British academics strongly reaffirmed their support for the right to boycott Israel at the annual congress of the University and College Union (UCU) in Glasgow at the end of May. No fewer than three motions on Israel’s flagrant suppression of Palestinian human rights and the legitimacy of BDS were considered by delegates and overwhelmingly adopted. An amendment intended to undermine the force of the motions was withdrawn, evidently to avoid being voted down.

Delegates heard a warning from the Union’s legal counsel that, if the Government’s BDS and Sanctions bill became law, the key motion urging members to support BDS would be ‘void’. Nothing is clearer, however, than the determination of British academics, as represented by UCU, to oppose Israel’s policy of apartheid vis-a-vis Palestinians and ensure that Palestinian voices are no longer silenced on campus and in the country at large.

The case for BDS and the three motions were set out in a document prepared by BRICUP for the UCU Congress which is reproduced below.


UCU Congress 2023 Palestinian Universities

75 Years of the Ongoing Nakba

The catastrophe

It is 75 years since the formation of the state of Israel, and the imposition of this state against the wishes of the majority of the population of the land. In May 1948, the UN General Assembly voted for the partition of Palestine, allocating 56% of the land to the 30% of the population that was Jewish. There followed an unequal Civil War and the half-hearted intervention of surrounding states, at the conclusion of which Israel had occupied and annexed 78% of the land, leaving 22% for the 70% of the population that was Arab Palestinian.

Ethnic cleansing

This was a catastrophe for Palestinians – its society disintegrated, its people dispersed, a traditional and complex communal life violently ended. The military victory of the well-equipped Zionist forces involved the terrorisation of Palestinian towns and villages, the murder of the menfolk in some cases, and the violation and killing of women in others, all used as terror weapons to induce a Palestinian exodus. The policy: to encourage or force population transfer, and thus to clear the land for colonial settlement.

Ongoing Nakba

Yet this ‘Nakba’ (or catastrophe) did not cease in 1948. It continued with the formation of a discriminatory society in the new Israeli state, and after the war of 1967 with the further oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the illegal expansion of Jewish settlements. Both inside Israel and in the occupied territories, Palestinians faced discrimination and oppression in employment, housing, health, education, property rights, and freedom of movement and of association. The aim: to render Palestinian life unliveable, and thus to encourage emigration and the abandonment of the land.


This systematic legal, social and political discrimination, combined with the brutality of a military occupation and the periodic bombardment of Gaza, is what has led Amnesty International, the Israeli Human rights organisation B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and a succession of UN Rapporteurs to describe the system in the area controlled by Israel as one of apartheid. Apartheid is a crime against humanity according to the UN Convention of 1997, and article 7 of the Rome Statute in 1998. It is defined as “inhumane acts committed in the institutional context of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over others with the intention to maintain that regime”.

Two sides of the Nakba

For Palestinians, the Nakba meant the death of a way of life. A country and its people disappeared from maps and from dictionaries, or to quote the Israeli PM Golda Meir in 1969, “there is no such thing as the Palestinians”. For Zionist Israelis, it is ‘the rebirth of the Jewish people’, achieved within a decade of the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people of Europe. According to this narrative, it is an act of restitution or reparation for centuries of European antisemitism. The Palestinian situation in this view is no longer a political issue but is rather a ‘refugee problem’, a humanitarian issue. The national aspirations of the Palestinian people are to be written out of history.


Yet if the Nakba was an uprooting from a homeland, and the still ongoing process is the destruction of the social fabric and the frustration of national ambitions, it is also part of a counter-history: a challenge to the morality of the Zionist project; a reminder of the failures of Arab allies and of successive Palestinian leaderships; and an insistent question internationally about what a just and moral human order in the region should look like. Not least it is an inspiration for ongoing struggle and survival for Palestinians both in Palestine and in the Palestinian diaspora, and for the populations in the surrounding Arab states.

