Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Solidarity with the Palestinians, not boycott of Israel

Statement in opposition to the calls to boycott Israeli institutions in resolution 54 and resolution 53, submitted to the conference of the public services union Unison which starts on 19 June 2007. To support this statement, please email us at, with your name and Unison branch. To download a petition form with the statement, click here.

All individual signatories in a personal capacity unless otherwise stated.

As democrats, socialists, critics of the policies and actions of the Israeli government, advocates of Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, and supporters of the right of the Palestinians to an independent state alongside Israel, we, the undersigned members of Unison, oppose the proposals at this year's National Delegate Conference calling for a boycott against Israeli institutions.

At first glance the idea of a boycott answers the need we all feel to "do something" in response to the seemingly endless carnage. But in fact a boycott would do more harm than good.

A boycott of Israel would at best exert only the most marginal pressure on the Israeli state. The movement to boycott South Africa continued for more than three decades, with only the most marginal effects on South Africa. Apartheid did not begin to crumble until the new black-majority workers' movement and the population of the townships rose up.

Moreover, boycotts of whole nations and their institutions are the crudest political weapons. They hit opponents of the government being boycotted, those who share the viewpoint of the boycotters as well as supporters of what the boycotters object to.

This objection had far less weight for South Africa because everyone saw it as pressure towards majority rule rather than aimed at crushing the whole country.

Apartheid was the exploitation by a small white oligarchy of a black majority deprived of rights. The Israeli state in its pre-1967 borders did not depend on the exploitation of Arabs, and does not now depend for its existence on exploitation of the Occupied Territories.

A boycott would contribute to strengthening the sense of being under siege in a world of enemies which is a strong element in the power of the Israeli right, and weaken those in Israel who want a just settlement with the Palestinians.

The boycott brands all Israeli Jews (or all who do not pass some prescribed political test) as beyond talking to.

In Britain, a boycott-Israel movement would, inexorably, become an anti-Jewish movement, directed against those closely linked to Israelis, i.e. Jews.

Resolution 54 calls for a "boycott against Israeli institutions". Does that include such "Israeli institutions" as the Israeli trade union federation, the Histadrut? Or Israeli anti-occupation groups?

We understand and strongly sympathise with the desperation which has driven the Palestinian trade unions and some other civil society organisations to call for a boycott, but we do not believe it will help.

Much better, a positive labour movement campaign of solidarity with the Palestinians, with the Israeli peace movement, and with workers on both sides.

Signed by (all in a personal capacity):

Alexander Hay
Alison Brown, Yorkshire Ambulance and National Executive Committee-elect
Anita Downs, secretary, Guys & St Thomas' Hospital, London
Bobby Silby, Hull University
Bryan Edmands, Southwark Local Government
Caroline Henry, shop steward, Sheffield Local Government
Castle Morpeth Unison branch Executive
Chris Allen, Political Officer, Leicestershire Health
Chris Leary, Surrey Local Government
Corinne McCullough, Islington Local Government
Dan Nichols, London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority
Derek Muse, Deputy Branch Secretary, Newcastle City Local Government
Dion D'Silva, Wandsworth Local Government
Ed Whitby, Newcastle City Unison Campaigns Officer; Northern Regional Committee
Eleanor Steele, Islington Local Government
Erica Anatol, Islington Local Government
Heenal Rajani, Housing Convenor, Lambeth Local Government
Jacky Offord, Suffolk Local Government
James Anthony, University Hospital Birmingham; Vice Chair, National Young Members Forum
Jane Emanuel, Bristol
Jean Lane, Tower Hamlets Local Government
Jenny Bailey, Haringey Local Government
Jenny Mackley, Islington Local Government
Jill Mountford, Lewisham Local Government
Jim Kearns, Glasgow Local Government
John Gray, Finance Offer, London Region
Kate Ahrens, Leicestershire Health and NEC-elect
Laura Rogers, Westminster Local Government
Lawrie Coombs
Lesley Smallwood, Leeds Metropolitan University
Lynne Moffat, Islington Local Government
Mark Catterall, Lancashire County Council
Mark Nevill, Leeds
Mike Fenwick, Airedale Health
Mike Perkins, Hampshire Local Government
Monika Schwartz, Islington Local Government
Nick Brereton, Newcastle City
Nick Holden, Leicestershire Health and Health Service Group Executive
Paul McGarry, Manchester Local Government
Pete Allen, Manchester Local Government
Rob Hope, Cardiff
Ron Montgomery, Wandsworth Local Government
Ron Strong, Leeds University
Rosie Woods, Westminster Primary Care Trust
Stephen Lintott, Chair, North West Anglia Health
Steve Mitchell, Manchester City Council
Stuart Jordan, Haringey Local Government
Tina Day, Guy's and St Thomas's
Trevor Williams, Wandsworth Local Government
Valerie Higgins, Islington Local Government
Vinothan Sangarapillai, Camden Local Government

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Monday, June 04, 2007


Outlook for Unison conference

It looks like resolution 53 is more likely to be debated than resolution 54 at Unison conference, but both include the boycott call.
Both include the boycott call. In no.54 is it "boycott Israeli institutions". In no.53 it is an "an economic, cultural, academic and sporting boycott".

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Friday, June 01, 2007


Moves in Unison to boycott Israel

Unison Conference 2007, Resolution 54: An Open Letter to a member of Unison

From Alison Brown, Ed Whitby, Jean Lane, Kate Ahrens, Mike Fenwick, and Nick Holden.

Dear friend,

The brutal Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to simmer. That, unless there is a settlement, it will boil-over again into widespread bloodshed, is as certain as anything in politics is. Against this background, Resolution 54 to Unison Conference proposes that Unison support a boycott of Israel.

Resolution 54 is a lamentably dishonest and evasive piece of work. But if our union conference is going to debate it, then Resolution 54 must be taken seriously and the issues raised in its proposal discussed on their merits. That is why we, Unison members, address this Open Letter to you.

Like most decent people, you are unhappy about the Middle East, about the destructive instability and the seemingly endless carnage. You think the policy of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, a Palestinian State alongside Israel, a sovereign, independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory, is both a good idea and a crying necessity. You detest the continued frustration of the desire of the Palestinian people for that State.

Like us, you are disappointed that the "road map" for Middle East peace, which the European Union, the UN, the USA and Russia sponsored four years ago, has not led to progress towards a Palestinian State.

You were horrified at the Israel-Hezbollah war in the summer of 2006, which was one consequence of the failure of the US to promote the Roadmap. You, like Solidarity and Workers' Liberty, opposed that war.


A case could be made for boycotting Israel as a means of putting on it extra pressure to reach a "two-states" settlement with the Palestinians.

At its most effective, such a boycott would put small additional pressure on Israel. The movement to boycott South Africa was launched after the Sharpeville massacre in February 1960 and continued for more than three decades, with only the most marginal effect on South Africa. Apartheid did not begin to crumble until the new black-majority trade unions and the populations of the townships rose up. The South African example testifies to the marginality of boycott tactics.

Against all such boycotts there is the central argument that boycotts of whole nations and their institutions are the crudest of political weapons. They hit opponents of the government being boycotted, those who share the viewpoint of the boycotters, as well as supporters of what the boycotters object to.

That objection had less weight for South Africa because there the majority of the country's population supported the boycott, and everyone saw it as aimed at the overthrow of white-minority rule rather than at the crushing of the whole country. Even for South Africa, though, there were downsides. For a number of years the boycott was used to condemn direct links between British unions and the new black-majority trade unions in South Africa.

Boycotts are called "boycotts" after the name of the target of a boycott placed on an Irish land agent by his neighbours, in the 1880s. The policy was first called "shunning". A boycott of Israel institutions would organise an international movement to shun not only Israeli chauvinists, but also all those in Israel who support two states, or who would if they could see a way to achieve two states that would also bring them freedom from homicide-bomb and other forms of attack.

A boycott would inevitably contribute to a siege mentality in Israel, and thus put additional difficulties in the way of Israelis - Jews and Arabs - working for a two-states settlement. It would strengthen the hard core Israeli chauvinists.

It is impossible to measure which would be greater, the pressure for a settlement which an international movement of shunning would put on the Israeli establishment, or the political strengthening of intransigence which it would bring in the Israeli population.

However, the main group promoting this resolution, the SWP are people who reject a "two states" settlement. They are not interested in such calculations. What do you think they are - soggy liberals and do-gooders? Their concern is to strike a strong r-r-revolutionary stance, not to help the Palestinians.

Where boycott leads

The case of Miriam Shlesinger shows what the boycott could lead to. She and another Israeli academic, Gideon Toury, were removed from the editorial board of an international journal of translation studies by the editor, the British academic Mona Baker, for being Israeli. Yet Shlesinger is a former chair of the Israeli section of Amnesty International, a group which spends most of its time denouncing Israeli government mistreatment of Palestinians.

And, as Shlesinger herself commented: "I understand why it [her left-wing political stand] is mentioned, because it makes the boycott seem more absurd when the 'good guys' are included in the 'bad guys' category, but really it's irrelevant. Ever since third grade, I thought collective punishment was immoral and this is essentially that."

But something other than calculations about the impact a boycott might have in Israel, is involved here. It is, in our view, the decisive argument against a boycott.

In Britain, Europe, America, etc., a boycott-Israel movement would, inexorably, become an anti-Jewish movement, directed perhaps first against Israelis, but then against those closely linked to Israelis, i.e. British, European, or American Jews.

