A few days ago I posted a brief and unargued statement of position on the AUT boycott decision. In this I said that were I still a member of the AUT I would resign from it, and I called on Jewish members of the Association to do precisely that. In response I have received several emails opposing this view, and I've also read argument elsewhere, including at Engage, to the effect that AUT members should not resign, but should rather stay in the AUT and act to get the boycott decision reversed. This is important in itself (so the argument goes), it is important to the future political health and strength of the AUT, and it is more generally a better model of how to react to decisions that go against one in a democratic trade union, given the importance of trade unions for defending the interests of their membership.
I want to explain here why, although I entirely respect these reasons, I stand by what I wrote in my earlier post. For they set out strategic and political considerations with which I broadly agree, but they also overlook something that is for me every bit as important as those considerations and on which I'm unwilling to allow myself the slightest ambiguity or compromise - especially today when there is so much ambiguity about this from others. The strategic question of whether to fight on within an organization or to exert a different kind of pressure by leaving is always a matter of trying to estimate the likely consequences of alternative courses of action. What is not a matter of such estimation for me, but rather an issue of fundamental principle, is that of whether I can belong to an organization publicly committed to an anti-Semitic policy. This is what I judge the recent AUT decision to involve. It is also the view, incidentally, of Engage - which 'believes that the choice to boycott Israeli Jews rather than anyone else in the world is effectively antisemitic'. And it is today argued at Engage in a powerful statement by Howard Jacobson which you should read in its entirety.
Naturally, I am aware that there are those, including on the left and amongst people very sensitive towards other kinds of ethnic prejudice, who are more sceptical about the signs, dangers, occurrences, of a growing anti-Semitism in European life. That is their privilege, I suppose. But I don't, personally, feel obliged by the scepticism. I wouldn't be willing to belong for a single day to a union which has adopted an anti-Semitic policy - as the boycott position towards Israeli universities is. There exists, after all, some troubling history in this general domain. I do understand the importance of trade unions and trade unionism. But other things are also important, and sometimes desperately so.
If the entire Jewish membership of the AUT resigned, there would still be enough people left in it to reverse the decision. And the Jewish resignations would put significant public pressure on everyone else in the Association to show that it is one fit for Jews to belong to - which at the moment has been put in question. So, though I respect the option of staying in and working to reverse the decision, I personally would have chosen to work for the same end by leaving.