FFIPP-UK Newsletter, 4th October 2007


Please forward this newsletter to colleagues who might be interested.

This newsletter contains two updates and one brief new item:

1. FFIPP-UK Books for Palestine Project
2. UCU and the academic boycott discussion
3. Archbishop Tutu banned from speaking at an American campus

1. Update on FFIPP-UK Books for Palestine Project

We are very grateful to the UCU for including the following in their ‘Campaigns Update, 14th September 2007’:

Books for Palestine

UCU is a supporter of FFIPP, the Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which is a network of network of Palestinian, Israeli, and International academics and reseachers working for an end to the occupation and for a just peace. In Gaza in particular, universities have been closed for prolonged periods and students prevented from traveling to university to study. Universities in Gaza are also starved of resources. As part of their work to promote academic freedom in the occupied territories, FFIPP are collecting books and donations to help buy study resources.

You can help by
• donating books (English is widely used) – all kinds and levels welcome, but introductory textbooks are particularly needed – up-to-date and in excellent condition please
• donating money – so that we can buy books that are specifically requested and contribute to shipping costs;
• acting as a local agent – as a focal point for donations in your college, university or department.
For more information on how you can help, please email Richard Kuper at books@ffipp-uk.org

Please help in any way you can. For more information email Richard Kuper at books@ffipp-uk.org
A leaflet appealing for books can be downloaded here.

2. Update on UCU and the academic boycott discussion

(a) The UCU, as you probably know, has decided “Israel boycott illegal and cannot be implemented”

On September 28th it circulated and posted the following announcement on its website.

Israel boycott illegal and cannot be implemented UCU tells members

UCU announced today that, after seeking legal advice, an academic boycott of Israel would be unlawful and cannot be implemented.

Members of the union’s strategy and finance committee unanimously accepted a recommendation from UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, that the union should immediately inform branches and members that:

* A boycott call would be unlawful and cannot be implemented
* UCU members’ opinions cannot be tested at local meetings
* The proposed regional tour cannot go ahead under current arrangements and is therefore suspended.

The union had passed a motion at its congress in May calling for the circulation and debate of a call to boycott. Since then UCU has sought extensive legal advice in order to try to implement congress policy while protecting the position of members and of the union itself.

The legal advice makes it clear that making a call to boycott Israeli institutions would run a serious risk of infringing discrimination legislation. The call to boycott is also considered to be outside the aims and objects of the UCU.

The union has been told that while UCU is at liberty to debate the pros and cons of Israeli policies, it cannot spend members’ resources on seeking to test opinion on something which is in itself unlawful and cannot be implemented. The union will now explore the best ways to implement the non-boycott elements of the motion passed at congress.

The legal advice states: ‘It would be beyond the union’s powers and unlawful for the union, directly or indirectly, to call for, or to implement, a boycott by the union and its members of any kind of Israeli universities and other academic institutions; and that the use of union funds directly or indirectly to further such a boycott would also be unlawful.’

The advice also says that ‘to ensure that the union acts lawfully, meetings should not be used to ascertain the level of support for such a boycott.’

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘Since congress our first priority has always been to keep the union, and its members, safe during what has been a very difficult time. I hope this decision will allow all to move forwards and focus on what is our primary objective, the representation of our members.

‘I believe if we do this we may also, where possible, play a positive role in supporting Palestinian and Israeli educators and in promoting a just peace in the Middle East.’

(b) Responses

These may be followed up most easily on the Pacbi and the Engage websites. No attempt is made to follow up the responses here beyond giving a few links to these, and reproducing brief letters to the Guardian published on 1st and 2nd October.