That would do greatly more damage than any good it might conceivably do for the Palestinians. Experience has already proved that.

Many members of Unison will recall the movement in the colleges in the 1970s and 80s to "no-platform" "Zionists".

Its premise was that Jewish nationalism is "racist", but that Arab, Palestinian (or any other) nationalism is not. Israel did not have the right to exist. Its assertion of national identity was not something positive to itself, but only something negative about Arabs, i.e. "racist".

That campaign led in a number of colleges to bans (or attempts at bans) on Jewish student societies, and to the harassment and hounding of young Jews. It was a disgraceful as well as a very unpleasant experience.

In a boycott-Israel movement, the targets would inevitably come to be (or also be) the hard-core "Zionists" in Britain and elsewhere. That is, Jews.

Jews are the easily definable "Zionists" in our midst. Jews who may be critical of Israeli governments, who may want a two-states settlement, but who, quite rightly, will fight all variants of "Destroy-Israel" politics, including the cleverly spun ones like the call for a "Secular Democratic State", and will understandably resist a boycott of Israel.

They, and their enterprises and institutions, will inevitably become the targets of a Boycott Israel movement. Even if the SWPers who promote boycott do not want that, once it got under way, a boycott would not be in their control.

(And that they do not want that can not now be taken as self-evident. These are the British allies of the Muslim Brotherhood! Who knows what people as politically disorientated as they so plainly now are, will do next? Who knows what their Jihadist allies will impose on them?)

The boycott-Israel movement would in practice, whatever anyone might intend, quickly turn into an anti-Jewish movement.

That would certainly do more damage than any possible good a boycott would do for the cause of establishing a Palestinian state (the cause which, remember, the SWP promoters of the motion anyway do not share.)

Resolution 54's arguments

Let us look in more detail at how the resolution motivates a boycott, and what the resolution's main promoters, the SWP, say.

You will have noted that the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian general election pushed back further the possibility of a settlement.

You will know that a large part of the Hamas vote is believed to have been a vote against the widespread corruption in Palestinian governing circles, for the more conventionally honest Hamas and for the welfare provision which Hamas makes for some of the Palestinian needy. Nevertheless, in voting for Hamas, the electorate gave a majority to a clerical-fascist organisation, which rejects a two-states solution to the conflict - a sovereign Palestinian state side by side with Israel.

You will know that Hamas differs from the secular Palestine Liberation Organisation, which came out for a two-states arrangement twenty years ago, in 1988, in that it rejects such a settlement and continues to deny Israel's right to exist. It openly proclaims its objective to be the conquest and destruction of Israel.

In our view, two states, a sovereign Palestine besides a sovereign Israel, is the only just settlement. It is the only settlement that caters, as far as is possible, for the legitimate rights, fears, and concerns of both Jews and Arabs.

It is also the only practical, the only attainable, settlement.

All the alternative "solutions" — a "secular democratic state" for instance — imply the conquest and forcible dismantling of Israel. The "secular democratic state" formula means, to its Arab and would-be-left proponents, an Arab state in which Jews would have religious rights, but would have all their national rights, including the right to a state of their own, stripped from them.

That would be impossible to achieve without the conquest, massacre or displacement of millions of Israeli Jews, people born in Israel, most of them the children of parents, or grandparents, or great grandparents, born there.

No less than the old Arab and Islamic goal of destroying "the Zionist entity", "Secular democratic state" lies at the other side of the conquest and destruction of Israel. The carnage on both sides that that would involve, scarcely bears thinking about. Such a conquest of Israel by the surrounding Arab states, even were it possible, would not, could not, lead to equality for such Jews as were left, in a common state with the Palestinians.

Whether or not in an ideal world, and if we had the power of gods, we might choose to rearrange things so that Jews and Arabs would live peacefully in one "secular democratic state" in the territory of pre-1948 Palestine — that is of no consequence now. It is utopian nonsense. Hypocritical nonsense.

It is only a cleverly-"spun" euphemism for the conquest of Israel. It is what Yasser Arafat’s predecessor as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Ahmed Shukairi, used to express bluntly and honestly in the slogan: "Drive the Jews into the sea!"

It is both unacceptable in principle, and, for now and foreseeably, simply unattainable.

For a certainty, an independent Palestinian state is the best the Palestinians can, conceivably, win now or in the calculable future. "Militant" or "anti-imperialist" or Islamist-jihadist talk about anything else simply ignores the interests of the Palestinian people.

Mystic religious fascists like Hamas and Hezbollah who talk of destroying Israel, of course, are not concerned with progress for the Palestinians into a livable two-states relationship with their neighbouring state. They serve "Islam": they are only concerned with fighting holy wars against the infidel.

We repeat: those on the Arab side who reject a two-states arrangement and set as their goal the destruction of Israel are the enemies of the Palestinians as well as of the Israeli Jewish people.

And Israel? Israel should be condemned for not using its present great strength to secure or impose a just settlement, and for the reckless brutality with which it uses its military machine against the Palestinians.

The US should be condemned for not insisting that Israel accept, immediately, the Palestinians' right to an independent state, in deeds as well as in words, and honestly work to help set it up; Britain, for too passively going along with the USA.

Unstated assumptions

Resolution 54 for Unison conference, "Sanctions Against Israel", is a different dish of couscous altogether. Its unstated starting point is support for those in the Middle East - most importantly here, Hamas and Hezbollah - who reject a two-states solution and advocate the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Islamic Arab state.

The resolution's authors try to exploit the just and widespread sympathy with the Palestinians, while rejecting the only policy that can serve the Palestinians, the policy of the PLO - a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Their proposal that Unison should back a boycott and sanctions against Israel, and the way they advocate it, shows that plainly.

For instance, they list among the chief faults of Israel its response to the electoral victory of Hamas. Israel "withheld tax revenues from the Palestine Authority and refused dialogue with the elected Authority following the democratic elections of January 2006".

In all this, there are two things that need to be separated from each other. Firstly, do we think it is good that Israel refuses dialogue, or withholds tax revenues? For ourselves, no, we don’t. And, secondy, do we think that Israel has no right in principle to do such things in response to Hamas's election victory?

The point of view of the authors of the resolution for conference is not that it was not good that Israel did what it did; it is that Israel does not have the right to do such things. Israel, they believe, does not have the right to defend itself, on any level, with any weapons.

Think about that. Hamas proclaims in its programme that Israel must be destroyed. And Israel is obliged to forget about that just because a democratic majority of the Palestinians voted for Hamas? Doesn't have the right to do anything else?

Yet, coming under massive international pressure, the most Hamas would shift on this keystone idea was to say that it accepts Israel, de facto, "for now". Until, perhaps as the government of an independent Palestinian state, it feels strong enough, or can mobilise strong enough allies, to do something about destroying Israel.

Hamas has been the main organisation engaged in the homicide-bombings against Israeli civilians since 2001. We condemn Israel for the reckless seeming indifference to civilian casualties with which it conducts its military operations against Hamas and Hezbollah; but there is an enormous difference between that reprehensible behaviour and the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians, young people in a Tel Aviv night club for instance.

Can the fact that Hamas won a majority in Palestinian elections deny to Israel the right to treat Hamas with hostility, and to put whatever pressure it can on the Palestinians to repudiate Hamas?

Can a majority in a Palestinian election for an Islamist clerical-fascist movement override the right of Israel to defend itself against those committed to its destruction?

The idea that it can leads straight to the only logical basis on which it can be made to stand up: that Israel does not have the right to defend itself, or even to exist. The point of view of the originators of Resolution 54

All "rights" here are assumed to belong to the Palestinians, or whatever powerful allies they might find to carry through the destruction of Israel.

That is indeed the position of the main political force behind the conference resolution - SWP/Respect, which openly allies with MAB, the British offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the founder of the SWP, the late Tony Cliff, himself once rightly defined as "clerical-fascist", and with the clerical-fascist "resistance" in Iraq.

Support the Palestinians - or treat them as pawns?

The authors of the resolution attempt to use justified and necessary sympathy with the Palestinians, and justified anger with Israel, to line up people like you behind policies which reflect, and are designed to serve, their basic position (repeat: unstated in the resolution) that Israel must be destroyed and all two-states arrangements rejected.

Their "sympathy" with the Palestinians does not extend to supporting the PLO's historic advocacy of "two states", of the solution which every reasonable person knows to be the only settlement that will serve the Palestinians.

If for the Islamist-jihadists of Hamas and Hezbollah the Palestinian people are mere bomb-fodder in an Islamic Holy War, what are they for the British pseudo-left allies of the jihadists, the people who promote Resolution 54? They are pawns in a great progressive "anti-imperialist" struggle (one that exists mainly in their heads).

The same underlying politics in the resolution are made clear also in its contradictory attitude to the Israeli trade union federation, the Histadrut, on one side and on the other, to the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (which, incidentally, supports a Two States position).

Histadrut's opposition to a boycott of Israel is dismissed: they didn't oppose the Lebanon war, did they? The Palestine Federation's support for a boycott is cited as a strong recommendation for the policy.

The gross double standards could hardly be more plainly displayed. Instead of a socialist policy, a class policy, here - Israeli and Palestinian working-class and trade-union unity on the political basis of mutual recognition of the rights of the two nations, Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish - instead of a policy that would allow the two working classes, long chronically divided by Israeli and Arab chauvinism, to unite for a mutually-advantageous political objective (two states) - instead of that, the resolution proposes that Unison members listen to one side only, the Palestinian.

