Sunday, September 30, 2007

It's racial discrimination and it's illegal

Anti-Israel British Academic Boycott Movement is dealt a Legal blow:

I welcomed with some relief the news that "Academic boycott campaign is finally defeated - morally, politically, legally". In an article on Engage, David Hirsh explained:

The campaign for an academic boycott of Israel has ended today in an absolute and final political, legal and moral defeat. The University and College Union’s (UCU) own lawyers advised it that a policy to exclude academics who work in Israel from the global academic community – and to exclude nobody else on the planet - would have been a violation of equal opportunities legislation in Britain.

Given this legal advice, the leadership of the UCU had no choice but decisively to end the union’s flirtation with a boycott of Israeli academia. To persist in a ‘discussion’ of an illegal and discriminatory policy would have opened the union up to potentially fatal lawsuits on the grounds of unfair discrimination. Union members could have been held personally liable if they had ignored clear legal advice. The Opinion was given to UCU by a widely respected barrister.

UCU’s Strategy and Finance Committee voted unanimously today to end all consideration of the boycott proposal. The Opinion said:

"It would be beyond the Union's powers and unlawful for the Union, directly or indirectly to call for or to implement a boycott by the Union and its members of any kind of Israeli universities and other academic institutions; and that the use of Union funds directly or indirectly to further such a boycott would also be unlawful."

But (there is always a "but"), I felt a little dispirited that the matter was resolved through legal advice rather than through capitulation to the force of unequivocal ethical reason.

I was not the only one to experience these trepidations, as can be observed from the comments section.

Today, Shalom Lappin, provides some sobering perspective on this resolution, in an article which appears on Normblog:

The decision by the UCU's Strategy and Finance Committee to end all consideration of an academic boycott of Israel is a welcome event well worth celebrating. The fact that the UCU has acted in response to advice from the union's lawyers indicating that the proposed boycott violates UK equal opportunities laws makes the decision particularly satisfying. It confirms the view of the anti-boycott movement that efforts to impose a collective sanction on Israeli academics, alone among academic communities of the world, are racist in effect, regardless of the boycott advocates' stated intentions.

Shalom Lappin then addresses the feeling of slight dejection that anti-boycotters experienced at this resolution::

"Oddly, some of the people commenting on the UCU decision on the Engage website have expressed disappointment that the boycott proposal has been defeated through legal means rather than by a popular union ballot."

I don't think the "oddly" is warranted here, since he goes on to explain exactly why some people are "disappointed" or less than delighted about this result. In some way, the resolution through legal action means that the law succeeded where persuasion failed, as Lappin says, in causing the "authors of this campaign to experience some sense of embarrassment at falling foul of laws enacted to ban racial exclusion."

A moral defeat, based on the merit of the case, would have dealt a fatal blow to this foul initiative. "Instead", Lappin agrees, "they give every indication of pursuing their offensive activities without pausing to re-evaluate the wisdom of their basic views.”

And why is this important, this failure of moral persuasion? Not because these people's position has any honourable significance, but because it does not defeat the silence and indifference of "These executives and the current UCU administration [who] effectively stood aside, adopting a position of studied neutrality."

And therein lies the source of anxiety, this absence of a sense of a real closure. The analogy Lappin provides illustrates all the more clearly the frustration of having the law resolve what should be an ethically clear principle and praxis. How much better for the American Southern states would it have been to confront the great injustice of their racist systems, and realize its colossal injustice, and let the power of that clarity overcome their crimes of prejudice.

Norm Geras adds in a footnote:

"... Shalom says:

An innocent observer might expect the authors of this campaign to experience some sense of embarrassment at falling foul of laws enacted to ban racial exclusion. Instead they give every indication of pursuing their offensive activities without pausing to re-evaluate the wisdom of their basic views.

And this is the reported reaction of a leading boycott campaigner to the defeat they've just suffered:

Sue Blackwell, a member of the union's executive and of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, said of the decision: "It is quite ridiculous. It is cowardice. It is outrageous and an attack on academic freedom."

What's the word again? Oh yes, 'chutzpah' - that's one of the more polite words anyway. The boycott campaign is itself a planned assault on the academic freedom of those working in Israeli universities. But now, according to Blackwell, it's... well, it's squawk, isn't it?


No sooner suggested than done.

David Hirsh predicted that:

" It will be claimed by the campaign to exclude Israelis from our campuses, conferences and journals that the end of the boycott in UCU represents a capitulation to ‘bourgeois’ or ‘Zioinst’ law (the two adjectives have become inter-changeable amongst some ‘anti-Zionist’ ‘anti-capitalists’). "

And Shalom Lappin concurs:

One wonders how long it will be before we are subjected to the usual claims of 'well-funded outside lobbies' and 'Zionist' cabals, to explain this latest setback to their cause.

So here it is, in a letter by Dr. Amjad Barham, The President of Federation of Union of Palestinian Universities' Professors & Employees:

"While we do not have the resources of the Israel lobby in the UK, we do think that fair-minded British academics ...."

Well, there is the opening gambit: It's the conspiracy of the Were-Rabbit, the collusion of British Law and the "Israel lobby", that keeps the "truth" from being recognized.

What a depressing clichéd thinking!


At 3:24 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Noga,

Thanks for your comment on my blog, with which I agree, totally. This is a great post too...

My reflections on the issue are shifting and I've had all the emotions evoked in me in regard to this 'development' and can't seem to write about its significance yet. I want to say something about the discrimination which has FINALLY been recognized here - I think it's important & in a way which relates to what I was trying to write about in the blog (with difficulty!). I was hoping that the authority of a counsel's opinion might liberate me to actually say what I want to say, instead of forever self-censoring. But it's more complicated than that...!

What I know is that I feel exhausted by this ridiculous affair & resentful that it's caused so much damage for nothing! If only we'd devoted all these energies to more productive causes, whatever they may be - be they or not political, whether in Israel/Palestine or indeed for other humanitarian causes the world over, many more grave than even those arising in this tiny strip of land.


At 7:11 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read the comments at this link and then post on it:


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