Whatever you feel about the boycott, the UCU decision raises important – and worrying – issues about limitations on free discussion. As someone who has always opposed the boycott, I cannot find this an acceptable way of settling the issue. [Richard Kuper]

* For Pacbi see especially the Open Letter to Ms. Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union from Dr. Amjad Barham
The President of Federation of Union of Palestinian Universities’ Professors & Employees
* For Engage start with David Hirsh Academic boycott campaign is finally defeated – morally, politically, legally

Some of the issues at stake are captured well in letters to the Guardian published on 1st and 2nd October – these are reproduced here:

(i) Your description of the University and College Union decision to cancel the UK tour by Palestinian academics (Lecturers drop Israeli universities boycott call after legal advice, September 29) says both too much and too little. Too much, because there was no “boycott call” to drop. The decision at May’s UCU congress was to have a year-long debate so that members could be better informed. Too little, because it is this debate, as well as the tour which was part of it, that has been cancelled. Extraordinarily, the union top brass has interpreted the legal advice as effectively banning any discussion of an academic boycott of Israel, even in branch meetings. A quite remarkable gag, which many autocratic regimes round the world will envy.

What is this advice which has such dire consequences for democratic process? The members haven’t been told – not even who gave the opinion. We are told only that such a boycott would infringe anti-discrimination legislation. If sustained, this position would not only demolish the international policy of the UCU, aimed at expressing solidarity with overseas trade unionists, it would do the same to the whole UK trade union movement.
(Professor) Jonathan Rosenhead, London

(ii) The suspension of the regional meetings called to discuss the moral implications of links with Israeli academic institutions was a political decision and not a legal imperative. It will be misleading and dangerous to claim or imply that it was a consequence of legal advice because it creates a myth that it is unlawful for trade unions to discuss a boycott.

I am familiar with the advice that the union received from Anthony Lester QC, as well as the independent advice the trustees commissioned from Anthony White QC. Both were at pains to emphasise that their advice “does not mean that the union cannot in any circumstances organise meetings or internal discussions relating to international issues of interest to their members”. According to Lester, the regional meetings could have been held, provided they are not “used to ascertain the level of support” for a boycott, which was never the original intention of the resolution.
Fawzi Ibrahim, Trustee, UCU

(iii) The legal advice seems to amount to the following: that even discussion of proven educational discrimination by the occupying power in Palestine “runs the risk of infringing [British] discrimination legislation”, and that to discuss the oppression of fellow academics and students could be considered ultra vires “the aims and objects” of UCU. As absurdities mount, so too do injustices.
Professor William Roff, Fife

(iv) If the UCU leaders have suspended their members’ calls to discuss a response to Palestinian trade unionists living under Israeli occupation, what will they allow their members to discuss? And what pressure on Israeli institutions will they bring to bear if they cannot even allow discussion of the issues?
George McLean, Manchester

(v) So Israel can carry on with its segregation barrier, settlement expansion and human rights abuses, but the UCU can’t even discuss an academic boycott.
Janet Green, London

Two letters the next day raised useful points:

(i) Most of your correspondents (October 1) appear to be more concerned about their right to carry on a discriminatory campaign against Israel than to assist the beleaguered Palestinian academy. There is no prohibition on the discussion of links between British and Palestinian universities or campaigning for more UK government financial support for Palestinian institutions, academics and students. It seems the boycott campaign has been fuelled by too much hate for Israel and not sufficient love for Palestine.
John Strawson, University of East London

(ii) The would-be boycotters accuse Israel of punishing the people of Gaza for the actions of their government with policies of economic blockades, counter to international law. So of course the right response is to punish the people of Israel for the actions of their government with academic blockades.
Jeff Bloom, London

We will no doubt carry more on all this in a subsequent mailing…

3. Archbishop Tutu banned from speaking at an American campus

Jewish Voice for Peace reports from the States that:

A peace and justice group at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota has been forced by the university president to cancel an appearance by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The cancellation was accompanied by the removal of the chair of the Justice and Peace Studies program, Prof. Cris Toffolo from her position as chair. She has tenure, but no longer heads the department.

The university president, Father Dennis Dease, decided against Tutu’s appearance after consulting one representative from the local Jewish Community Relations Council and several rabbis affiliated with the university. This, apparently, amounted to a Jewish “consensus” in Father Dease’s mind.

See the Muzzlewatch report

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