And listen selectively. We repeat: the Palestinian unions support not the policy of Hamas and the SWP for the destruction of Israel, but the PLO policy of "two states".

(And incidentally, those who call on Unison conference to condemn the Histradrut for not opposing the Lebanon war, not calling for a ceasefire - the SWP/Respect - did not themselves call for a ceasefire. They called for the victory of Hezbollah. They marched through the streets of London carrying placards proclaiming: "We are all Hezbollah now".)

The double standards are there too in the description of the 2006 war. We, and the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, condemned the Israeli government for launching all-out war. We protested and agitated against it. The authors of the resolution, however, in their one-sided presentation, "forget" that the war was triggered by Hezbollah rockets and guerrilla raids into Israel.

For all these reasons, we urge Unison members to reject this irresponsible motion, and the politics of those who promote it.

The only way forward - for the Palestinians, more than anyone else - is two states.

Two states for two peoples!


Alison Brown (Yorkshire Ambulance Branch)
Ed Whitby (Newcastle Local Government Branch)
Jean Lane (Tower Hamlets Local Government Branch)
Kate Ahrens (Leicestershire Health Branch)
Mike Fenwick (Airedale Health Branch)
Nick Holden (Leicestershire Health Branch and Health SGE)

All signatories in a personal capacity.

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Lecturers vote again for Israel boycott

The lecturers' union UCU voted on Wednesday 30 May in favour of boycotting Israel. An amendment moved by Mark Osborn, to delete the boycott call from a motion on Israel/Palestine, was defeated, and the motion was passed.

The motion was carried by 159 votes to 99 with 17 abstentions. The vote on the amendment was not counted, but was similar.

The motion's wording is slippery, calling only for circulation of Palestinian calls for a boycott and "members to consider the moral implications of links with Israeli academic institutions", but the drift is clear.

UCU was formed by the merger of two unions, AUT and NATFHE. In AUT there was a major debate on this issue in 2005, and a special conference of the union on 26 May 2005 voted by an 80:20 majority to rescind the decision to boycott two Israeli universities which had been adopted on a snap vote, without debate, at its regular conference on 22 April.

In NATFHE, however, there had been much agitation for a boycott - by the SWP and others close to it - and the issue had never been fully debated out.

What's needed now is a full discussion among the membership, to do the same job in UCU as was done in AUT in May 2005.

Another sad indication on the political direction of the new, merged union was a vote to cut out from a motion on Iraq any criticism of the Islamist and neo-Ba'thist "resistance" militias.


Composite based on Brighton University motion:

Congress notes that Israel's 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement.

Congress deplores the denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students.

Congress condemns the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation, which has provoked a call from Palestinian trade unions for a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.

Congress believes that in these circumstances passivity or neutrality is unacceptable and criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic.

Congress instructs the NEC to

* circulate the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches/LAs for information and discussion;
* encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions;
* organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic/educational trade unionists;
* issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action.

Amendment moved by Mark Osborn from Community Education Lewisham

Delete third paragraph.

Fourth paragraph, after 'Congress believes that', insert 'while much criticism of Israel is anti-semitic'; after 'criticism of', replace 'Israel' with 'Israeli state policy', and after 'cannot', insert 'necessarily'.

Final paragraph, after 'Congress instructs the NEC to', delete first two bullet points

In third bullet point, after 'Palestinian', add 'and Israeli'

At end of fourth bullet point, add 'in line with Policy on International Greylisting and Boycotts, and EI policy'

Add new bullet point: 'Support direct links between education workers and UCU bodies in the UK, and Israeli and Palestinian trade union organisations.'


Clause in motion from Community Education Lewisham

The various so-called resistance forces have regularly killed trade union, women's and LGBT activists. The 'resistance' groups - various types of Ba'athist-fascist and Islamist organisation - are unremittingly hostile to the new labour movement.

Amendment from University College London:

To delete all above and replace by: The 650,000+ excess civilian deaths in Iraq since 2003 and the destruction of civil society, including the attacks on trade unionists, women and LGBT people, derive directly from the presence of occupying US and UK forces - practically, morally and legally under the Geneva Conventions.

UCU leadership reaction

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt has responded to the boycott resolution with a statement saying: "All branches now have a responsibility to consult all of their members on the issue and I believe that every member should have the opportunity to have their say. The earlier motion [passed at this UCU conference, endorsing the report of an AUT working party set up after 2005] means that any future calls for a boycott must pass key tests before a boycott can implemented" - i.e. it would have to be called for by a trade union or similar institution within Israel, a very unlikely event.

Evidently the UCU leadership want to push the issue aside as much as possible. The job for rank and file activists is to to into the branch "consultations" and make the case against boycott and for real solidarity with the Palestinians.

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Unison: boycott before the boycott

The Executive of the public services Unison has rejected a proposal from the relevant union committee to give money to the international trade-union news website Labourstart, on the grounds that one of the people involved in running Labourstart is a "Zionist".

It is a sort of "boycott before the boycott", a pre-emptive application of motion 54 to Unison conference, which proposes a boycott of all Israeli institutions.

Labourstart provides an unparalleled breadth of information on workers' struggles and workers' organisations worldwide, including in the Occupied Territories.

At the Executive no-one objected to Labourstart's coverage. The objection was to its founding editor, Eric Lee. Eric is now only one of 79 contributors world-wide toLabourstart.

But - and that was enough to damn the whole project in the eyes of the Executive - Eric is a Zionist. He has been associated with left-Zionist parties in Israel such as Mapam and Meretz.

Nobody proposed checking out the other 78 Labourstart correspondents for their views.

The basic argument is that the union cannot support projects, however worthwhile, if the people running them are Jewish. Supporters of "boycotting" Labourstart will reply that the objection is not that people like Eric Lee are Jewish, but that they are "Zionists". But to brand left Zionists like Eric as outside the range of people whom we can work with is to "boycott" almost all Jews around the world.

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Report from Unison delegation to Palestine and Israel, 2005

29 November – 4 December 2005. Delegation members: Helen Jenner, Diane Kelly, Mike Kirby, Ross McGivern and Nick Crook.


1. UNISON has clear policy on Palestine and the Middle East Peace Process as set out in several National Delegate Conference motions over the past few years. UNISON has also had strong bilateral relations with both the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and the Histadrut but had not sent a delegation to the region for some time.

2. The aim of the delegation was twofold;
* to acquaint UNISON with the most recent developments in both the Palestinian Authority and Israel
* to make recommendations for future bilateral capacity building projects with both the PGFTU and Histadrut and for joint projects between UNISON, the PGFTU and Histadrut that would help advance civil society dialogue and advance the peace process.

The political context

3. The delegation visit took place at a time of potentially significant developments in the political life of both the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
Yasser Arafat died in November 2004, almost exactly a year before the visit. Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005 and elections for the Palestinian Legislative Assembly – the first in 10 years - are planned for January 2006, although there was much speculation as to whether these would be allowed to take place by the Israeli authorities given the likely participation by Hamas.

4. The delegation also took place a week before the primaries for the leadership of the Israeli Labour Party, which were eventually won by the chair of the Histadrut Trade Union organisation, Amir Peretz. His election and the subsequent decision by Labour to withdraw from the Israeli government prompted Ariel Sharon to quit the Likud Party and to call new elections for the Knesset.

The continued occupation of the West Bank

5. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in August and September 2005 with the forcible removal of Israeli settlers. However, the settler movement continues to establish new outposts in the West Bank and there is continued new construction in established settlements such as Ariel and Ma’ale Adummim. Most controversially Israel continues to build the ‘Separation Barrier’, ostensibly to secure the border between Israel and the West Bank but in the process further annexing land around Israeli settlements and isolating key Palestinian towns and villages from each other and from water supplies and agricultural land.

6. Travel between key Palestinian towns is made difficult by a combination of the ‘Separation Barrier’, regular checkpoints and ‘flying checkpoints’, and restrictions on military/settler roads and roads restricted to the different populations. The delegation witnessed at first hand how the ‘Wall’ also divides established Palestinian communities such as Ramallah and Ar-Ram. In this case the barrier/wall plays no security role for Israel as it does not separate areas of Palestinian population from Israel. Instead it is clearly part of the deliberate annexation of the greater East Jerusalem area by Israel. It is a tool of subjugation, humiliation and economic blockade.

7. Travel in and out of Nablus is controlled by two Israeli checkpoints, severely curtailing the freedom of movement for workers, students and even hospital patients who need to travel to Nablus on a daily basis. Palestinian representatives frequently talked about the ‘cantonisation’ of the West Bank by a combination of checkpoints, Israeli settlements and roads solely for the use of settlers.

8. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are classed as Israeli residents by the Israeli authorities and carry Israeli ID cards. They are currently able to travel to the West Bank, however, we were informed that they were likely to lose this right in early 2006 cutting them off from their jobs, family and friends.

