By a NATFHE member
On 27-29 May, the lecturers’ union NATFHE will meet in Blackpool for its last conference before merger with another lecturers’ union, AUT, to form the “Universities and College Union”, UCU.
NATFHE organises lecturers in further education colleges and the “newer” universities, AUT those in the “older” universities, so the merger has industrial logic.
All policy at this last NATFHE conference which conflicts with AUT policy will automatically lapse with the merger, so there would seem little point in pushing anything controversial. The South-East Region of NATFHE, however, under the leadership of SWPer Tom Hickey, has put down motion 198C:
“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 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”.
This is a shamefaced and vague version of the call for a boycott of Israel which was decisively rejected by AUT at a special conference last year after being rushed through (also in half-hearted form) at its regular conference.
It is very unlikely that motion 198C, if passed, would result in any NATFHE member doing anything to boycott Israel - especially since NATFHE has passed similar motions in the past, and had the Executive “consider” them and conclude that nothing should be done.
But what the motion does do, and is intended to do, is flag up “boycott Israel” as the answer to the plight of the Palestinians. In doing that, it hurts rather than helps the cause of the Palestinians, because it diverts justified anger at their plight into counterproductive gestures at the expense of real solidarity; and it fosters and reinforces an “Israelophobia” which has no rational relation to Israel’s real faults and spills inevitably into anti-semitism.
As Jon Pike, the AUT member who initiated the successful campaign for a special AUT conference to overturn AUT’s “boycott” policy last year, writes on the “Engage” website: “198C seeks NATFHE endorsement for a private or individual boycott of Israeli academia. It doesn’t say which universities, so we must presume that it refers to all the universities in Israel. It does so, disingenuously, because it couches the boycott call in terms of individual responsibility... [it also] asks that people consider their responsibility (in relation to) “contacts with Israeli … individuals”.
“It is clear that the proposers of 198C think that it is appropriate to cut off links with Israeli individuals, but they dont, yet again, have the guts to say so. It is clear, once again, that the proposers of 198C think it is appropriate to introduce a... test [of] public disassociation from ‘apartheid policies’ as a precondition to ordinary academic interchange. And, once again, this runs flat up against a concern with academic freedom. And it is clear that they want to endorse a private, covert, boycott...
“What the proposers of this resolution want is union endorsement for actions [such as those] of [Manchester academic] Mona Baker, who sacked members of the editorial board of her journal because they were affiliated to Israeli Universities...
“The resolution... may well be ruled out of order: there were procedural irregularities in its proposal, and it also seems to come up against the non-discriminatory clauses of NATFHE’s constitution. This specifies that the aims and objectives of the association are... to oppose actively all forms of harassment and unfair discrimination whether on the grounds of sex, race, ethnic or national origin...
“But the resolution specifically advocates discrimination on a national basis: it applies to only one nation: Israel”.
AWL members in NATFHE are organising to oppose 198C on the conference floor.