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UCU Congress endorses BDS against Israel despite legal warning

Written by admin  •  Wednesday, 27.05.2009, 10:10

The University and College Union, representing approximately 120,000 teaching and related staff in colleges and universities in the UK, today passed a number of strongly-worded resolutions in support of the human rights of the Palestinian people and condemning Israeli atrocities in Gaza.

The motions had been submitted by a range of bodies within the union.

Motion 24, from the National Executive along with two branches in Further Education colleges, condemned the Israeli military attacks on Gaza and called on UCU to affiliate to the national twinning campaign; to organise
events to mark the UN International Day of solidarity with the Palestinian People on 29th November; and to collect information on academics and students prevented from travelling to or from Palestine.

Motion 25, from the Disabled Members’ Standing Committee, pledged solidarity to Palestinians left injured by the Israeli assault in Gaza.

Motion 26, from UCU Scotland, agreed to disseminate the report of the President of UCU Scotland, who had recently taken part in the STUC visit to Palestine. That visit had resulted in an endorsement of Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) by STUC Congress. The motion also welcomed the student campaign for disinvestment from arms companies such as BAe.

Motion 27, from the Black Members’ Standing Committee, called for “recognition of the democratically elected Gaza government” and for Israel to be tried for human rights violations.

All the above motions were carried overwhelmingly, as was Motion 28 from two regional committees of UCU. This motion demanded that the British government ban “arms sales and economic support to Israel”, called for a ban on imports of all goods from illegal Israeli settlements in the OPT and demanded the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. Controversially, Congress also voted overwhelmingly for an amendment to this motion which affirmed support “for the Palestinian call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign” despite a statement from the General Secretary that on legal advice this amendment would be treated as being “void and of no effect” if carried.

Motion 29 was brought by two branches at universities and one at an FE college. Tom Hickey, proposing the motion on behalf of a University of Brighton branch, stated that his branch wished to amend its own motion, changing the words “Congress affirms support for the Palestinian call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign” to “Congress urges branches to discuss prior to Congress 2010 the Palestinian call for a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign”. Hickey explained that this change was only being made in order to accommodate the current legal advice and prevent the motion from being ruled “void” like motion 28. This was accepted by Congress, who voted to support both the amendment and the motion. The outcome is that UCU has voted to host a Trade Union conference in the Autumn to “investigate the lawful implementation of the strategy, including an option of institutional boycotts”.

Sue Blackwell, a BRICUP member who is on the National Executive Committee of UCU, commented, “This was a smart piece of tactical voting by supporters of academic boycott
of Israel and other forms of BDS. We made it quite clear that we support BDS in principle, whatever the law says about implementing it. There is nothing illegal in discussing boycott campaigns, and we will now be doing
just that along with activists in other unions, including people from Scottish TUC who have just passed a BDS resolution at their Congress.”

Hickey suggested in his summing-up speech that the time had come for UCU to obtain a court ruling to settle the question once and for all and to put a stop to the legal threats to which the union has been subjected over the
past few years. He expressed his “extreme disappointment” with members of his own union who resorted to such threats instead of pursuing their arguments through the union’s internal democratic processes.

BRICUP members will now be encouraging trade unionists to attend the forthcoming BDS conference in order to broaden the campaign.

BRICUP’s fringe meeting before the start of Congress heard speeches from Ewa Jasiewicz (co-ordinator of the Free Gaza Movement), Samia al-Botmeh (BirZeit University, Palestine) and Prof. Haim Bresheeth of the University of East
London. At the meeting, a statement was read out from a group of Israeli academics who were calling on international colleagues to boycott their institutions. “We are now reaching critical mass”, said Blackwell.

“Boycotts, disinvestments and sanctions against Israel are breaking out everywhere, from South Africa to Norway and even within Israel itself.  BRICUP is very proud to be playing a part in the growing campaign alongside
our Palestinian brothers and sisters and their supporters worldwide.”

Dr. Amjad Barham, President of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees, is attending UCU Congress as an official guest of the union. He will address Congress tomorrow (Thursday).

Notes for Editors

1. Please note: while we believe that the motions have been
accurately summarised above, this press release represents the views of BRICUP and not of UCU.

2. The full text of all the motions, except for late motions and late amendments, can be read here on the UCU website:

3. The PACBI (Palestinian BDS campaign) press release is here:

4. The national Twinning campaign website is at:

5. The Free Gaza Movement website is at:

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