9. The nature of the occupation can best be illustrated by figures given to us by the Governor of Nablus for the period 2002-5

• there had been 256 days of Israeli imposed curfew on the town
• 225 buildings had been completely destroyed by the IDF and 6500 partially destroyed
• the local council was spending $224,000 a year re-housing people whose homes had been destroyed
• there have been 211 raids by the IDF on schools in Nablus. 57 students and 10 teachers had been killed whilst 475 students and 14 teachers had been injured. A further 332 students has been arrested during these raids.
• ambulances trying to pass checkpoints had been refused permission 79 times. Ambulances had been kept waiting for between 20-40 minutes at checkpoints on 266 occasions. As a consequence 7 patents had died
• revenue to the local authority from sales in Nablus market had fallen from $1.2m in 2001 to $118,439 in 2004 – a decrease of 87%
• 30% of factories had closed. A further 15% were working at below 50% capacity.

The economic and social context

10. The second Intifada has had major consequences for both the Palestinian and Israeli economies. Israel underwent significant economic growth in the late 1990s. However, the Israeli economy went into recession in 2001 and 2002 and has only just begun to grow again, although at a slower rate than in the 1990s. As a consequence per capita GDP fell from $18,000 in 2000 to $17,000 in 2004. It is estimated that up to 20% of the population lives at or below the poverty line. Until he resigned as Finance Minister over the withdrawal from Gaza, Benjamin Netanyahu pursued harsh neo-liberal policies seeking to privatise key areas of the Israeli public services and to end the national collective agreements that cover most sectors of the economy. Interestingly, Amir Peretz has decided to make the link between the occupation of the West Bank and social and economic questions a key issue for the Israeli Labour Party at the forthcoming elections.

11. As a consequence of the Intifada Israel closed its borders to Palestinians working in Israel, seriously exacerbating the level of unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza. Up to 100,000 Palestinians working legally in Israel lost their jobs as did up to perhaps 200,000 more illegal workers whilst a further 60,000 lost their jobs in the West Bank as a result of a subsequent fall in demand and economic downturn. Unemployment runs at 65%. The Palestinian Authority estimates that 75% of the population live under the poverty line (calculated at $2 per person per day). UNWRA estimate that 1.7 million people are in receipt of food aid in the West Bank and Gaza and that 30% of Palestinian children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition and 21% from acute malnutrition.

12. Perhaps one of the starkest contrasts experienced during the visit was between the conditions at an UNRWA clinic in the Balata refugee camp and the Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer, just outside Tel Aviv. The Sheba Hospital is the largest in Israel and is a world pioneer in the fields of paediatrics and the rehabilitation of patients suffering from psychiatric, neurological, paraplegic and geriatric related problems. A state hospital, it appeared to be incredibly well resourced with funding coming not only from the state but from charitable foundations in Israel and from the wider Jewish Diaspora. Interestingly, a third of the children in the paediatrics department come from the West Bank and Gaza and 50% of child oncology patients are Palestinian. In contrast, the UNRWA clinic appeared under-resourced and over-stretched, although we were informed that UNRWA clinics are better resourced than clinics in the Palestinian state sector. At Balata the doctors see up to 130 patients a day, mainly treating diseases resulting from the poor conditions in the refugee camp such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and anaemia.

Trade union issues

Palestine and the Occupied Territories

13. The PGFTU claims to have 290,000 members in 20 affiliated unions in the West Bank and Gaza, although this figure is probably somewhat lower given the high level of Palestinian unemployment. The PGFTU’s finances have been hit both by unemployment in the Occupied Territories and by the ending of Palestinian employment in Israel and the subsequent drying-up and freezing of remittances from the Histadrut under the 1995 agreement between the two federations. As unemployment and poverty have increased the PGFTU has increasingly taken on the role of welfare distribution. It has negotiated reduced health insurance rates for unemployed workers with the Health Ministry and was the channel for the distribution of a $100 payment by the Palestinian Authority to 500,000 unemployed workers. It has also distributed 400,000 food parcels donated by the Saudi government. This has led some to criticise the PGFTU as being too close to the Palestinian Authority.

14. However, the PGFTU does have political differences with the Palestinian Authority over industrial relations issues. Although the PGFTU has welcomed the adoption of a new Palestinian Labour Code (workers in the West Bank were previously subject to the Jordanian Labour Code whilst those in Gaza came under the Egyptian code) it has been critical of the failure to set up specific Labour Courts to settle matters – industrial relations issues are still resolved through the civil court system and are subject to major delays. The PGFTU has also been campaigning for the implementation of the new law on Social Security Insurance which has been adopted by the PLA but has not yet come into force. The PGFTU is also extremely critical of the draft Trade Union Law which would allow the Palestinian Authorities to interfere directly in internal trade union affairs.


15. The Histadrut underwent a major process of change in the mid 1990s, divesting itself of many of the companies run by the organisation and losing responsibility for running Israel’s health insurance system. These changes led to a significant fall in membership (from 1.5 million to approximately 700,000 today) and the organisation is still facing financial difficulties. Nevertheless, under the leadership of Amir Peretz, Histadrut has concentrated on developing its primary role as a trade union and has focussed on core issues such as pay and conditions, pensions and methods of public service delivery. It has also highlighted the social and economic consequences of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

16. UCAPSE, the Union of Clerical Administrative and Public Service Employees and the largest Histadrut affiliate, reported that many Israeli local authorities are facing financial problems and as a consequence local government workers have seen delays in the payment of salaries and dismissals. They are also having to deal with privatisation. In fact they were in dispute over the privatisation of the second largest bank, Bank Leumi, during the delegation’s visit. As a union their strategy was not to oppose privatisation but to maintain the national collective bargaining arrangements and therefore their members’ terms and conditions after privatisation.

17. The Union of Government Employees had recently been out on strike for over 100 days against changes to a national collective agreement following privatisation. They had managed to win the fight despite the fact that Histadrut does not have a strike fund with which to pay striking workers. However, the government was now resorting to the increased use of employing workers on temporary contracts to avoid them fully benefiting from the collective agreement.

Joint issues

18. Following the Oslo Accords in 1993 the Histadrut and the PGFTU signed a co-operation agreement in 1995. This included the provision for the remittance of membership fees paid by Palestinian workers employed in Israel from the Histadrut to the PGFTU. There is a question of outstanding remittances from the Histadrut to the PGFTU, although this currently being mediated through the ICFTU. Since the second Intifada contacts between the two organisations have become harder, mainly due to travel restrictions.

19. There is a question concerning the rights Palestinian workers in East Jerusalem to join a trade union of their choice. East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967, although this has not been recognised by the International Community. Palestinian residents are therefore classed as Israeli citizens and the Israeli authorities do not recognise the right of the PGFTU to recruit and represent them. If they want to join a trade union they are required to join the Histadrut. The PGFTU offices in East Jerusalem have been subject to regular harassment by the Israeli authorities. The PGFTU also argues that these workers should be subject to the newly adopted Palestinian Labour Code, not the Israeli Labour Code.

Recommendations for future action

20. There was a clear wish from both the PGFTU and Histadrut for UNISON to facilitate meetings between the two organisations outside Israel and Palestine. There are precedents for this: the TUC, through Amicus, has hosted such a meeting and the French CGT has held a couple of such meetings, one for the public service unions in Lyon and a youth camp. The International Committee should agree to the idea in principle. However, a lot more work needs to be done to determine:
* the clear aims and objectives of such an activity.
* should UNISON work with the PGFTU and Histadrut or solely with their respective public service unions, including government workers.
* the possibility of working with different actors within the Palestinian and Israeli unions: the leaderships, women, young people. On this point there was an interesting contrast between the high level of representation of women and young people within the PGFTU compared to Histadrut.
* whether there is a need to bring in outside experts in conflict resolution
* the possibilities for external funding for what is potentially a major project .

21. UCAPSE requested support for a series of seminars it is proposing to organise which would involve Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian trade unionists.

22. UCAPSE also proposed twinning between local government branches in Israel and the UK.

22. There was a request from the PGFTU in East Jerusalem to support a project on the legal situation and the relevant legal codes of Palestinian workers in East Jerusalem and the right for the PGFTU to recruit and represent them. However, the problem is essentially a political one relating to the illegal Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem and it is unlikely that such a study would resolve the issue.

23. An Najah University in Nablus, the largest university in the West Bank, is keen to strengthen its international links. There is also a possibility for co-operation on the education and training of nurses. UNISON higher education branches could be encouraged to take this up.

24. Na’Amat, the women’s organisation of the Histadrut, is seeking to promote family-friendly employment legislation, especially in relation to flexible working and child-care provision. UNISON should provide information about successful local agreements that we have negotiated in this area.

UNISON Delegation to Palestine and Israel
29 October – 4 November 2005

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Thursday, June 29, 2006


Stop the assault on Gaza and Lebanon!

Stop the Israeli assault on Gaza and Lebanon!
Download leaflet.
Protest, Friday 28 July, outside the Israeli Embassy in London

17:30 to 18:30 High St Kensington, opposite the junction with Kensington Palace Gardens. (High St Kensington Tube)
Israel out of the West Bank and Gaza!
Two nations, two states!
No to Israeli state terror, no to Islamist terrorism!
Called by the Committee for Two States.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Committee for Two States: Palestine alongside Israel

The "Committee for Two States", launched in 2002, offers a basis for making solidarity with the Palestinians without any demonisation or hatred of Israel.

Download the statement as pdf here.

The Committee for 2 States:
Israel Out of the Occupied Territories!

