UCU on Israel: not in our names

January 19, 2007

The University and College Union's response to the all-party parliamentary report on anti-Semitism - our new union's first pronouncement on this matter - is evasive, disingenuous and complacent.J In response to the charge that a boycott of Israeli academics, with which the UCU continues to flirt ("Israeli boycott refuses to stay off the agenda", January 12), would be a policy that unintentionally discriminates against Jews, the union pleads innocent to a different charge, declaring that its members are not motivated by a hatred of Jews.

It fails to address the problem of institutional or unintentional anti-Semitism.

The UCU's document makes four discrete evasions.JFirst, it declares that "criticism of Israel is not in itself anti-Semitic". Nobody serious claims that it is. But this has become a standard formulation by which those who support a boycott of Israel, and only Israel, avoid confronting the issue of anti-Semitism.

Second, the UCU treats a boycott of Israeli scholars as though it were simply criticism, claiming that "criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic".

It refuses to consider the arguments that a boycott - and not simply criticism of Israeli policy - could lead to an anti-Jewish outcome. The UCU document dresses up the "right" to exclude Israelis from UK academe as though it were freedom of speech.

Third, the union claims that "the cry of anti-Semitism" is a tactic dishonestly and cynically employed by members of the UCU to delegitimise those who oppose Israeli human rights abuses. The charge rests on a distinction between the professed and the hidden intent of those who oppose the boycott campaign. No evidence is provided for this charge of dishonesty made by the UCU against many of its members.

Fourth, the union tries to change the subject by asking "What about Islamophobia?"JWe urge the UCU to address Islamophobia, and we decry the attempt to play off one form of unjust discrimination against another.

This response to the parliamentary committee begins by claiming to write on behalf of UCU members. We are members of the UCU, but in its response to the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism the union does not speak or act in our name.

Jon Pike, David Hirsh, Sue Gold and 67 others. Members of the University and College Union. The full statement is at www.EngageOnline.org.uk

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