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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