We are calling on trade unionists and other campaigners to
support the statement below, to work with the Committee for 2 States and to raise the demand for “Two states: Israel out of the occupied territories” within your own organisations.
Please put your name to the statement, take a copy of the motion passed by the Communication Workers Union National Executive for your own union/organisation and join the Committee for 2 States.
Please sign the statement and return it to the Committee for 2 States at: P.O. Box 823, London SE15 4NA. 07950 978 083. Email

• We stand together in opposition to the brutality of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank.
• We oppose the destruction of political and economic life in the Occupied Territories.
• We are for the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli state from the Occupied Territories.
• We also oppose the targeting and killing of innocent Israeli citizens by Palestinian activists.
• We oppose the Islamist suicide bombers who kill themselves and Jewish civilians; politically we oppose Hamas and Islamic Jihad who are fighting not just against Israeli occupation, but for the destruction of Israel and the creation of a theocratic state.
• We are for the creation of a fully independent Palestinian state - on the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem - alongside Israel.
• We for a generous Israeli settlement with Palestinian refugees - a mutually agreed, compromise between the two peoples.
• We are against a view common on the British left which attempts to present a “reasonable” case for the destruction of Israel - by the creation of a single (Arab) “democratic secular state”.
• Such a state could only be created by the forcible subjugation of the Israeli Jews. This is neither desirable, nor reasonable.
• A coming together of nations - in the future a democratic federation across the whole region - is to be desired. But such a relationship can only happen through the voluntary agreement of the peoples involved - i.e. on the basis of recognising that the various peoples have the right to their own states and the right not to be forcibly incorporated into another state.
• We are for two states for the two peoples because this is the best, most equitable, most democratic solution possible. It is the only conceivable arrangement which could bring to an end the Israeli Jewish-Palestinian Arab conflict.
• We are for peace, reconciliation and compromise. We oppose chauvinism and bigotry.
• We stand against anti-semitism and anti-Muslim hatred.
Join our Committee. Help us.

This resolution was passed at the Communications Workers Union National Executive on 25 April 2002.

Please put this motion to your union/organisation (feel free to adapt it) and let the Committee for 2 States know.

• ... We are for the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli state from the Occupied Territories.
• Whilst we understand the Palestinians are in a desperate situation and recognise that they have the right to defend themselves in the face of the IDF onslaught - we oppose the Islamist suicide bombers who kill themselves and Jewish civilians.
• We oppose Hamas and Islamic Jihad who are fighting not just against Israel occupation, but for the destruction of Israel and the creation of a theocratic states.
• We support a fully independent Palestinian state on the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem alongside Israel. Israel should come to a generous settlement with the Palestinian refugees that is a true compromise and can be mutually agreed.
• We believe that acknowledging that both Israel and Palestinian people have the right to their own state is a way to help bring an end to the conflict.
• We would support a socialist democratic federation across the whole region that recognised that various people have the rights to their own states. This could only work with the voluntary agreement of the peoples involved.
• The General Secretary should communicate these views to the Israeli Embassy in London and to representative of the Palestinian Authority.

Committee for 2 States. Please sign the statement and return it to us at P O Box 823, London SE15 4NA. Email

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Thursday, November 17, 2005


Over 200 at debate on "boycott Israel"

Over 200 attended a debate on boycotting Israel, with David Hirsh and Ilan Pappe, in Birmingham on 15 November. Read a report here.

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Friday, July 15, 2005


Discussion on "left anti-semitism"

The Workers' Liberty website has collected articles relating to "left anti-semitism" - including a long debate between Sean Matgamna of AWL and the late Jim Higgins, a former leader of the SWP, and responses to Paul Foot's Guardian and Socialist Worker columns on the issue - into a single page on that site. Click here to view them.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005


For and Against the Academic Boycott of Israel: a debate

Saturday 11 June, 2005 - 11:00. Senate House, University of London.

The UK Association for Legal and Social Philosophy presents a roundtable debate and open discussion.

Speakers include:

Bob Brecher, Reader in Moral Philosophy, University of Brighton
Norman Geras, Emeritus Professor of Government, University of Manchester
Saladin Meckled-Garcia, Director of Human Rights Programme, University College London
Jon Pike, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Open University

All welcome. Admission free. Tea/coffee available from 10:30. Places are limited, and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.
For further information, please contact:
Gideon Calder, University of Wales, Newport:
or Jonathan Seglow, Royal Holloway, University of London:

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Friday, June 03, 2005


Sign this letter to the Natfhe leadership!

"Links-not-boycott" supporters in Nafthe - the union which organises lecturers in Further Education and the "new" universities, and is due to merge with AUT soon - are calling on Natfhe members to sign this open letter to the Natfhe leadership. To sign the letter, email Mark Osborn.

The AUT made a bad mistake in April when it decided to boycott two Israeli universities. AUT members rebelled and overturned that decision by a big majority at a special conference on 26 May.
The AUT's 26 May decision meant that two emergency motions put to our 28-30 May conference, committing Natfhe to a boycott, could no longer credibly claim to be "emergencies", and were not debated. However, the conference did pass a slippery motion committing Natfhe to proclaiming the "right" of AUT to boycott Israel. And, between the two AUT conferences, Natfhe Executive passed policy that a boycott of selected Israeli institutions should be an option.
We call on the Executive to reverse this decision and to lead a full debate in Natfhe which, we are sure, will lead to Natfhe to adopting a similar stance to the AUT - solidarity with the Palestinian people, implemented through positive links rather than by the negative, counterproductive, and implicitly anti-semitic policy of boycott.
Those who led the opposition to the boycott in the AUT were not right-wingers. They were socialists committed to Palestinian rights.
Natfhe has already adopted a "two states" policy for Israel/ Palestine - for Israel withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and a Palestinian state with the same rights as Israel. That is, our union recognises the right of Israel to exist, and campaigns specifically against the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (and against anti-Arab discrimination within Israel), rather than blanket-fashion against the very existence of Israel.
We call on you to advocate this stance openly, and to recognise that it contradicts a boycott policy.
Boycotts of particular institutions in Israel will not work as a precision instrument to further a two-states settlement. Boycotting of universities is especially implausible as a precision instrument. And in any case, all the main pro-boycott campaigners are open about seeing selective boycotts as only the thin end of the wedge to a total academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
Inside AUT – and at a large fringe meeting at our own conference – some people, appalled by the situation of the Palestinians, looked to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and advocated a boycott for lack of a better idea.
But, as the anti-boycotters in AUT pointed out, it is absurd and counterproductive to blame Israeli academia for Israeli state policy.
The boycott is positively harmful because it feeds into the anti-semitic (often "left" anti-semitic) idea that Israel is a uniquely evil state which must be destroyed.
Boycotting Israel is not the same as boycotting apartheid. Solidarising with the people of South Africa against a particular regime - in the name of demanding one person, one vote there - is not the same as demonising the whole Israeli Jewish nation and its ordinary, mainstream institutions. Solidarity with the Palestinians against the Occupation does not exclude sympathy with the Israeli Jews and respect for their right, also, to have their own state. For a workable democratic settlement it cannot exclude that sympathy and respect.
Natfhe must reject policies which apply criteria to Israeli academics applied to no other academics in the world. We don’t demand the "smashing" of Australia or Argentina for what happened to the indigenous populations. We don’t demand a boycott of US academics because of the Iraq war.
We should explicitly reject the demonisation of "Zionism" which leads to any Jew with an ordinary instinctive (though maybe critical) identification with Israel being stigmatised as a racist or similar. Our union should have nothing to do with the placards often seen on left-organised marches which equate Zionism with Nazism and Sharon with Hitler.
We need respect for the democratic rights of both Palestinians and Jews. The pro-boycott current must be taken on, isolated and politically defeated in Natfhe.

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Letter to NATFHE's journal

This letter has been sent to NATFHE's journal by Mark Osborn of Lewisham NATFHE.

The AUT made a bad mistake in April when it decided to boycott two Israeli universities. AUT members rebelled and overturned that decision by a big majority at a special conference on 26 May.
Had the AUT not rescinded its policy on 26 May, I suspect our recent conference would have passed emergency motions that committed Natfhe to boycott. As it was, it passed a slippery motion committing Natfhe to nothing but proclaiming the “right” of AUT to boycott Israel. Our Executive has passed policy saying a boycott of selected Israeli institutions should be an option.
Those who led the opposition to the boycott in the AUT were not right-wingers. They were socialists committed to Palestinian rights and a state alongside Israel.
Inside AUT – and at a large fringe meeting at our own conference – some people, appalled by the situation of the Palestinians, looked to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and advocated a boycott for lack of a better idea.
But, as the anti-boycotters in AUT pointed out, it is absurd and counterproductive to blame Israeli academia for Israeli state policy.
The boycott is positively harmful because it feeds into the anti-semitic (often “left” anti-semitic) idea that Israel is a uniquely evil state which must be destroyed.
Boycotting Israel is not the same as boycotting apartheid. For South Africa it was a matter of solidarising with the people of the country against a particular regime, not of demonising a whole nation. Solidarity with the Palestinians against the Occupation does not, and for a workable democratic settlement cannot, exclude sympathy with the Israeli Jews and respect for their right, also, to have their own state.
The boycotters apply criteria to Israeli academics which they apply to no other academics in the world. They don’t demand the “smashing” of Australia or Argentina for what happened to the indigenous populations. They don’t demand a boycott of US academics because of the Iraq war.
And they demonise Zionism. It is unfortunately common to see placards of left-organised marches which equate Zionism with Nazism and Sharon with Hitler.
We need respect for the democratic rights of both Palestinians and Jews. The pro-boycott current must be taken on, isolated and politically defeated in Natfhe.

