This decision by my union, the University and College Union, is deeply disappointing. The only comfort is UCU general secretary Sally Hunt's reassurance that it doesn't actually commit the union to anything. As she has said: 'I do not believe a boycott is supported by a majority of UCU members, nor do I believe that members see it as a priority for the union.'
An academic boycott of Israel would be wrong for precisely the same reasons that the NUJ boycott would have been wrong. What The Guardian said then about a journalistic boycott would also be true of this proposal:
If it were press freedom in the Middle East that truly concerned delegates, Israel - which has a comparatively open and robust domestic press - would hardly be the obvious starting point. One might, for example, rather focus on Iran, Libya or Syria. If, on the other hand, the journalists' union prefers to busy itself with individual governments' foreign policies then, again, there is no shortage of unsavoury regimes around the world which might merit some form of consumer boycott.
For press freedom, read academic freedom. Coincidentally, and ironically, yesterday's Guardian also carried this report on restrictions on academic life in Iran, surely a more pressing concern for progressive western lecturers. However, an academic boycott of Iran would be mistaken for many of the reasons that the proposed Israeli boycott is wrong: it would risk isolating liberal and reformist Iranian academics who need our solidarity and engagement, just as academics working for peace, dialogue and reconciliation in Israel and Palestine do.
Having been away from work for a few days, I'm not sure yet what UCU members who oppose the boycott can do to mitigate the effects of the decision. As always, Engage is the place to keep up with developments and read the best arguments on this issue.