The UCU Boycotts
Table of contentsThe 2008 UCU Boycott proposals
Introduction to the 2007 UCU Boycott Support Motion
Index to the archive of articles and documents on the boycott
The UCU 2008 Boycott proposals
For the last six months people have been asking me, "what's happening with those academic boycotts in the UK?" my answer has been that it's on hold. Not stopped, just on hold. Now the boycott train and start running again and we will again keep you informed as things develop.
The latest digest from the Academic Friends of Israel reveals that the UCU executive have sponsored a pro-boycott motion. It seems the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign has also cause the current head of the UCU to change to a position supporting the boycott. Please read the AFI digest for more on the current situation. The AFI's new website is also worth visiting and bookmarking.
Introduction to the 2007 UCU Boycott Support Motion
by Andre Oboler, Zionism On The Web (UK), 30 May 2007, updated 30th September 2007
The 2007 motion aproved by the UCU expressed clear support for a boycott and instructed the union executive to pass on Palestinian propoganda promoting a boycott to all branches "for information and discussion". Five months later, after taking legal advice, the UCU informed members that a boycott would be both discriminatory and illegal, and as a result it would also be illegal to spend union money organising the propoganda tour. They boycott was effectivly shelved.
Discrimination in the motion
The motion declared that neutrality over the middle east is not possible or desireable, in effect (as Ronnie Fraser of the Academic Friends of Israel explained) declaring war on Israel by the union. Such an idea of singling Israel out and treating it not on merit but as evil by nature falls foul of the European Union's legal definition of antisemitism.
Being such clever boffins, the UCU ofcourse had a solution. In the text of the motion the UCU by their own resolution have defined their boycott as "not antisemitic". At the time of the vote, the fact that the UK Government's report into antisemitism disagreed with them seems not to bother these clever people in the slightest.
The vote was counted at 158 to 99, those infavour of promoting a boycott in the majority. After the vote the General Secretary of the Union, Sally Hunt, said "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".
The motion calls for the executive of UCU to:
- circulate a Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel for information and discussion in local branches
- organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic/educational trade unionists (presumably promoting the boycott)
- encourage members to consider the "moral implications" of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions
- issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action
The careful wording is a result of the past boycott efforts that saw the AUT threatened with legal action, and proposed boycotters informed by university administrations that they would be in breach of their contracts and liable to lose their jobs if they persued suggested boycott action.
However they are worded, such boycotts are discriminatory, against all academic values, and the result of radicals trying to hijack a number of unions in the UK for their own purposes.
Boycott moves declared illegal
On Friday the 28th of September the UCU put out a press release which stated: "a boycott call would be unlawful and cannot be implemented". The press release went on to say that "members' opinions cannot be tested at local meetings" and that "The proposed regional tour cannot go ahead under current arrangements and is therefore suspended".
The legal advice given to the UCU stated: '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 recognition by the UCU leadership of the discrimination in the policy passed by their annual conference was welcomed by the UK's higher education minister Bill Rammell, who said: "An academic boycott would not have done anything to further the Middle East peace process, in fact the reverse."
The Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni also welcomed the news say that: "the suspension of the impending boycott is important news for the Israeli academia. It supports the internationally held view that limiting the freedom of speech in academia is inherently wrong." She added that the successful campaign for the UCU to see the anti-Israel discrimination in their policy "proves that joint efforts can foil a cynical political move to undermine Israel's international legitimacy."
Ronnie Fraser of the Academic Friends for Israel said "While we welcome the UCU's decision to take the academic boycott of Israel off the agenda we remain concerned that the UCU still intends... calling for a moratorium on EU research and cultural collaborations with Israel." He added that the "part of the resolution [that] states that criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic... is contrary to the EUMC definition of antisemitism and we therefore call upon the General Secretary and the NEC to publically condemn this part of resolution".
The next step...