Mark Osborn, Lewisham

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Versioning history (and forsaking its complexities)…

A comment from Camila Bassi

"Zionism and Nazism were twins in their narrow nationalism and even collaborated against the public. The Zionists thus found no reason not collaborate with the Nazis in the mid-thirties to rid Europe of its Jews." (Taken from Professor Mona Baker’s homepage against the occupation of Palestine and for an academic boycott)

"The attempt to solve the Jewish question through the migration of Jews to Palestine can now be seen for what it is, a tragic mockery of the Jewish people. Interested in winning the sympathy of the Arabs who are more numerous than the Jews, the British government has sharply altered its policy toward the Jews, and has actually renounced its promise to help them find their ‘own home’ in a foreign land. The future development of military events may well transform Palestine into a bloody trap." (Leon Trotsky, writing a month prior to his death in August 1940, on the Jewish question)

For a long-term two nation-states solution and the workers’ unity it depends on…

How will a workers’ alliance between Palestinians and Israelis be achieved that is both against the despotic Israeli state and for a two nation-states solution (involving a withdrawal of the Israeli armed forces from the Occupied Territories and a return to pre-1967 borders)?

Deliberation of such a question steers me to holding a position against an academic boycott of Israel; after all, any long-term solution to the conflict in the Middle East is dependent (amongst many other things) on the principle that Palestinian and Israeli academics must forge some kind of political unity.

It is by no means an exclusive stance on the part of those who support the idea of an academic boycott to claim that the Israeli state is illegitimate and to call for a one secular Palestinian state solution, but this is a position that does underpin the most vocal calls for a boycott. With this in mind, has there been any other case in history in which self-declared Marxists, socialists or leftists advocated a forced reversal of history to strip a group of people of their rights to national self-determination? The actions of the Israeli state in its repression of Palestinians and its brutal occupation of Palestinian land must be vehemently condemned (and, indeed, it should never have happened as it did), but it cannot be ‘made right’ by the absolute dissolution of Israel as a nation-state. Any such calls for dissolution would be anti-… well, you decide.

Returning to the quote from Mona Baker’s website at the beginning, it would be fair to say that being anti-Zionist is not (in and of itself) an anti-Semitic act, although all anti-Semitics are anti-Zionist. The Jewish question, which Leon Trotsky astutely considered and urgently wrote about in the 1930s and 1940s, took on a "utopian and reactionary character" in Zionism. Nevertheless, to now advocate any political gesture that might threaten the prospect of workers’ unity between Palestinians and Israelis, and the prospect for a long-term two nation-states solution, should be seriously challenged.

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Fightback starts in NATFHE

On 30 May, the conference of NATFHE - a union which organises lecturers in Further Education colleges and the "new" universities (ex-polytechnics), and which is due to merge with AUT soon - carried an emergency motion semi- or quarter-endorsing a boycott policy.

Emergency motion 25 on "AUT Israeli University Boycott" was moved by Tom Hickey from the South-East region, and carried:
"Conference notes:
* the AUT Council's previous decision to boycott two Israeli universities and the resulting attacks on, and misleading and insulting claims about, the AUT;
* a number of NATFHE Branches' and CoComs' declarations expressing solidarity with AUT's opposition to oppression in the Middle east, and affirming AUT's right to act.
"Conference affirms that:
* to criticise Israel policy or institutions is not anti-Semitic;
* it is the duty of educationalists and their organisations, to speak out and act against oppression and discrimination;
* it supports the AUT's right to make this decision".
The motion's backers did not feel confident enough to come straight out with their views and argue for NATFHE to support an academic boycott of Israel. Instead they compiled a text full of slippery phrases and unspelled-out implications.
It boosts the AUT boycott decision on 22 April, taken on a snap vote without debate, but dismisses the four-to-one AUT vote against boycott on 26 May, taken after large debate both in AUT branches and at the AUT special conference.
It refers darkly to "attacks on" and "misleading and insulting claims about" the AUT, without specifying, whereas in fact the main consequence of the AUT's 22 April decision was a democratic revolt against it by the AUT's membership.
It suggests that all the AUT was wanting to do on 22 April was "oppose oppression", "speak out against discrimination", or "criticise Israeli policy", whereas in fact the main drive of the anti-boycott revolt in the AUT was to oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, but to argue for solidarity and links rather than the ineffective, counter-productive, and by inescapable implication anti-semitic policy of boycott.
It "supports the AUT's right" to make the decision it made by a snap vote on 22 April, but says nothing of the right of the broader AUT membership to rebel against that decision, to force a democratic debate, and to overturn it.
NATFHE states: "Following this motion, general secretary Paul Mackney made a brief statement clarifying the meaning of 'Israel policy' in the motion as referring to Israeli government policy, drawing delegates' attention to NATFHE's existing policy on Israel/Palestine, and to speeches he had made based on that policy, and committing NATFHE to work with the AUT and the TUC to develop this based on a debate involving all of the union's membership".
A motion was passed on anti-semitism.
Below is NATFHE exec policy on Israel/ Palestine, as referred to in the statement above. It is a slippery text, opening the door to a boycott policy if and when the NATFHE leadership think that politic (they probably do not think it politic right now). It sustains that view by the illusory implied argument that boycotts can be a precision instrument for selective pressure, ignoring the facts that the pro-boycotters are perfectly candid that they see selective boycotts as only the thin end of the wedge to a selective boycott of Israel and that nobody thinks that selective boycotts of universities in, say, the USA or Britain, with for example special links to military projects, would be an effective precision tactic against US or British imperialism.
In the light of AUT Council decisions on Palestine and Israel, the NEC confirms its policy of working to support the building of civil society in Palestine, including cooperation with AUT where appropriate, to build positive relations with Palestinian and Israeli institutions and organisations which share our goals, and the consideration of sanctions where they are targeted and deliverable in respect of institutions which are creating obstacles to a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Palestine.
On the Sunday of the conference, 29 May, a fringe meeting was held to debate the academic boycott, with Hilary Rose speaking for the boycott and Mary Davis speaking against.
We were there to distribute "Links not boycott" leaflets to the delegates. A drive is now getting underway to get proper debate in NATFHE branches and regions, and motions through them clearly rejecting boycott and arguing for positive solidarity.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005


A view from Haifa University

An interview with Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan, a professor at Haifa University

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Victory at AUT conference

The boycott of Israeli universities was defeated overwhelmingly (about 80:20 on a show of hands) at the AUT special conference today, 26 May.

The conference did not get to the longer motions stating opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and support for a Palestinian state as well as rejection of the boycott.

At a press conference/ fringe meeting afterwards, however, the main figures of the anti-boycott campaign, David Hirsh, Jon Pike, Robert Fine, and John Strawson all spoke on that theme. Strawson said that the existing Palestinian solidarity movement in Britain is crippled by the fact that it hates Israel much more than it loves Palestine, and called for the creation of a new movement of solidarity for the Palestinians based on positive, democratic ideas rather than hatred of Israel.

The question now is what can be done to gather and consolidate some of the people stirred up by all this, and build the movement that John Strawson called for.

There has been talk of an emergency pro-boycott motion coming forward at NATFHE conference this coming weekend. After the decisive vote at AUT conference, that seems unlikely, but NATFHE members need to be vigilant.

And the whole issue may have to be re-debated after the upcoming merger of AUT and NATFHE.

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AUT members overturn proposed boycott,9830,1493083,00.html

Press Association
Thursday May 26, 2005

Academics voted today to overturn their controversial boycott of Israeli universities, sources said.

Delegates were said to have voted overwhelmingly in favour of abandoning the boycott at a special meeting of the Association of University Teachers in London.

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The 25 May "eve of AUT special conference" meeting

The anti-boycott meeting of 25 May in London is reported here, in roundabout but perhaps instructive fashion, by way of reproducing a protest against the meeting from Charlie Pottins (who was one of the pro-boycott leafleters at the AUT special conference on 26 May) and a response by Martin Thomas.

Hi Charlie,

I've had a copy of your email about tonight's meeting against the academic boycott of Israel forwarded to me.

You start off by indicating that you oppose "all-out boycott" of Israel. The pro-boycott campaigners make absolutely no secret of it - see their website,, for example - that they favour such all-out boycott, and have proposed the selective boycott of Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities as only the first step.

You also say that you understand that socialists and friends of the Palestinian cause see the "selective" boycott as wrong and counterproductive. (Part of the reason why, of course, is that we see that the "selective" boycott can only get adopted by applying criteria to Israeli universities applied to no other universities in the world, and thus makes no sense except as a lead-in to all-out boycott).

But then - by way of all sorts of matters irrelevant to this evening's meeting - you arrive at the conclusion that the meeting was tantamount to an "'emergency' meeting to which we invite the bosses' representatives to mobilise against a strike!"


You weren't at the meeting, so you won't know what was said there. Both Dave Hirsh (speaking in place of Jon Pike) and Sean Matgamna, from the platform, and others like Camila Bassi from the floor, coupled their opposition to the boycott with outspoken support for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and for the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own.

I can't guarantee that everyone in the meeting agreed 100% - but for sure no-one challenged that position.

Some of the motions to the AUT special conference simply oppose the boycott. Many of them, including those directly promoted by Jon Pike and Dave Hirsh, call for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own.

