Boycott backer aimed only to stir debate

June 22, 2007

The academic who proposed the controversial union motion in favour of a boycott of Israel believes there is a growing understanding that those supporting it are committed to debate before any action.

Tom Hickey, chair of Brighton University’s University and College Union branch, spoke to The Times Higher after weeks of international outcry at the vote in favour of a pro-­boycott motion at last month’s UCU congress.

Mr Hickey said: “We did not decide to have a boycott but to discuss if it is an appropriate re­sponse. It is even possible over the year that those of us in favour of a boycott will be persuaded that it is not a suitable tactic.”

But he added: “But for those who say it is inappropriate but who themselves are critical of what is being done in the occupied territories, the onus is on them to say what alternative position would be preferable.”

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, has said she does not believe the boycott is an issue that members want the union to prioritise.

But Mr Hickey said: “I am confident she will follow congress policy. Just because she may disagree with it does not mean she would in any way infringe it.”

He continued: “I think those opposed to the boycott within the UCU may be, at long last, coming to realise that we are serious about it being a debate.”

The UCU has said it is considering the necessary steps for members to be able to debate the issue, but it is thought unlikely that consultations could begin before the start of the next academic year.

Meanwhile, there was universal condemnation of the boycott during a debate in the House of Lords last week. Peers said that it was bigoted and inappropriate for a profession dedicated to discussion to end debate with Israeli academics.

Peers also debated anti-­Semitism on UK campuses. Baroness Deech, the independent adjudicator for higher education, cited derecognition of Jewish student societies by student unions and an attack on a Jewish student house in Manchester as examples of campus anti-Semitism.

Lord Moser, former warden of Wadham College, Oxford, said: “I feel more anxious about this than I have for a very long time — not least about the shameful actions on campuses.”

Lady Deech said student unions should be made to adhere to race relations legislation. She also added that vice-chancellors had to play their part in helping to stamp out racism of any sort on their campuses.

Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, said: “We look to universities to act responsibly, and indeed they are doing so.”

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