Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Fightback starts in NATFHE
Emergency motion 25 on "AUT Israeli University Boycott" was moved by Tom Hickey from the South-East region, and carried:
* 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.