Of the Israeli academics present at the meeting, all expressed general assent with what Dave Hirsh and Sean Matgamna had said, and one declared herself a strong opponent of the Israeli government.

The meeting was held as on the eve of the AUT special conference, for which all the delegates are now elected, and in solidarity with the almost-certain decision of that conference to overturn the boycott. In no way could it be considered anti-union.

Was the boycott analogous to a strike? If so, a strike against whom? Not employers, but other employees - the AUT membership's analogues in Israel. And where do the "bosses' representatives" come in? The British university bosses were not at the meeting, nor for that matter have they expressed any great worry about the boycott decision!

Is your view really that once the AUT - by a snap vote, without any debate - had decided on the boycott, it was a matter of principle to support it?

Much of the rest of what you write seems to me irrelevant, and a great deal of it, especially as regards Galloway, is covered by the maxim that our enemy's enemy is not necessarily our friend.

I should say, though, that on first hearing of the boycott controversy - before the regular AUT conference - I phoned and emailed Sue Blackwell to offer her space to present her views in our paper Solidarity. She refused. We asked Steven Rose to come and debate the issue at our summer school in July. He refused. We still presented their views in Solidarity, by way of material from their website,, and a statement (drawn from that website) which Steven Rose supplied us with.

Both Sue Blackwell and Steven Rose gave, as their reason for refusing debate, that AWL is firmly and actively against the boycott. That is true, of course. Has been true for many years. Even back in the 1970s, when we still had a "single secular democratic state" policy on Israel/Palestine, we denounced the decision by the National Union of Students at that time to equate Zionism with racism (thus indicating that "Zionists" should be boycotted in the same way as racists). But isn't debate about confronting different ideas? What can it mean to refuse debate with anyone who firmly disagrees with you? That you debate only with those who agree with you? Or only with those who are unsure? Or only those who differ by no more than small shades and nuances?

As for what you write about "witch-hunts", I think there is some over-dramatisation. No doubt the prominent figures on both sides of the boycott debate have made themselves very unpopular with lots of people on the other side. But Sue Blackwell and Steven Rose have received lavish and rather favourable coverage from media like the Guardian and the BBC. See, for example. The only people who have been substantively "witch-hunted" in this business so far are people like Miriam Shlesinger, an Israeli peace and Amnesty International activist removed from the editorial board of an academic journal just for being Israeli.

Best wishes,


*********************************** wrote:


Date: Wed, 25 May 2005 07:57:16 EDT

Subject: AWL has gone too far - a personal view

The Alliance for Workers Liberty is holding a meeting tonight against the boycott of Israeli universities.

Mark Osborn of the AWL asked me if I would help circulate this to members of the Jewish Socialists' Group. (I am on the JSG's national committee and responsible for a Members Bulletin). I told him that the JSG has already adopted a policy on the boycott, and that I would not be encouraging members to attend the AWL's meeting.

(Incidentally, I only received the notice last night, and so far as I am aware AWL has made no previous attempt to discuss this issue with the JSG. So it does not even rate as serious fishing!)

I want to add some remarks about this.

There has been and will doubtless continue a perfectly reasonable discussion among socialists, trade unionists and peace campaigners etc concerning the boycott tactic, whether it is justified against Israeli academic institutions, or useful, and how it should be applied. Having opposed the all-out boycotts proposed by some people, and called for "smart" targetting, I welcomed the AUT resolutions as the right step, but I can appreciate that others, including fellow-JSG members and other socialists, and Israeli

friends like Reuven Kaminer and Avraham Oz disagree. They deserve respect. A continuing discussion is in order, and continuing collaboration regardless of whether we sometimes disagree. But this meeting called by AWL is not such a forum for comrades. How can it be a "forum to discuss key issues" when it states beforehand "Against the boycott"?

What is left to discuss - how to defeat the boycott, or continue the witch-hunt against those proposing the boycott in the AUT?

It is being called as an "Emergency" on the eve of an AUT recall conference forced by boycott opponents, some of whom oppose the right of the union to take any principled stand. (They say calling for solidarity with Palestinians goes beyond the union's stated objects of defending member's interests. Today it is the Palestinians whose rights are to be ignored. Tomorrow the same argument for narrow-mindedness could be used against solidarity with other people being persecuted - for instance Jews).

The speakers advertised don't look like people who have come to discuss the best ways of showing solidarity with the Palestinians.

Jon Pike, who is billed to speak, has been leading the demand for recall. Engage has been carrying statements on its website smearing boycott supporters as "antisemitic", and appealing to people with no previous interest in the union to join just so they assist in the boycott's defeat.

Who are the unnamed speakers from Haifa and Bar Ilan who have been flown in?

(by whom we don't know but it isn't the peace camp and we'd guess it isn't the AWL that is paying their bills).

Prominent Israeli campaigners like Uri Avneri and Tom Segev have said the boycott on Bar Ilan is well justified and was brought on itself. (this is the University that works with West Bank settlers and the miklitary, and was incidentally alma mater to the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin!)

Haifa University is currently hosting a conference on Israel's "demographic problem" (meaning too many Arab kids). It previously earned notoriety for stripping a student of his doctorate because his thesis on a 1948 massacre upset politicians. OK, it also has many Arab students, and some decent progressive staff. But instead of arguing its case against the boycott with AUT members, Haifa University has gone to the lawyers to threaten the union. How can you have an honest discussion in such circumstance?

The smear campaign and hate mail against Sue Blackwell has been unremitting. It did not start with the AUT boycott resolution, but with her earlier "crime" of running a pro-Palestinian website which the UJS and Zionist lobby wanted silenced. The Israeli government's supporters wanted Sue's employers at Birmingham University to act against her, and boasted of the pressure they were exercising to get her out. Relying on spurious "associations", the UJS has presented misleading and false information about her to a parliamentary committee. Not the first time incidentally that the Zionist-run union has given duff information to MPs.

The AWL's members know Sue Blackwell not only as a trade unionist but a genuine socialist and anti-racist with whom they shared membership in the Socialist Alliance and its Democratic Platform group. Sue challenged the SWP in the Stop the War Coalition over its accomodation to political Islamicists, and her website includes a section exposing antisemites and Nazis trying to masquerade as "anti-Zionists" and friends of the Palestinian cause. She has exposed Israel Shamir and broken website links to his co-thinkers, including Gilad Atzman after he attacked Jewish comrades active here.

Whatever genuine tactical disagreements take place among socialists and supporters of Palestinian rights and a just peace, they should take second place to the need for solidarity with the Palestinian people and students, and against supporters of Israeli Zionist repression and reactionary smears.

Among trades unionists, though not perhaps some of those who have only recently wakened to interest in the AUT, it is well understood that whatever disagreements we have to discuss among ourselves on tactics and whether to take action, we defend each other against witch-hunts and victimisation, we don't support lawsuits against our union to prevent it taking a stand, and we don't call "emergency" meetings to which we invite the bosses' representatives to mobilise against a strike!

Unfortunately, what seems basic principle to us seems unimportant or alien to the AWL. Many of us have our doubts and criticism of George Galloway MP and his party Respect, but were happy to see him shaking New Labour, and telling the US Senate where to go. To read the AWL's propaganda you'd think the biggest enemy for socialists in Britain was Galloway, not Blair.

Many of us support Iraqi trade unionists and oppose the military and economic occupation of Iraq. In the Stop the War Coalition, in our unions, and groups like Iraq Occupation Focus, we work to unite British and Iraqi workers in one struggle against corporate interests and imperialist war. But AWL has sought to separate union rights from the political struggle against occupation, and a leading AWL member said he would happily collaborate with the pro-occupation Labour Friends of Iraq. I don't know whether all AWL members realise or go along with their leaders in all of this. I hope not. But while it is up to them to sort out where they stand, the rest of us must firmly draw the line.

Charlie Pottins

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Monday, May 23, 2005


Socialist Worker pro-boycott

This week's Socialist Worker has an article by Steve and Hilary Rose in favour of the boycott. I've sent the following letter in reply:

Dear Socialist Worker,
Hilary and Steven Rose's article is peppered through with half-truths and downright lies.

The campaign against the proposed boycott is not being led by zionists or those who oppose the palestinian struggle. The picture painted of Israeli universities being key to the oppression of the occupied territories is well wide of the mark.

Our website hosts a large amount of articles both for and against the boycott by socialists who support the palestinian struggle. Signaturies of our founding statement which opposes not only the occupation by Isreal but also the AUT boycott include noted Palestinian acedemics.

The boycott makes no sense politically or tactically. The logic of Steve Rose's position would make more sense if he were advocating a boycott of acedemic links with US and UK universities for their involvement in the Iraq war or Chinese Universities for there systematic harrasment of the states critics.

No right minded socialist wants to see the closing of debate between academics across the world particularly when many of the academics at Haifa are active in solidarity with the palestinian struggle. As socialists, readers of a socialist newspaper we are for greater debate, not less; we are for the greater exchange of ideas(which in the end are the only thing a University actually produces) of differing opinions not less. As socialists we judge ideas, theories, articles, dissertions on the basis of what they say, not who says them and certainly not on the basis that those ideas come from a country we don't approve of.

Within the palestinians struggle an acedemic boycott makes no sense. The only beneficiaries of the closing down of ideas and debate are the reactionaries whose hegemony enforces the status quo. To punish only Isreali acedemics for the actions of the state in which they live is to open ourselves up to accusations anti-semitism. We need more links with socialist in Isreal and Palestine not boycotts.

