I think not.
It is a great shame that members of totalitarian, racist and anti-democratic parties, such as The Hon Alex Callinicos, hold university chairs. But I think that it would be more of a pity if universities took to sacking or hounding out academics with nasty or stupid ideas. The effective sacking of the “race realist” bigot, Frank Ellis, by Leeds University was both a disgrace, and a dangerous precedent. Academic endeavour is premised upon a spirit of free enquiry, which would not survive loyalty tests, or the vetting of political views. In any case, there is always the chance that a supporter of totalitarian, racist, or anti-democratic politics will change their views. Many have.
Still, I think that this is a discussion which is worth having. Why are there quite so many opponents of liberal and democratic values in British Universities? What sort of political and social influence do they exercise? How can we organise effectively against them, in a manner consistent with academic freedom?
I mention this matter now, because -as some of you will have noticed – a new quasi-boycott motion is before the University and College Union. Again.
The motion asserts the:
Apparent complicity of the Israeli academy
in the misery of Palestinians living in Gaza, who have been caught up in the war that Hamas has been directing against Israeli civilians, from the territory which they seized by coup.
It asserts that:
Pursuit and dissemination of knowledge are not uniquely immune from their moral and political consequences
We all know what “consequences” the proposers of the motion are thinking about.
It affirms that:
Criticism of Israel or Israeli policy are not, as such, anti-semitic.
And indeed they’re not. Although a repeated attempt to promote a boycott of the academics of one state, and one state only, which just happens to contain about half the jewish population of the world, championed by the Gilad Atzmon promoting SWP, might kind of, you know, raise suspicions.
Anyhow, this is what they’re planning to do:
UCU widely disseminate the personal testimonies of UCU and PFUUPE delegations to Palestine and the UK, respectively;
The testimonies will be used to promote a wide discussion by colleagues of the appropriateness of continued education links with Israeli academic institutions;
We’ve been here before. This is is essentially the same resolution, slightly tweaked, that the Socialist Workers’ Party clique in UCU put forward last time.
Except that there’s something slightly different about this particular motion.
Unlike previous motions, this one was seconded by Linda Newman, the President of the UCU. Linda Newman certainly gave every sign of being an opponent of the boycott strategy when she ran for Union President. But here she is, co-sponsoring a motion, alongside Tom Hickey: a member of the racist and totalitarian Socialist Workers’ Party.
To put it another way: here’s the head of an important academic union, joining forces with a political party which supports the genocidal “One State Solution” policy, promoting a pro-boycott policy which is designed to alienate moderates and compromisers, and strengthen the hand of extremists and rejectionists.
This development is an absolute shocker for Engage, which has campaigned against these discriminatory boycotts for years, on the basis that the UCU should be defended from hijack attempts by by members and fellow travellers of a the SWP. Engage’s position has been that academics desperately need a union which will fight hard for bread and butter issues, such as pay and conditions: and will not waste its time and energy on the promotion of discrimination against academics of jewish and Israeli origin. Engage campaigned hard for that position, and saw a groundswell away from the pro-Boycott SWP-dominated wing of the UCU in the last election.
Now, they’re hopping mad. As well they should be. The simple fact of the matter is this. That this pro-boycott motion has been proposed by the UCU Leadership is proof that the SWP hijack of the union has succeeded. It is now to late to talk about defending UCU from a lunatic fringe of extremists. The lunatic fringe of extremists are now running the union.
Frankly, who knows what will happen next.
I expect that the exodus of jews from the UCU will continue. Fighting racism and discrimination is tiring and dispiriting, and eventually, people just get worn down and exhausted, and give up. Others, no doubt, will be radicalised by the experience, and will find new and imaginative ways to defend themselves. Some are already talking about ostentatiously breaching the boycott.
What ever the outcome of this latest little battle, isn’t this just a perfect example of what happens if you allow activists for extreme totalitarian political organisations any traction within institutions?
Make no mistake. This isn’t really about Israel or Palestine. That’s just the rhetorical context within which this struggle is taking place. The promoters of the boycott are supportive of PACBI-inspired rejectionism: but they’re not Palestinians. They’re not even Islamists. They’re white middle class Trots and Stalinists, and their fellow travellers. In other words, this battle is about the influence of a section of the extreme Left that thrives, parasitically, within unions and public institutions, and nowhere else at all.
Defeating this new proposal doesn’t simply involve promoting an alternative, non-genocidal vision of the future of Israel/Palestine. It requires that the fringe clique of the most vicious parts of the extreme Left is taken on, and defeated. And that means defeating them on their entire politics, and their core ideology.
So, should members of totalitarian political parties be banned from teaching in Universities?
No they shouldn’t be.
But it is imperative that we shift the debate, to focus on the utterly malign influence of members and supporters of the racist and totalitarian Socialist Workers’ Party, and of other marginal extremist political parties, on British academia. The likes of Tom Hickey, Phil Marfleet, John Rose and the rest of them, are not quirky eccentrics or idealists whose hearts are basically in the right place. They’re nasty, vicious, demagogues whose political values are utterly opposed to everything that liberal progressives stand for. They should evoke in us, precisely the same response that we felt when we learnt of Frank Ellis’s published views: disgust.
Smash the SWP.