A British academics’ union accused Israel of “accessing UK campuses for state propaganda” ahead of its annual Congress this week.
The allegation, made in a report from the meeting of the Congress Business Committee (CBC) held on 13 May, forms the agenda for meetings of University and College Union conferences being held between Wednesday and Friday in Liverpool.
In Motion 9, called ‘Palestine, UCU policy and Israel’s propaganda offensive,’ Congress notes “the drive by Israel to access UK campuses for state propaganda via faux debates with selected critics”.
The CBC makes additional accusations of “escalating legal threats and diplomatic pressure to intimidate Israel’s critics,” claiming UCU itself was the subject of these following votes in 2010 and 2011.
It also notes “the ‘counter-radicalisation’ to prevent campus criticism of Israel and boycott of complicit institutions” and the “orchestrated conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism”.
The report also reveals that the union’s General Secretary stepped in to remove a motion “to support for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel” after legal advice found that this was unlawful. UCU Congress has previously passed similar motions, which were later declared “void and of no effect” for the same reason.
Despite the CBC’s attempt to boycott Israeli academics and cultural institutions, UCU’s Congress will this week still pledge its support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Proposers of the motion said BDS “responds to Western governments’ failure to hold Israel accountable for war crimes and international law violations” and that “scholars have a duty to ensure voices of the oppressed are not silenced on campuses.
The union is no stranger to the Jewish community. Between 2008 and 2013, it fought and ultimately won an employment tribunal claim from Ronnie Fraser, a pro-Israel activist and union member who had alleged harassment based on the union’s pro-Palestinian stance.
The case, in which Fraser cited UCU as an environment of “thickening toxicity,” culminated in a written judgement in which the tribunal unanimously dismissed Fraser’s claim, concluding that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel… is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness”.
Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Simon Johnson said: “We have long campaigned for a fair and safe space for academics and students to discuss emotive issues, such as the Israel – Palestinian conflict, from all perspectives. That this has been perceived as ‘faux debates’ is both sad and a step backwards for academic discourse. I hope that we will be able to move past this and follow the precedent we set last year in Exeter with other balanced debates in the future.”
A Board of Deputies spokesperson said: “That the UCU persists in its obsession with motions to boycott Israel in the face of its own legal advice that it would be unlawful to implement such motions tells you all you need to know.”