UCU congress to hear Israeli boycott arguments

Committee ignores legal advice and adds motions to agenda. Melanie Newman reports

May 11, 2009

Motions on an academic boycott of Israel are set to be debated at the University and College Union congress at the end of this month despite the union’s having obtained a legal opinion that the motions’ publication would be unlawful.

A motion submitted by the University of Brighton branch asks congress to “affirm support” for the Palestinian call for a “boycott, disinvestments and sanctions” (BDS) campaign. It wants the union to host a conference of BDS supporters this autumn to investigate the implementation of the strategy, including an option of an institutional boycott.

The University of East London wants members to “reflect on the moral and political appropriateness of collaboration with Israeli educational institutions”.

The motions were not published alongside other motions to the annual conference in the first report of the congress business committee (CBC) on 31 March. They were held back because the union’s general secretary had obtained a legal opinion stating that they could not lawfully be published, Times Higher Education has learnt.

But on 8 May, the CBC decided that the motions should be published and debated at congress. The national executive committee had earlier approved the motions for public debate, on the advice of the smaller strategy and finance committee, and had voted not to publish the legal advice to members.

At least one of the UCU’s trustees has advised against publishing and debating the motions.

A motion included in the CBC’s first report calls on the Government to expel the Israeli Ambassador from the UK. The motion, put forward by the North West Regional Committee, also demands that the Government ban arms sales to and end economic support for Israel, and asks it to “support self-determination of the Palestinian people”.

The final list of motions will be agreed next week. Three other motions not included in the CBC’s first report, on a boycott of new immigration rules, will also now go to congress.

The anti-boycott body Engage said in a statement this week: “Congress will consider resolutions that may, or may not, threaten serious financial harm to the union.”

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

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