Monday, June 11, 2007

Supporting Palestine On the Streets of London, and in the Colleges

THOUSANDS marched and rallied in London on Saturday to demand an end to forty years of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and freedom and justice for the Palestinian people. There were similar demonstrations around the world, including one in Tel Aviv.

Among the speakers in Trafalgar Square were Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti and the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem Riah Abu El Assal, as well as Palestinian ambassador Manuel Hassassian. There was an eloquent and reasoned video message from Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and another, simple but moving , from well-known Jewish actress Miriam Margolyes, who said the occupation and killing were wrong and had to stop.

Other speakers included veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent, and Nobel peace prizewinner Mairead Corrigan Maguire, herself injured by a rubber bullet while participating in a peaceful demonstration at Bil'in in the occupied territories. Nathaniel Silverman of the Combattants for Peace urged Israelis to refuse to serve in the occupation and Palestinians to continue resistance by peaceful means. While Nathaniel was speaking in London his Palestinian colleague Basam Aramin, whose daughter was killed by Israeli forces, spoke at the Tel Aviv rally.
Several Jewish groups, ranging from secular Jewish Socialists to ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta, took part in the demonstration in London. The Jerusalem Post only managed to count 2,000 people at the London rally (the most conservative estimate I saw from a participant in the march was 5,000, which possibly underestimates the numbers packed into Trafalgar Square, where the crowd stretched back to the National Gallery). It referred to Ismail Haniyeh as the "Hamas prime minister", whereas of course he is the elected Palestinian prime minister and now heads a national unity government.

Its reporter did not notice the Jews and Israelis speaking or taking part in the rally, being too busy giving space to organisers of the small Zionist counter-demo at Aldwych (about 50 people, half of them troubled souls gathered beneath their "Christian Friends of Israel" banner).
It must be said that British media coverage of the march was even less, but those of us who live here have grown used to that. Meanwhile both the Israeli and British press have been excitedly covering the recent decision of the University and Colleges Union to discuss applying a boycott to Israeli academic institutions. When I say "covering" I mean applying a heavy coat of lies and ignorance so that supporters of Israeli state oppression (whether or not they admit that's what it is) can work themselves up into a frenzy, threaten counter-actions, and try to frighten everyone into submission.

Search through the coverage and you'd be hard put to find out what UCU delegates actually said. Not that the union leadership has been much help, since UCU president Sally Hunt did not support the motions. So I was grateful this weekend to Israeli-born rights lawyer Daniel Machover for sending out this information.

Danny writes:

What I have seen of the current coverage in the UK media on 'the academic boycott of Israel' is really very badly informed.

The operative parts of Resolution 30 below call for (inter alia) local debates and national guidance on appropriate forms of action.

The official UCU website has not yet published the resolutions in full - I had to find them on the BRICUP site:

Who could really argue against requiring local UCU branches and each institution to debate these issues and think deeply about their contacts with Israeli academic institutions with reference to the occupation of territories seized in 1967?

The threat of legal action raised this weekend by Prof Alan Dershowitz must really be aimed at trying to head off future decisions by individual UCU branches and institutions on taking 'appropriate forms of action'

UCU boycott resolutions:
Full text and results

On May 30th the UK University and College Union meeting at its first Annual Congress in Bournemouth passed the following resolutions. The final texts are the result of the approval of 'friendly' amendments to the original proposals, which have the effect of strengthening them.

Resolution 30 Boycott of Israeli academic institutions
Congress notes that Israel's 40-year occupation has seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement.

Congress deplores the denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students.

Congress condemns the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation, which has provoked a call from Palestinian trade unions for a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.

Congress believes that in these circumstances passivity or neutrality is unacceptable and criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic.

Congress instructs the NEC to circulate the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches/LAs for information and discussion; encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions; organise a UK-wide campus tour for Palestinian academic/educational trade unionists; issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action; actively encourage and support branches to create direct educational links with Palestinian educational institutions and to help set up nationally sponsored programmes for teacher exchanges, sabbatical placements and research.

A count was taken of the voting on this motion which was as follows:
FOR 155 [61%]
AGAINST 99 [39%]

Resolution 31 European Union and Israel
Congress notes:
1. That since the Palestinian elections in January 2006 the Israeli government has suspended revenue payments to the Palestinian authority (PA), and the EU and US have suspended aid, leaving public-sector salaries unpaid and earning the condemnation of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions;
2. That Israel is seeking to upgrade its relations with the EU to the same level as Norway and Switzerland, permitting free passage of goods, people and capital, while denying these freedoms to Palestinians.

