Speech at the UCU Congress

Submitted by martin on 31 May, 2021 - 9:13 Author: Josh Lovell
Jewish-Arab protest against evictions in Silwan, East Jerusalem

We will report on the Congress and Higher Education Sector Conference of the University and College Union (UCU) in next week’s Solidarity. Here we re-publish in full a speech made by Cambridge UCU delegate, Josh Lovell, who spoke in the late motion debate on Israel/Palestine.

“Congress, as this is a motion passed in my branch, I will be voting in favour as per my mandate but want to share some views in a personal capacity.

"In previous motions, where delegates (myself included) have called on the union to speak up and campaign for sanctions, or boycotts, these have always been tied to repressive ends. For example, in the Myanmar debate, divestment calls were made in relation to the Burmese Military, and in the China and Uyghur motion, similar calls for those ties to human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Neither were calls for general boycotts.

"And this motion asks us to consider a generalised set of boycotts on Israeli institutions: many of which are either not, or as functions not primarily responsible for the brutal aggression such as that seen in Gaza, or in other occupied territories. Since this could include universities, this might effectively cut ourselves off from both Israeli Jewish and Palestinian voices, both academics and students, who are resisting Israeli government policy.

"On these grounds, arms embargoes (as mentioned in the motion) and calls for boycotts and divestment from Israeli arms manufacturers – such as Elbit – make far more sense: this would target organisations specifically linked to the oppression of Palestinians and militaristic expansion. We should lend support to the Italian dockers who refused to load arms shipments to Israel only weeks ago. I think here there is an important distinction to make in how we campaign and build solidarity links, and what this motion calls for.

"And there are growing movements inside Israel of Arabs and Jews – one example is Standing Together – who campaign for social justice, peace and equality – against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and for equal rights for Palestinians. Standing Together are active in the UK and in Israeli universities, and I would urge all delegates here to read more about them particularly in light of this motion.

"They have activists based in the same campuses as our international colleagues, and building links with pro-peace and equality activists is surely better than severing any potential ties with progressive students and academics in Israel. Thanks Congress.”

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