On 28 May the UK Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) Annual Congress in Manchester overwhelmingly passed a motion re-affirming its opposition to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and its determination to highlight the extent of the complicity of Israeli Higher Education Institutions in the occupation.

Last year’s resolution had sparked heated discussion within the union and an intensive UK campus tour by Palestinian academic trade unionists. As supporters of the academic boycott, co-ordinated by BRICUP, had predicted, as the year long debate continued and more UCU members heard about the situation in Palestine/Israel so the determination to take action against Israeli academic complicity intensified. Last year’s motion had 100 votes against, this year’s only about 30.

A significant factor had been the visit by Linda Newman, UCU president, to the occupied territories as part of a PSC trade union delegation. Linda was distressed by what she saw and having been against last year’s motion, this year she seconded the motion. Seeing the situation for herself had totally transformed her attitude to UCU action.

While the motion was not a boycott motion, it underlined the issues of complicity that drive the boycott call. Boycott opponents have always said the more the issue was discussed in the Union, the greater would be the opposition; Congress’s decision demolishes that view. Boycott opponents have always claimed they want debate but in the run up to Congress they threatened legal action against UCU if they even discussed the motion – claiming that action against the occupation must be fuelled by and would encourage anti-semitism. However at Congress Sally Hunt, UCU’s General Secretary, dismissed these legal threats saying that the union would not be bullied about what it could or could not discuss.

Engage supporters proposed a wrecking amendment to the motion, and that was the main focus of discussion. The debate on their amendment covered all the main issues. Once that was voted down it was clear that delegates believed they had heard the arguments and wanted to move to a vote so they could have time to debate fully the many other issues facing the union. Despite claims by Engage there was a debate with views forcefully put both for and against taking effective action.

Congress passed two further motions on Palestine/Israel, one condemning the blockade of Gaza, the other drawing attention to the shameful behaviour of Histadrut, the Israeli TU confederation, towards the Palestinian confederation.

These motions were debated during a session on International issues which also covered, inter alia, Burma, Zimbabwe and Darfur; exposing the Engage lie that UCU only condemns Israel and gives other repressive regimes a free pass because of its innate anti-semitism.

UCU’s Manchester Congress represents another step forward in the campaign against Israeli occupation but also demands ever more work from those who want to turn paper commitment into practical action.

Mike Cushman
LSE UCU delegate to Congress

Read PACBI’s response to the vote

Motion 25:
Congress notes the

1. continuation of illegal settlement, killing of civilians and the impossibility of civil life, including education;

2. humanitarian catastrophe imposed on Gaza by Israel and the EU;

3. apparent complicity of most of the Israeli academy;

4. legal attempts to prevent UCU debating boycott of Israeli academic institutions; and legal advice that such debates are lawful

Congress affirms that

5. criticism of Israel or Israeli policy are not, as such, anti-semitic;

6. pursuit and dissemination of knowledge are not uniquely immune from their moral and political consequences;

Congress resolves that

7. colleagues be asked to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating;

8. UCU widely disseminate the personal testimonies of UCU and PFUUPE delegations to Palestine and the UK, respectively;

9. the testimonies will be used to promote a wide discussion by colleagues of the appropriateness of continued educational links with Israeli academic institutions;

10. UCU facilitate and encourage twinning arrangements and other direct solidarity with Palestinian institutions;

11. Ariel College, an explicitly colonising institution in the West Bank, be investigated under the formal Greylisting* Procedure.

* Greylisting is UCU’s procedure for action against institutions, in the UK or abroad, which break normal rules of behaviour and if an institution is greylisted that members are expected not to apply for jobs there, act as external examiners or co-operate with it in any way.

Other motions passed

26 – Gaza emergency

Congress notes

The humanitarian catastrophe that developed in Gaza in March 2008, following a long siege and military bombardment, during which over 100 people died.
The call by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) to international trade unions to put pressure on their own governments to take action to stop the escalation of violence and relieve the humanitarian crisis.
Students and academics have been among those trapped in Gaza.
Congress resolves:

To organise a fact-finding delegation to Gaza after the bombing stops and to send delegates on future TUC-sponsored visits.

27 – Palestine

Congress notes the report of the Trade Union Delegation to Palestine in January 2008, facilitated by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, in which 4 representatives of UCU took part.

Congress notes that the delegation was generously hosted in Nablus by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions.

Congress deplores the failure of the Israeli Histadrut to pay the approximately 2.5 million Euros owed to the PGFTU since 1995, representing 50% of the official organisational dues of Palestinian workers working in Israel, under the terms of the Framework Agreement of March 1995 following the Oslo Accords of 1993.

Congress calls on the Histadrut to pay the dues owed to the PGFTU; to call for an end to the siege of Gaza; and to call for an end to the occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory.