Friday, May 30, 2008

It's my union

... so I'll cry if I want to.

The SWP Israel obsessives in the UCU have struck again. A bizarre resolution - "colleagues be asked to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions" - has been passed after the, uncomfortably democratic, proposal to put it to a vote of the whole membership was defeated. It is worth reading really good posts by Eve Garrard, Jim Denham, Jon Pike, George Szirtes, and on Z Blog.

Resolution 25 bundles together a diffuse selection of items. For instance, it declares "criticism of Israel or Israeli policy are (sic) not, as such, anti-semitic". Indeed it is not necessarily so, but it can be - and frequently is. And the original boycott call was deemed discriminatory. On top of which, parts of the left have been rediscovering their dark tradition of anti-Semitic sentiment.

Then there is this line about the "apparent complicity of most of the Israeli academy". The logic is impeccable. As a British academic I can now expect a citizen's arrest from George Monbiot. I deserve no less. But then what about the academics from the Israeli left, supporters of peace and human rights? Hmm...

However, I really want to comment on Sally Hunt's defensive statement about the resolution,

I have to state that we have passed a motion to provide solidarity with the Palestinians, not to boycott Israel or any other country's academic institutions.

Well that is one interpretation, though all the measures are aimed at Israel and Israelis. I too have expressed my solidarity with the Palestinians in the past and I have long seen myself as pro-Palestinian, but I am utterly depressed by this constant, ignorant and utterly negative campaign.

There are two solutions to the conflict on offer - one-state and two-state. The one-state solution is largely the preserve of the Israeli and Palestinian nationalist right. It envisages a total victory for one side, denying the legitimacy of the other, often accompanied by calls for the removal of the bulk of their population. It is the politics of continuing conflict, of expulsion and extermination. The left favour a two-state solution, but of a particular kind.

Rather than envisage the division of the land into two hostile and separate entities, temporarily stabilising instead of ending the conflict, it sees that both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples' national histories are inextricably entwined. A progressive two-state solution is one that would build a constructive relationship between the two peoples and allow for a mutually supportive realisation of national self-determination. This is the painfully difficult politics of peace.

And it is in the advancement of a politics of peace where education can play a key role in helping develop collaboration and coexistence between both nations, of examining and addressing the distortions of history that infect their national narratives, of comprehending the lives of each community, of humanising the enemy. So what does the UCU do? It embraces the politics of conflict. Where is the support for organisations that work across the divide - e.g. IPCRI or One Voice? No mention even of Zochrot, an education project to translate the experience of the Palestinian Nakba into Hebrew. UCU act as if there was no Israeli left or peace movement with roots in Israeli academic institutions.

The present situation is indeed a Palestinian tragedy, simply read the ILO report on conditions in the Occupied Territories for confirmation. Will it be eased by this gesture politics, driven by a misconceived and ill-informed ideological project? Not one bit. The Palestinians need and deserve better.

Read Norm here

"While Motion 25 stands, the union is a tainted, a befouled, organization; it is a cesspit. It accommodates people who would treat their Israeli counterparts as pariahs. It should be held in contempt and shunned. The only good reason for anyone now to belong to UCU is to exert themselves to take it back from the boycotters and turn it into something better than a cesspit".

The only point of departure for me is that there are other purposes to membership. They are to take collective action to defend, for instance, adult education nationally and to deal with the sometimes difficult industrial relations we can face locally. I have a funny feeling that the proposers of Motion 25 couldn't give a toss about either.


bob said...

Great post Peter

Anonymous said...

So, resign then.

If the union is seen to be just a rump of fanatics, it will have no credibility, and your concerns are moot.

In any case, you're an individual, and if this body does things you don't like, you leave - otherwise you can't really complain.

The Plump said...

No I won't resign anonymous. If you read the postscript dissenting from Norm you can see why.

I couldn't imagine anything worse for us members than a mass desertion. The union is needed more than ever at the moment and weakening it is foolhardy.

The problem is that the activity of the boycotters - a small, but organised, minority, which is why they resist their motions being put to a vote of the entire membership - damages the very activities the Union should be pursuing, as well as being wrong headed.

The union is a collective and as an individual member I pay my dues to be part of that collective and so I can complain and bloody well do!