There is power in a Union?

My great-grandfather moved to the US from Russia in the years before the First World War, in part forced out due to his trade union activities. Although working at a University isn't exactly the equivalent of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, or my great-grandfather's construction sites in New York City, I was pleased to find out about the Association of University Teachers, representing academics at UK universities (along with a related union, NAFTHE, with whom the AUT is likely to amalgamate in the near future -- workers of the UK, unite...).

Last week, at their national conference, the AUT voted to boycott several universities in Israel, despite the opposition of the national executive, and quite a bit of evidence that the vote was railroaded through by a few frankly anti-Israel activists (obsessives?).

Of course, many academics, even culturally and genealogically Jewish ones like me, have huge problems with Israel's political and diplomatic actions (as do many Israelis themselves), and indeed some actions undertaken by the Universities being boycotted. But sanctioning universities -- centers of at least some amount of free-thinking, and some amount of integration between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians -- seems to me not only largely symbolic, but symbolic of exactly the wrong sentiment. Instead, we should be encouraging dissent, supporting education in the Occupied Territories, and championing peace initiatives. Some AUT members have already quit the union over this; I am waiting to see how it turns out.

(Please see also quite a lot of interesting commentary over on Crooked Timber).