By delegates to the conference of further and higher education lecturers’ union natfhe
A resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israel was passed at our conference [on 29 May] passing by 106 votes to 74 (with 21 abstentions). The debate and vote reflects the less than perfectly democratic make-up of NATFHE conference — it is made up of delegates from regions, not branches. Nonetheless this was a very poor decision.
The text of the motion reads:
“Conference notes continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices. It recalls its motion of solidarity last year for the AUT resolution to exercise moral and professional responsibility.
“Conference instructs the NEC [National Executive Committee] to facilitate meetings in each university and college, and to circulate information to Branches, offering to fund the speakers’ travel costs.
“Conference invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies.”
In speaking for the motion one SWP supporter made it clear that the grounds for boycotting Israelis should be for anyone who supports the right of Israel to exist. In other words, in their view, anyone who supports “two states” and is for a Palestinian state alongside Israel should be boycotted.
Mary Davis spoke against the motion saying, rightly, that the boycott was a distraction from solidarity with the Palestianian cause.
Paul Mackney spoke against the (final) boycott clasue of the motion pointing out that the motion had only been discussed by one brach of the union, that it called for individual action and was in direct opposition to AUT policy passed at a specially convened national conference. He nevertheless accepted the confusing identification of Israel with South Africa.
This, following his opening General Secretary address, which was widely taken as supporting the boycott motion, led to more than a little confusion.
AWL members had tried to get an emergency motion to conference, advocating a clear two-states solution and recognising the need to work with both Palestinians and Israelis to achieve it. If this position, which Mackney and those around him support, had been discussed, it might have reduced the confusion and led to a different outcome at conference.
The debate on the issue was poor. The SWP’s mover, Tom Hickey of Brighton, stressed that they were only asking individual lecturers to “consider” a boycott; and that academics who are complicit or silent on things as the exclusion wall are as guilty as those that champion its construction.
What will happen now?
Quite a number of delegates abstained or cynically voted for it, arguing that no-one would do anything about it, especially now the union is merging with the AUT
It is possible that NATFHE will be dragged to court for discrimination on the basis of nationality, or to challenge the constitutionality of a boycott. We must repudiate any such legal action.
We should campaign vigorously for the new union to categorically reject this policy at the earliest opportunity.
Post script: Where fighting homophobia is not a shibboleth?
In contrast to the debate on Israel/Palestine where the SWP argued their line with zeal (the grounds for boycotting Israelis should be for anyone who supports the right of Israel to exist) there was not a whimper from the SWP when a motion including “This union notes the recent anti-LGBT statements made by organizations that have links with this union, the TUC and affiliated bodies.” was unanimously voted through.
As the proposers of the motion explained, NATFHE had immediately reacted to homophobic statements made by Iqbal Sacranie, and then objected to UNITE including him on a platform. Under this pressure UNITE took him off the platform.
The SWP said nothing in the debate and neglected to mention there by now well known friendly attitude to such “anti-imperialists” who are also homophobic. They also ensured that a UNITE leaflet that included Iqbal Sacranie was kept away from delegates and was not on the UNITE stall.
Maybe be telling the truth to in the unions is a shibboleth
For report on conference debate on HE pay campaign see here