The University and College Union, the UK’s main union for academics and lecturers, debated and passed a motion to boycott Israeli academics at its first ever conference in 2007. At almost every conference since, it has done the same. UCU has passed motions supporting goods boycotts and attacking the Israeli Histadrut trade union centre. It also passed a motion trying to limit the definition of antisemitism.
Many of these motions were ruled unlawful or void. UCU’s own constitution bans it from discrimination. Legal advice obtained by the union in 2007 said “an academic boycott of Israel would be unlawful and cannot be implemented”
But this hasn’t stopped UCU’s annual congress from regularly voting through boycott motions anyway. The nastiness in the union got so bad that many Jewish members resigned from UCU. A motion to investigate the wave of resignations was rejected.
This year, UCU Congress debated a motion to: “reaffirm its support for BDS, and for the boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions; require union officers to uphold Congress decisions when acting in their UCU capacity, and to resile from such external positions as create conflicts of interest.”
The first part is the standard, already-illegal boycott text. The second part, though, is more interesting. It’s an attempt to make it impossible for supporters of Israel to be officers of UCU. Interestingly, a similar attempt passed at University College London’s student union earlier in the year.
This is a new and worrying trend. Instead of boycotting Israelis, who are far away, these political-test clauses begin to make a boycott of anyone who supports Israel in the UK. As this includes the vast majority of British Jews, rules like this effectively ban Jews from leadership roles in trade unions or student unions.
In this case, UCU’s own National Executive Committee saw the risk and recommended to Congress that these lines be dropped from the motion, effectively neutering it. However, as usual in UCU, Congress didn’t care. Delegates ignored the Executive and voted through the full unamended motion. Only a handful of delegates voted against the overwhelming majority who supported it.
Ironically, this meant that the Executive immediately declared the motion void, making the whole exercise a bit pointless. But that’s how it goes in UCU. Pointless, intimidatory, illegal boycott motions voted through year after year