Congress resolves to campaign for:
1. The restoration of all international aid to the PA and all revenues rightfully belonging to it;
2. No upgrade of Israel's status until it ends the occupation of Palestinian land and fully complies with EU Human Rights law;
3. A moratorium on research and cultural collaborations with Israel via EU and European Science Foundation funding until Israel abides by UN resolutions

Congress instructs the NEC to encourage Branches/Associations to
1. raise these campaigns in their Institutions and
2. investigate the possibilities of twinning their Institution with a Palestinian University or College

This motion was declared passed on a show of hands -with a majority visibly still higher than that for Resolution 30.

This may lead you to wonder how David Hirsh of "Engage" could jump from this to say it means Israelis are to be excluded from campuses? But then you are making the mistake of reading what is in the texts, whereas Hirsh who teaches Sociology at Goldsmith's College in London, appears to dispense with such outmoded methods of study and analysis.

But how dare the union delegates suggest that academics might want to be informed of the Palestinian boycott call, consider the moral implications of Israeli institutional links, and discuss appropriate action? Not to mention questioning European research connections, and proposing positive assistance to Palestinian educational institutions (something we have emphasised in the past), even calling for the unblocking of funds so that Palestinian public sector colleagues can receive their salaries. Whatever next?!

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has been huffing and puffing about legal action. This is the same gentleman whose work for "academic freedom" has consisted of asking students to monitor and report "anti-Israel" sentiments among their teachers so these can be witch-hunted, and who can claim success for his campaign to have the Catholic De Paul University take away tenure from Jewish (but anti-Zionist) Professor Norman Finkelstein.

Dershowitz is reportedly thinking to use American legislation that outlaws discrimination against anyone on account of nationality. I'm wondering how come such law does not forbid Hilton Hotels International from refusing bookings from Cubans attending conferences, but who am I to question America's right to boycott whoever it dislikes, including of course Palestine?

I can't challenge a Harvard law professor's interpretation of US law. But I can question this particular professor's deliberate misinterpretation of a British union's democratically-decided resolution.
The B'nai Brith Anti-Defamation League and needless to say the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre are throwing their weight into the anti-boycott (and in tone incidentally anti-British as well as anti-union) campaign. I can just about listen to arguments from the State of Israel but I get a bit intolerant whenever the State of California (Governor Arnold Schwartzeneggar)sticks its nose in.
Maybe they think they can push us around and intimidate British trade unionists the way they tried some years ago with Mexico? I guess with this government's Washington tochas-licking record that's not too surprising. But I see the good old Beeb will show its idea of "balance" tonight by giving UCU member Tom Hickey a recorded minute to speak in defence of the union's boycott resolutions, and Higher Education Minister four minutes live to say why the government is against it. That's Radio 4, and likely to be on air about 7.30pm BST.

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At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what???? Israel is strong enough to ignor you and take control of her life and security !!!!

Abe Bird

At 11:47 PM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

Fine, I'm glad to hear it. Perhaps now Israel's supporters will stop wingeing about flimsy boycott attempts and pretending the powerful Israeli military machine is some poor innocent defenceless victim threatened on all sides and persecuted.
Or would honesty be too much to demand?

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Thanks Charlie

I agree vibrant and committed support, validation for a people's struggle against 60 years of oppression and ethnic cleansing in Palestine.

I am often asked why is Israel such a issue, I reply reasonably I hope, that Israel is the quintessential hypocrisy of the modern era. The so called 'humanitarian justification' cover for adventurism is now touted where ever American interests choose to go. However, the planning of the forced deportation and terror perpetrated against the Palestine people can be openly read about in Ben-Gurion's contemporaneous diaries this is an open secret to the shame of the international community. With a plank like this in its eye how can international justice have any credibility or real authority. As Brits we should remember the anti-Semite who facilitated this disaster, it was all a glorified NIMBY exercise from the get go. In the end I have faith that the Zionist fear will not triumph, in much the same way that the inflated fear of the white South Africans' was phantasmal serving only to propagate the justification for 'control and security'.

Thanks again, you continue to report news when those we trust to fail to.

In Friendship


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