3848429/nc3=3848542 [put all on one line with no space in url]

[Finkelstein’s] career has been marked by hurtful attacks on those seeking to remember the Holocaust, an obsessive hatred of Zionism and Israel, and a penchant for distorting the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

To the extent that DePaul’s decision to deny tenure to Prof. Finkelstein is intended as a repudiation of his hateful and bigoted ideas, we applaud the University for its actions in standing up for its principles.’

What this has to do with academic freedom is not made clear in the statement.

4. Arrest of Palestinian Minister of Education

a) Akiva Eldar, Border Control /Why arrest the most moderate?, Ha’aretz 13th June 2007

The arrest of a neighboring government’s education minister is a problematic business. The arrest of a Palestinian education minister by a state that is fighting an academic boycott is even more problematic. When the chairman of the Knesset Education Committee defines this act as “grotesque,” it would be best for the Shin Bet security services to have a good reason for arresting the man.
Full article at http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/869814.html

b) FFIPP Open Letter to the Israeli Minister of Education

Open Letter to Education Minister Yael Tamir to Release the Palestinian Minister of Education and all those who have been unlawfully detained

May 28, 2007

From: FFIPP-I, Faculty For Israeli-Palestinian Peace International
To: Prof.Yael Tamir, Minister of Education
Cc: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni

In the recent spate of seizures carried out by the Israeli Defense Forces, Dr. Nassereddine Shaer, (Minister of Education and Higher Education (Palestine) Dean of Faculty of Islamic Law, An-Najah National University (Palestine)) was abducted, along with over 30 others, some of whom are elected Palestinian representatives and government Ministers. This practice of the Israeli authorities is illegal under international law. More so, it goes against any attempt to promote a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
As academics-Israeli, Palestinian, and International-we view this act as one more destructive step in the Israeli policy of obstruction of the right to education and academic freedom in Palestine. It is in line with the ongoing policy of the Israeli military authorities to deny access to Palestinian students and academics to venues of study or research. Abducting the Minister of Education at this time, when final preparations are underway for 80,000 high school students to take the general high-school examination, is a major blow to the educational system in Palestine. It is, in fact, a blatant act of persecution which we vigorously oppose.
As academics we have an obligation to guard and promote critical thinking, personal morality and human solidarity. We are witness now to the intensification of human suffering which has spiraled into a grave crisis. You-an academic, a professor of philosophy and education, and Minister of Education-are a party to actions which are devastating for the Palestinian society, its cultural and educational subsistence, and its very existence. You must speak up and act! Release the Palestinian Minister of Education and all those who have been unlawfully detained.
“Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.” Albert Einstein

The list of signatories to this letter can be viewed at http://www.ffipp.org/ (scroll down)

5. Campus Antisemitism

a) The US Commission on Civil Rights has launched a Public Education Campaign to End Campus Anti-Semitism. Website at http://www.eusccr.com/
and July 2006 Campus Antisemitism Report downloadable at http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/081506campusantibrief07.pdf

While laudable in principle, its research and advocacy documentation is seriously flawed (see the Middle East Studies Association letter below). The uncritical reliance on the European Union Monitoring Committee and the All-Party Parliamentary Report on Antisemitism in the UK, discussed in a previous FFIPP-UK mailing is not encouraging either.

Here is one glorious non-sequitur in its discussion of ‘Forms of Anti-Semitism’ ( http://www.eusccr.com/Forms%20of%20Campus%20Anti-Semitism1.htm ) which hints at some underlying agenda:
‘Symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (for example, claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel, that is use of human blood in ritual sacrifices) to characterize Israel or Israelis. Not all criticisms of Israel should be considered anti-Semitic however.’

b) Middle East Studies Association Letter to the US Commission on Civil Rights regarding Its “Campus Anti-Semitism” Campaign, June 11, 2007

‘MESA is concerned that the briefing report and findings issued by the Commission may actually weaken efforts to combat anti-Semitism by expanding its definition to include an indefensibly broad range of legitimate speech and conduct. We are also concerned that false allegations associating Middle East studies programs and faculty with anti-Semitism may contribute to an already troubling environment of harassment, intimidation and censorship of faculty and students on college and university campuses, thereby threatening academic freedom.

Three issues are of particular concern to MESA. First, we are deeply troubled by the Commission’s apparent acceptance of an overly broad and vague definition of anti-Semitism that dangerously blurs the boundaries between actual anti-Semitic speech and conduct, on the one hand, and criticism of Israel, Zionism, or U.S. policy in the Middle East on the other…

Second, we reject as unfounded the allegations and insinuations presented in the briefing report that university departments of Middle East studies promote anti-Semitism.. The briefing report presents no evidence whatsoever that would substantiate such scurrilous claims, and none of the instances of anti-Semitism referred to in the report involved a federally-funded Middle East studies center…

Third, we are concerned that the procedure by which the briefing report was produced was defective; that much of its tone and contents is highly polemical and fall far short of the standard that Americans have a right to expect the Commission to adhere to; and that it may contribute to an environment on university campuses that undermines academic freedom as well as the kind of first-rate scholarly research and teaching on the Middle East and the Muslim world which our country so desperately needs.’

Full letter at http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/mesa170607.html

6. Report on FFIPP-UK Seminar “Antisemitism & Israel: Responding to Censorship – Freedom, Speech and Action”

Over 40 people attended the above seminar on 14th May which produced an interesting discussion to be continued at some point later this year.

There is no summary of the discussion but most of the presentations, or papers on which they were based, are available:

Rosemary Bechler at http://www.ffipp-uk.org/AS_All-party_sum_070317.doc
Irene Bruegel at http://www.ffipp-uk.org/antisemitism/irenebruegel_070514.doc
Robert Fine at http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1020
Anthony Lerman at http://www.jpr.org.uk/discuss/blog.php?id=9
Leslie Moran (to come)

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