BritaniaMuffti is having a field day trying to figure out just what the academic boycott amounts to. Here’s a summary of what happened.

First, there are 2 organizations involved. One is the Association of University Teachers (AUT), the other the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE). The former has 48,000 members, the latter 69,000 members. The confusing thing is that on June 1st, they shall merge into the new University and College Union (UCU), which Muffti guessses (since the positive support for the merger was high) will have some 130,000 members.

Now, the AUT last year proposed and passed a ban on 2 Israeli universities, which it rejected soon afterwards, adopting a resolution that made it clear that such bans would not happen again unless very special circumstances called for it. As the AUT general secretary, Sally Hunt, put it:

It is now time to build bridges between those with opposing views here in the UK and to commit to supporting trade unionists in Israel and Palestine working for peace.

Muffti can forgive a month long mistake that was rectified. In any case, the NATFHE was responsible for the latest academic ban. Well, sort of. It’s awfully difficult to find the ban – Muffti had to troll around the NATFHE’s website for a while before finding the following paragraphs in the minutes of the annual NATFHE’s conference:

Conference notes continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices. It recalls its motion of solidarity last year for the AUT resolution to exercise moral and professional responsibility.

Conference instructs the NEC to facilitate meetings in each university and college, and to circulate information to Branches, offering to fund the speakers’ travel costs.

Conference invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals, and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies.

That’s the ban/boycott/whatever. Earlier (2003) the NATFHE president sent its members a letter with the following advice to members:

NATFHE NEC further resolves that all UK institutions of Higher and Further Education be urged immediately to review – with a view to severing – any academic links they may have with Israel. Such links should be restored only after full withdrawal of all Israeli forces, opening of negotiations to implements UN resolutions and the restoration of full access to all Palestinian HE and FE institutions.

They go on to admit that:

NATFHE Head Office has had no reports of substantive take up of this policy over the last year, although it has aroused significant press interest. There have been a small number of resignations and some new recruits in response to our policy on Palestine / Israel, although ‘boycott’ has sometimes been the peg on which objections and resignations have hung. However, the debate about the rights and wrongs of ‘boycott’ (never our word, but foisted on us), has obscured the real issues of the rights and wrongs of the Israeli actions which led to the original NATFHE position.

In a more recent statemetn of its policies (sept. 2005), the NATFHE claims:

And what is NATFHE policy?
NATFHE policy is based on an emergency resolution passed at its National Conference in 2001, and the statement by the National Executive Council in April 2002. These are public statements, and are available to inquirers. NATFHE is a democratic organisation, and it is open to members to participate in debates at all levels in the organisation from their workplace branch upwards, to put into effect policies they favour, or to oppose those they don’t want. It is clear that ‘policy’ comprising brief resolutions or statements, cannot adequately address all sides of an issue, particularly in areas of complexity or rapid change, but it is reasonable for these methods to set out basic principles as the basis for further work. Any statement on international matters – from Afghanistan to the euro – tends to attract correspondence from individual members often highly committed on one or the other side of an issue, but this is no substitute for participation in the democratic process, which is open to all members through their Branches and Regions.

Ummmn…what? That was supposed to ‘clarify’ things? This sort of obfuscating jargon and semantic dancing is a bit daunting, even for academics. Maybe none of this should be very suprising: the sponsor of the motion at the conference is a lecturer in philosophy, Tom Hickey, at the University of Brighton. As he put it:

The majority of Israeli academics are either complicit or acquiescent in the Israeli policies in the occupied territories.

Muffti is sure that, like all things philosophy, Tom Hickey worked this out a priori.

The AUT, for their part, distanced themselves from the policy of their soon-to-be partners. On their website, the AUT claims (in bold):

AUT does not endorse this policy and is strongly advising its members not to implement it.

Interesting. But here is the kicker. The AUT claims further that:

The NATFHE motion is not binding on the UCU. The AUT will argue for the UCU to adopt the report of its commission. It will not support or cooperate in any way with any attempts to implement the NATFHE motion in advance of the first UCU annual national congress in June 2007.

So, all this weenie posturing by the NATFHE was a waste of time: they pass a wussy motion whose lifespan is approximately a few days. Muffti supposes that the big question will soon be whether the UCU will adopt it.

Baffling, ain’t it? Welcome to wide, ineffectual world of academia where people can’t even do anti-semitism right. Oh well. At least we can’t really hurt anybody.

After doing most of this reading, Muffti found a handy, convenient account in Ha’aretz, which the reader is advised to consult for even more details. Ha’aretz, however, claims that Mackney, president of the NATFHE, spoke out against the motion. Muffti scoured the minutes and press releases and the speech by Mackney (see these here) and had no luck finding the claims Ha’aretz was making.

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  • Just as a sidenote for any who want to express themselves on this, the Anti-Defamation League has a petition to sign in protest to this issue…Just FYI.

  • Thanks Joel. Nice work, Judy; Muffti’s little history clearly doesn’t compare to yours. So far as Muffti can tell, the ‘boycott’ is a lot of posturing, with no force behind it. Muffti knows how academics work and he can tell you: people who were ‘boycotters’ before will still be and those that weren’t before, won’t be.

  • yeah! punish israel’s critical left wing academics! keep them from teaching about the ills of zionism throughout europe! that’ll teach those damn occupiers!

  • oh wait, isn’t collective punishment a war crime? ah well… i guess not when you collectively punish jews.

  • It’s funny, Mobius, but one of the points brought up IN FAVOUR of the boycott was the ‘complicity’ of israeli academics. what a topsy turvy view of things, eh?