For the first time, a European teachers union has called for an academic boycott of Israel.
Last week, the annual conference of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) voted unanimously to call for such a boycott.
According to a report in the Jewish Chronicle, “The union called on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to increase its campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against ‘the apartheid state of Israel until it lifts its illegal siege of Gaza and its illegal occupation of the West Bank’. The passed motion requests TUI members to ‘cease all cultural and academic collaboration with Israel, including the exchange of scientists, students and academic personalities, as well as all cooperation in research programmes’.”
There is effusive coverage of the boycott vote in the Morning Star, the daily newspaper of the British Communist Party.
The resolution does not specifically call for a boycott of Israeli academics or students who are, for example, based in the occupied territories. The boycott covers all Israelis, even those students and academics who oppose the occupation and who support self-determination for the Palestinians.
Four days after the decision was taken, there is still nothing on the TUI website about it. A search there for “Israel” finds just one news story that is several months old.
It may be argued that the TUI’s call for an academic boycott of the Jewish state is in breach of its own regulations. A decade ago, the union set up an “Equality Council” to promote anti-discriminatory practices based on nine grounds — including religious belief and race.
TUI is one of four Irish trade unions that belong to the Education International (EI), the global union federation for teachers. Two EI affiliate unions represent Israeli teachers. One wonders if the TUI will now need to either withdraw from the EI, or simply refuse to participate in events that Israeli teachers attend, such as executive council meetings or world congresses. Or perhaps the TUI will join with countries like Iran and Syria and simply walk out of the room when an Israel rises to speak.
Alternately, TUI might consider affiliating to the World Federation of Teachers Unions, an affiliate of the World Federation of Trade Unions. WFTU (in both cases) had its origins in the Stalinist trade unions, but is today dominated by state-controlled labour fronts in the remaining dictatorships such as Syria, Iran, North Korea, etc. WFTU’s record on Israel-bashing is far more consistent than that of unions in democratic countries, and TUI might feel more at home there.
Several years ago, British academic unions considered taking similar steps but received legal advice that such a boycott might be a breach of European Union anti-discrimination law, and backed down. No doubt the TUI’s lawyers will soon be telling them something similar.