One of the themes I’ve written about (notably here) is the corrupting effects divestment has on any institution that decides to take up this issue. I dubbed this phenomenon “The Vampire’s Kiss” after the legend which says that a vampire can only enter your house if invited, but once invited in you are doomed. As organizations like the Presbyterian Church and Hampshire College have discovered, even giving the divestment crew the courtesy of a hearing can often result in untold damage to an organization’s reputation that can take years to repair (assuming the patient wants to get better).
There is probably no better illustration and parody of this process than the UCU, the major teacher’s union in Great Britain. I’ve written about them before (as have many others on the terrific site www.engageonline.org.uk). And sure enough the UCU Congress (which is meeting right now) has decided to take up the academic boycott issue for a fifth year running.
Keep in mind that every year this issue has been broached it has either been (1) shot down by voting members who loath the idea of their union being used as a cudgel against fellow academics; or (2) declared to be in violation of British anti-racism law. And each year, the fanatics who dominate the UCU Congress and hold the importance of this issue above every other matter (including real issues of concern to union members such as job security and salary), breathe life into the controversy again, usually by passing resolutions that ask the union to embrace a boycott of Israel academics and voting down any resolutions asking for this controversial matter to be put to a vote of members.
The anti-democratic nature of the UCU legislative body has been on display for over a decade, but this year they face a more difficult issue of how to try to pass some kind of boycott vote while passing the legal consequences off to someone else. The result has been to loudly pass a motion whose impotence is pre-determined since the union leadership has already declared it will not act on any motion already declared to be illegal.
And there you have boycott, divestment and sanction in a nutshell. A group of self-centered political hacks who have taken time to dominate a union, passing a motion they know will never get implemented, driving out members (including many Jewish members) in the process, corrupting both the membership and reputation of the union, all so they can play the role of wannabe revolutionary. And who suffers? Israel? Maybe. But not nearly as much as Jewish members of the teaching profession in Great Britain, and the union itself which is now a laughingstock whose reputation as champions of academic freedom lies in ruins at just the point when teachers need respected union representation the most.
Let this be a lesson to any institution that thinks divestment (or boycott, or sanction) is just a simple human rights question being brought to them by innocent Ghandi-esque voices fighting for justice. No, BDS should be looked at more like a parasite which, as one UCU member illustrates, tends to hollow out the host, leaving a ruined shell before moving on.