Thursday, May 03, 2007

A positive approach to Palestine v. a predictable negative reaction

ACADEMIC trade unionists, Palestine campaigners and representatives from Non-Governmental Organisations such as War on Want are due to meet today to discuss the effects of Middle East conflict on education, and how academics and others here can assist Palestinian academics and students, particularly those under occupation.

A briefing paper has been prepared entitled "Building a positive policy in support of Palestinian academics", and among those invited to attend, besides Bernard Regan, trade union officer of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, are representatives of the Friends of Bir Zeit University, Education Action, the National Union of Teachers, and Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

You might think this all sounds reasonable and positive, and could lead to people uniting in some very helpful initiatives. Indeed a letter which went out with the invitation, signed by the joint secretaries of the University and Colleges Union (UCU), Sally Hunt and Paul Mackney, speaks of practical support for Palestinian academics and of bridge-building between Israeli and Palestinian academic trade unionists. It also refers to the need while discussing Israel and Paletine here to combat both antisemitism and Islamophobia.

The academics are also hoping to discuss what's happening in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, and what we can expect from the European Union.

Besides Sue Blackwell, who moved the resolution in the old Association of University Teachers for boycotting two Israeli universities, on the grounds they assisted occupation, the organisers have invited Jon Pike, a founder of Engage, which campaigns against any such boycotts, saying they interfere with academic freedom and impede valuable dialogues for progress and peace.

The briefing says priority must be given to "practical support for Palestinian unions", but does not rule out "appropriate" links with Israeli unions. Again, you may think that balanced and reasonable, considering the circumstances. But then, you are probably not the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, and don't have his worries about placating the Zionist propaganda lobby and keeping your advertising.

So you might not have considered it unreasonable that "a request by the Academic Friends of Israel to take part did not lead to an invitation", any more than you would have considered it necessary for trade unionists discussing what to do about Apartheid to have invited a South African embassy spokesperson.

You would probably not have scared your readers with a report that UCU is due to "debate a motion to end links with Israeli lecturers", when in fact the motion coming before the union's conference at the end of this month, from UCU members at the University of Brighton and the University of East London, seeks to "encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions". It does not say anything about not talking to individual lecturers.
(For full text of motions see

In all fairness, Bernard Josephs of the Jewish Chronicle deserves credit for managing to report the positive aspects being emphasised at this meeting. I actually relied on his report in last week's JC for my information in the first five paragraphs, indeed for the news that this meeting was happening. I don't suppose he supplied the headline: "ACADEMICS HONE ISRAEL BOYCOTT PLAN" with which the JC found it appropriate to head his article. (JC April 27, 2007)

But I expect they are having to do their bit to mobilise the troops against the forthcoming motions. You don't do that by presenting what's being discussed as something reasonable.

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