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Israel boycott illegal and cannot be implemented, UCU tells members

28 September 2007

UCU announced today that, after seeking legal advice, an academic boycott of Israel would be unlawful and cannot be implemented.

Members of the union's strategy and finance committee unanimously accepted a recommendation from UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, that the union should immediately inform branches and members that:

  • A boycott call would be unlawful and cannot be implemented
  • UCU members' opinions cannot be tested at local meetings
  • The proposed regional tour cannot go ahead under current arrangements and is therefore suspended.

The union had passed a motion at its congress in May calling for the circulation and debate of a call to boycott. Since then UCU has sought extensive legal advice in order to try to implement congress policy while protecting the position of members and of the union itself.

The legal advice makes it clear that making a call to boycott Israeli institutions would run a serious risk of infringing discrimination legislation. The call to boycott is also considered to be outside the aims and objects of the UCU.

The union has been told that while UCU is at liberty to debate the pros and cons of Israeli policies, it cannot spend members' resources on seeking to test opinion on something which is in itself unlawful and cannot be implemented. The union will now explore the best ways to implement the non-boycott elements of the motion passed at congress.

The legal advice states: 'It would be beyond the union's powers and unlawful for the union, directly or indirectly, to call for, or to implement, a boycott by the union and its members of any kind of Israeli universities and other academic institutions; and that the use of union funds directly or indirectly to further such a boycott would also be unlawful.'

The advice also says that 'to ensure that the union acts lawfully, meetings should not be used to ascertain the level of support for such a boycott.'

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Since congress our first priority has always been to keep the union, and its members, safe during what has been a very difficult time. I hope this decision will allow all to move forwards and focus on what is our primary objective, the representation of our members.

'I believe if we do this we may also, where possible, play a positive role in supporting Palestinian and Israeli educators and in promoting a just peace in the Middle East.'

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