I urge all fellow Socialist Worker readers to sign our statement at

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Friday, May 20, 2005


NUS Vote to oppose Boycott

The National Union of Students (NUS) voted yesterday to oppose the AUT boycott the motion is below, report to follow:


NUS NEC notes

1. That last month, the Association of University Teachers' Council voted to organise a boycott of Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and circulate materials calling for a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions among AUT members.
2. That, following a campaign by AUT members, this decision is due to be revisited at a special AUT Council on 26 May.

NUS NEC believes

1. That a boycott of Israeli academic institutions demonises Israel by singling out for special treatment. Israel is in occupation of the Palestinian territories; but the US and UK are in occupation of Iraq, and no-one is calling for AUT members to boycott American universities or withdraw from their jobs at British ones! Israel is guilty of human rights violations, but advocates of a boycott are not calling for a boycott of China, a totalitarian state where no democratic rights exist and the labour movement is totally suppressed.
2. That the comparison repeatedly drawn with apartheid South Africa is wrong. Israel should withdraw from the Occupied Territories and concede the Palestinians' right to a state of their own, but Israel itself is not an illegitimate state. Moreover boycotts of cultural, academic and direct trade union links hindered, not helped the fight against apartheid.
3. That, therefore, a boycott will undermine Israeli academics who support Palestinian rights, and hinder the building of bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. We oppose an academic and cultural boycott that treats Israeli Jewish thinkers as though they were responsible for the sometimes brutal actions of the Israeli government.

NUS NEC therefore resolves

1. To oppose the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
2. To immediately issue a statement to this effect.
3. To work with the AUT members campaigning to reverse their union's policy on this issue.
4. To reaffirm our policy on Israel-Palestine: Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, a fully independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, solidarity with the Palestinians and Israeli internationalists.

Proposed: Alan Clarke

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Today Programme Interview

Al Quds, the only Arab University in Jerusalem has criticised the Association of University Teachers (AUT)boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

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Thursday, May 19, 2005


Motions to AUT Council 26 May

The motions to the special AUT Council meeting on 26 May are now available on the AUT website.
Thirty-one motions have been tabled from university AUT branches. The great majority would rescind the academic boycott of Israeli universities decided by AUT council on 22 April. Some couple their opposition to the boycott with support for the Palestinians' right to a state of their own and demands for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.

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Friday, May 13, 2005


Haifa and Leicester

Leicester University has cancelled a talk by Muslim lesbian feminist
Irshad Manji because of fears of hostile reaction from right-wing local
Muslims. Read the full story here

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Thursday, May 12, 2005


An Open letter to Jon Pike from 25 Council members, delegates and observers at AUT Council 2005

Dear Jon: We understand that you have submitted 25 signatures of members of AUT Council in order to call a special Council concerning the academic boycott of Israeli universities, which will now be held on on 26th May.

We do not believe that this will be popular with most AUT members: Special Council will take place in the middle of the examinations period and just two days before the annual conference of our sister union NATFHE with whom AUT is hoping to merge. Nonetheless it is of course your democratic right under the rules of the union. We would just like to make the following points:

1. The call for a boycott of Israel universities was first put to AUT Council in 2003. The motion was lost. The movers could have then tried to get a special Council convened in order to re-run the vote, for instance on the grounds that delegates had been swayed by the untrue assertion from at least one speaker in the debate that a boycott had not been asked for by either Palestinian or Israeli campaigners. However, the movers refrained from trying our members' patience with such tactics. On the contrary, they fully adhered to Standing Order 18 which states "When any matter shall have been determined by an Ordinary Meeting of Council, it shall not be re-opened at the Ordinary meeting of the Council immediately following". They have patiently waited for two years before bringing the matter back to Council.

2. We very much regret that there was not a full debate on the topic. This, however, was not the movers' doing but was the ruling of the President who was in the chair. With hindsight, less time should have been allocated for debate on less controversial issues, such as the NATFHE merger, over the previous two days. By Friday morning we were running out of time, and if a full debate had taken place on this issue, other important motions would have fallen off the agenda. The President had a very difficult job to do and while we have our criticisms of her chairing, we believe she acted in good faith. There was certainly no conspiracy to rush the motions through since the Executive did not support most of them!

3. Some members have complained that observant Jews were prevented from contributing to the debate by its timing close to the Jewish Sabbath and Passover. For the record it was Sue Blackwell, a supporter of the boycott, who brought up the issue of the Sabbath at the first meeting of Council Agenda Committee on 17th March, but after discussion CAC felt the best that could be done was to ensure that the debate would be concluded by Friday lunchtime. Only one would-be delegate had contacted AUT prior to this CAC meeting saying that she would not be able to attend council because of its proximity to Passover, and this appears to have been a problem with Council as a whole and not just the Friday.

4. We were informed by the Executive that Bar-Ilan University had asked to send a speaker on the Thursday, saying that she was unable to attend on the Friday due to the Passover.

As trade unionists we consider it totally improper that a member of Bar-Ilan university management should expect to address Council, especially considering that repeated requests for a fringe meeting with ordinary Palestinian lecturers, students and activists had earlier been rejected (see motion no. 80). The Executive were quite right to point out to Bar-Ilan that AUT does not allow any external speakers to address debates on motions.

5. The supporters of the boycott motions have a wide range of political views on Israel. Shereen Benjamin, who proposed two of the motions, began by stating that she supported the right of Israel to exist. This has been conveniently overlooked by opponents of the motions, while remarks made by Sue Blackwell in a personal capacity have been misrepresented as if they were AUT policy, part of the motions, or representative of the views of all supporters of the boycott. They are not.

6. To our knowledge there was no Palestinian delegate at Council and only one observer. We demand that AUT Executive invite a representative of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees to address Special Council: not with regard to any specific motion but to inform delegates about the real situation of Palestinian students and academic staff. If the Executive can find an Israeli trade union in Higher Education which has taken a stand against the occupation of the Palestinian territories, we would welcome an invitation to their representative too. We do not welcome an invitation to representatives of the management of any university in any country, including the UK.

We look forward to seeing you at Special Council and to having a full, frank and cordial debate in the best traditions of trade union democracy.


Shereen Benjamin, Birmingham

Gargi Bhattacharyya, Birmingham and Executive

Sue Blackwell, Birmingham

Paul Brown, Dundee

Tony Chabot, Birmingham

Eileen Cook, Abertay

Ruth Dar, UCL

Adam Darwish, Sussex

Steven French, Leeds

Martyn Gardiner, Portsmouth

Rumy Hasan, Sussex

Beck Hurst, UCL

Nick James, Leicester

Alan Harrison, Brunel

Les Levidow, Open

Carlo Morelli, Dundee

Adel Nasser, Manchester

Martin Ogilvie, Birmingham

Lynn Pevy, Portsmouth

Malcolm Povey, Leeds

Martin Ralph, Liverpool

Gavin Reid, Leeds

Jennifer Toomey, Newcastle

Sean Wallis, UCL

Geoff Williams, UCL

Melanie Wilson, Manchester

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John Strawson article in Solidarity

John Strawson from the University of East London has an article in this weeks Solidarity newspaper against the Boycott. You can also comment on his article by clicking here

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Articles by Robert Fine, Steve Rose and Jon Pike

This weeks Solidarity newspaper has excellent, conflicting articles by Robert Fine, Steve Rose and Jon Pike, read them all here. You should make ue of the websites facility to post comments which often lead to lively debate.comments

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Three letters from Israel/Palestine

Reuven Kaminer: Letter from Jerusalem - against the boycott
Omar Barghouti and Lisa Taraki: Palestinian views for the boycott
Ran Greenstein: a South African anti-apartheid view against the boycott

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Haifa University and the Pappe affair

Read the full story in an article by Stephen Howe on the Open Democracy website.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Motion Passed by Warwick AUT today

This motion was passed by Warwick University AUT today

The AUT should
a. reject all existing proposals to boycott Israeli universities;
b. give solidarity to Palestinian academics in the occupied territories and support their academic freedom;
c. not recognise the College of Judea and Samaria in the Occupied Territories as a legitimate university.
Robert Fine, Sociology Istvan Pogany, Law
(passed 10/05/05)

Here are some excerpts from statement supporting this motion by Robert Fine

I too would like to see the top brass of Israeli universities coming out more strongly against the occupation, but we don't call for a boycott of British Universities for not denouncing the war in Iraq or not denouncing internment in Northern Ireland. In any event, I do not think that an academic boycott of Israeli universities is correct in principle.

Boycotts of universities always undermine academic freedom. The university sector in Israel is currently under attack from the right wing for being too liberal, particularly on the Palestine question. Many academics need our support. There is much original work being undertaken on history and politics, which undermines many of the reactionary ideas which are used to justify the occupation, settlements and the wall.

Academics have little power in the political arena. What we can do is, through teaching, research, publication and broadcasting, attempt to mobilise ideas for freedom. Working with people positively seems far more likely to help create conditions that will end the occupation than the negative boycott.

The boycott is a call to do nothing about the occupation at all. It plays directly into the hands of the right wing in Israel as well as a growing body of antisemitism in Europe.

I was an activist in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The analogy between South Africa and Israel is superficial, but in any case the same mistake was made in South Africa as is now being recommended in Israel. In Israel higher education is quite integrated. In South Africa universities were not very integrated, but like Israeli universities exercised a degree of independence and academic freedom.

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