Friday, June 03, 2005
Sign this letter to the Natfhe leadership!
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.