Mean time an upcoming conference sponsored by PACBI and featuring a range of BRICUP activists will soon be meeting at SOAS to determine their next move in the boycott compaign. Sue Blackwell, a key promotor of the boycott and member of the BRICUP pro-boycott group responded to the UCU's announcement saying: "It is quite ridiculous. It is cowardice. It is outrageous and an attack on academic freedom." This line of logic is more commonly used by the far right British National Party, when for example, they are denied a platform to spread their discriminatory and racist filth. If legal advice was bring sense to the boycott advocates, perhaps a long hard look at themselves will. Or perhaps not. Despite appearances this might not be entirely over yet.
Notes to readers
This page contains our reports on the boycott as well as links to content from other sources which we have archieved here to assist researchers, academics and others wishing to engage with this topic. If you have additional material that may be relevent, e.g. press releases, news stories we missed, articles from university newspapers, press releases from other organisations, or motions from other unions in response to the UCU pro-boycott motion, please contact us at
AFI Digest of March 28th
National Postgraduate Committee (NPC)
National Union of Students (NUS)
Jewish Agency (JAFI)
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Statement from The Russell Group on UCU motion on Israeli boycott
Statement from the LSE on UCU's motion in support of an Israel boycott
Columbia University response to boycotts of Israeli universites
Board of Deputies Response to UCU academic Boycotts
American Jewish Congress response to UCU boycott
American Physiological Society Response to the British academic boycott of Israel (includes feedback on this)
National Postgraduate Committee and the Academic Boycotts (14/8/07)
University and College Union (UCU) Press Release, Boycott illegal, 28th Sept 2007
Academic Friends of Israel Press Release, 29 September 2007
Union committee to reconsider Israeli academics boycott, The Education Guardian, March 27, 2008 UK group proposes boycott of Israeli academia, Jerusalem Post, March 30, 2008
A slippery slope to totalitarianism, Education Guardian, May 24, 2007
Physicist who refused to lecture in U.K.: I'm not calling for boycott, Haaretz, May 25, 2007
Livni [Israeli FM] meets with British ambassador over U.K. boycotts, Haaretz, May 29, 2007
Memo From London: Should British Academics, or Rock Bands, Boycott Israel? New York Times, May 30, 2007
Lecturers back boycott of Israel, Education Guardian, May 30, 2007
Academics express outrage at Israeli boycott, Education Guardian, May 31, 2007
Divide and Rule, Education Guardian, June 5, 2007
Boycott should outrage academics, Inside Higher Ed, June 5 2007
Ignored by the Brits, Ynet, June 6, 2006
Boycott will destroy British academia, The Guardian, Saturday June 9, 2007
We Will Isolate Them, The Guardian, June 9, 2007 + ZOTW Commentry June 10, 2007
Government to form joint task force to counter U.K. boycotts, Haaretz, June 8, 2007
UK proposes joint academic seminar, Ynet News, June 10, 2007
US Unions condemn boycotts, The Jewish Chronicle, August 17 2007
Boycott a blessing in disguise, YNet News, Opinion, June 1 2007
FM praises British academics for nixing planned boycott of Israel, Haaretz, 30/09/2007
British academics forgo boycott call, Haaretz, 29/09/2007
Lecturers drop Israeli universities boycott call after legal advice, The Guardian, 29/09/2007
Responces, Blogs, Newsletters2008
UCU Reconsidering Boycott, Little Bulldogs, March 27 2008
UJS Chair's letter to UCU General Secretary
Lancaster University Students' Union Policy in repsonse
Academic Friends of Israel Digest vol 6 no 10 One week on
Academic Friends of Israel Digest vol 6 no 12
Goldhirsh Foundation Response
Responding to the Boycott by Shalom Lappin, at normblog, June 3 2007
Dark Days for the British Academy a letter by Prof Daniel Statman
A letter to UCU from Guy Handelman
SPME Petition against the boycott
Response from prominent British figures and law-makers, in Guardian Letters page, June 12, 2007
Other relevent documents and sources
The 2007 UCU motions
The 2007 document to be sent to branches
An explanation about the Durban Stratagy
Key quotes and summary of responses to the UCU policy
Why a cultural boycott of Israel would be banal, gestural and morally compromised
Relevent section of the Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism
More background on anti-Israel boycotts in general
Other sites related to the boycott
Reproduced at Zionism On The Web for educational purposes only, please site the initial source as listed above