NATFHE: Chuck out 198C!

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The union that covers staff in the newer universities is to consider a further resolution on boycotting Israeli universities at its conference in Blackpool later this month. There are reports in the Israeli media that suggest that the resolution facing Natfhe is a full-on boycott resolution, and that suggest that it is already in place. This isn’t true. This is what the resolution 198C says:

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.

It’s due to be voted on at the NATFHE Conference in Blackpool on the weekend of the 27-29th May.

198C is inaccurate, dishonest, and in conflict with NATFHE’s constitution. Let’s take the central point first. 198C seeks NATFHE endorsement for a private or individual boycott of Israeli academia. It doesn’t say which universities, so we must presume that it refers to all the universities in Israel. It does so, disingenuously, because it couches the boycott call in terms of individual responsibility, but the foul discriminatory language is there: it asks that people consider their responsibility (in relation to) “contacts with Israeli … individuals”.

It is clear that the proposers of 198C think that it is appropriate to cut off links with Israeli individuals, but they dont, yet again, have the guts to say so. It is clear, once again, that the proposers of 198C think it is appropriate to introduce a McCarthyism test (public disassociation from ‘apartheid policies’) as a precondition to ordinary academic interchange. And, once again, this runs flat up against a concern with academic freedom. And it is clear that they want to endorse a private, covert, boycott.

Let’s be stone cold clear about this: what the proposers of this resolution want is union endorsement for actions that are, in effect, anti-Semitic. They aim to endorse the actions of Mona Baker, who sacked members of the editorial board of her journal because they were affiliated to Israeli Universities. We know that Mona Baker’s policy is, in effect, anti-Semitic: she doesn’t want to have contact with any individuals who are affiliated with Israeli institutions, and those people will largely be Jews. And we know, of course, that Mona Baker thinks these actions are ‘appropriate’ (and, when criticised, complains bitterly about the Jewish press). We know, too that concerned supporters of Palestinian rights like Prof. Judith Butler clearly distance themselves from Baker. Yet the South East region of Natfhe want their union to endorse Baker-type actions.

The gutlessness is extraordinary. We know that the proposers of the resolution want a full-on official boycott of all Israeli institutions, and we know that they daren’t subject their argument for this to democratic or legal scrutiny. These bold advocates of united collective action retreat to advocacy of covert individual discriminatory acts.

And there is much more wrong with this resolution. It gets its history wrong. Natfhe did not ‘pass a motion of solidarity last year for the AUT resolution to exercise moral and professional responsibility’.

There was no such thing as an AUT resolution to exercise moral and professional responsibility. (But the suggestion that there was, is interesting. It’s clear that the proposers think that being morally responsibility equals being in favour of a boycott. What a crass view!)

There were three AUT boycott resolutions. NATFHE passed a rather silly resolution defending AUT’s right to pass resolutions – a right that was never in doubt. The boycott resolutions were overturned by the AUT membership. Is South East region of Natfhe in solidarity with the AUT members who voted overwhelmingly against the boycott? Or does it pick and choose which AUT branches it is in solidarity with? (In the South East, is it in solidarity with Sussex University AUT, which opposed the boycott, just up the road from Tom Hickey of the SWP and South East Natfhe?)

This is a move by an unrepresentative group in Natfhe to reopen the boycott debate in a dishonest and disingenuous way. The attempt comes just as Natfhe and the AUT (my union) are engaged in a joint industrial dispute over pay, and as we move towards merger.

If this policy is passed by Natfhe, it will only last three months, because it cannot and will not become the policy of the UCU: the AUT is clearly opposed to such boycott action and will adopt a framework at its council in Scarborough this week that rules out boycotts of green line institutions unless they are called for by Israeli staff associations. But many in the AUT will be shocked by the thought of merging with a union that wants to endorse effectively anti-semitic acts, like those of Mona Baker.

The resolution has not been put to the conference and there is no boycott in place at the moment. It may well be ruled out of order: there were procedural irregularities in its proposal, and it also seems to come up against the non-discriminatory clauses of NATFHE’s constitution.
This specifies that the aims and objectives of the association are:

(2.4) To oppose actively all forms of harassment and unfair discrimination whether on the grounds of sex, race, ethnic or national origin, religion colour, class, caring responsibilities, marital status, sexuality, disability, age, or other status or personal characteristic. (NATFHE Constitution and Rules)

But the resolution specifically advocates discrimination on a national basis: it applies to only one nation: Israel.

This is, of course that familiar problem of the unwarranted selectivity involved in the AUT debate. The proposers might object that they are only in favour of ‘fair’ discrimination, but they have no warrant for that: they do not encourage a boycott that is policed or judged by Natfhe, or any other body – they leave it up to the members themselves.

Are we to rest assured that Natfhe members are incapable of acting in a way that is unfairly discriminatory? Of course not. If 198C is passed, NATFHE will have endorsed a policy that conflicts with its own constitution – and it may well conflict with anti-discrimination legislation.

198C also contradicts AUT policy. I’ve argued above that 198C conflicts with academic freedom because it requires that Israeli individuals pass a political test: it requires them to publicly disassociate themselves from the ‘apartheid policies’ of the Israeli state. This is a McCarthyite test, which no academic should impose.

The proposers should be embarrassed to make such a suggestion in public. PACBI, the organisation which called for the original boycott in the AUT has abandoned this position. But Tom Hickey and the South East Region seem not to have caught up with the debate.

Consider how such a test might be operated. Which policies count as ‘apartheid’ ones? How public is public? What sort of disassociating statement needs to be made to satisfy the requirement of Tom Hickey and NATFHE South East region? Could he provide us with a wording, or will NATFHE HQ do that?

In the meantime, later this week in Scarborough, AUT will adopt a policy that commits it to ‘the protection and extension of academic freedom to teach, research and otherwise collaborate with fellow academics around the world’.

The AUT won’t support a policy in the merged union that is in contradiction with this concern. There are, too, very many union members in the UCU – certainly the majority in the AUT who would be very reluctant to vote for someone who endorsed 198C for a senior post in the new union. If I was after such a post, I’d make it clear that I stood for academic freedom, and against 198C.

So 198C contradicts AUT policy, and will not be able to stand in a merged union. But the reason that it should be thrown out by delegates to NATFHE is not just that it causes problems for the merger, but that it is wrong in principle and in practice.
For all these reasons, and more, NATFHE delegates should chuck out 198C at the end of the month.

Jon Pike
Open University AUT

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