UCU and Palestinian Universities

Education in Palestine, and particularly the operation of Palestinian universities, has been deliberately targeted. Roadblocks and checkpoints that restrict access, military incursions onto campuses and the destruction of facilities, the bombing of university buildings in Gaza, and military interference with the appointment of academic staff and visiting scholars are all designed to undermine the universities as institutions of the Palestinian nation. Meanwhile, all Israeli universities are complicit both in the illegal occupation of the West Bank and the establishment of Gaza as a technologically enforced open air prison. Ideologically, they operate to normalise and rationalise this situation, justifying the unjustifiable. It was for this reason, in response to the appeal from Palestinian scholars and activists, and after over half a decade of debate, that the UCU Congress voted overwhelmingly to support the BDS movement, and specifically the call for a boycott of Israeli institutions, including Israeli universities.

Congress 2023

That situation has not changed. It has worsened. There is now the growing prospect of an intensification of the oppression by a yet more reactionary Israeli government, of more attacks on Palestinian post-16 education, and even of the annexation of the Occupied Territories, and physical expulsion of the millions of Palestinians who remain in Palestine. That is why the UCU needs to renew and reassert its commitment.

Palestine Motions at UCU Congress 2023

There are three motions on Saturday morning in the Strategy and Finance Committee business.

Motion 7: Solidarity with Palestine from the Scottish Executive Committee reaffirms support for BDS (for the argument see the main section of this leaflet). BRICUP urges Palestine supporters to support motion 7. There is an amendment from Bangor UCU that attempts to equate Palestinian resistance to colonisation in 1948 and since with the violence that led to the establishment of Israel, and that used for ethnic cleansing today. BRICUP urges delegates to reject this amendment.

Motion 8: Israeli oppression and the right to boycott from Brighton UCU and the London Regional Committee registers the apartheid nature of Israel and areas under Israeli control, and the UK Government’s Bill that seeks to ban boycotts as a form of solidarity action … unless the Government approves of the boycott. On advice, CBC has not ordered one clause onto the order paper on the grounds that it claimed that individuals cannot be forced to act against their consciences, and this might be an encouragement of members to breach their conditions of service. An amendment from London Region to replace that clause with a revised wording has also be ruled out. The amendment inserts a clause that reads, “remind members of UCU policy supporting boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and that employees must have the freedom to decline to collaborate according to their beliefs.” This is not the implementation of BDS, and nor is it contractually misleading. First, Congress is legally free to take moral and political stances on boycotts, and there is ample legal advice to that effect that has been provided to the UCU. Second, this amendment and the whole motion, just as with previous motions in favour of BDS, are policy expressions of moral authority, and set context in which members make their individual judgments. BRICUP urges delegates to support the challenge to the CBC decision and to allow the amendment to be debated, to support the amendment, and then to support the duly amended motion 8.

Motion 9: Palestinian solidarity and the threat to critical opinion from the Black Members Standing Committee notes the Tuck Report’s attack on the NUS which conflated criticism of Israel with antisemitism, and the attempts in both the UK and Israel to prevent criticism of Israel. It resolves that the NEC will report on the consequences of Israeli policies for academic freedom, and that branches will be supported in defending staff and students when attacked for supporting the cause of Palestine. The amendment 9A.1 from London retired members’ branch resolves to support the South Wales Big Ride for Palestine in August. BRICUP urges support for the amendment and for the amended Motion 9.

Government’s BDS Ban

In a further attack on the expressions of opinion of which the Government disapproves, and specifically to try to prevent public institutions from boycotting morally repugnant regimes if these are its allies, the Government is introducing an anti-BDS Bill. A wide range of charities, environmental groups, and campaigning organisations are urging resistance to this undemocratic legislation. UCU is affiliated. BRICUP urges branches to inform members of what is taking place, to organise campus meetings on the ban, and to find out how to support the opposition to the Bill. Central to this drive is the attempt to shield Apartheid Israel from the consequences of its policies and actions. Ben Jamal, Director of the PSC said, “Boycotting is a legitimate, historically recognised tactic that has been the engine of great leaps forward for social and international justice, such as the ending of apartheid in South Africa.” For more information, see:


New BRICUP Seminar Series starting 2023-24

Karmi, Pappe, Bresheeth, Akel, Gould, Sallam, Riemer, Khalidi, Azoulay, Matar