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NTEU Vice President resigns after botched BDS motion

Nick Rowbotham reports on Damien Cahill’s sudden resignation from the NTEU USyd Branch Committee.

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USyd Branch Vice President of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Dr Damien Cahill has resigned over a decision by the Union’s Branch Committee to override a motion passed by Union members, which endorsed a “broad discussion” around whether to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

An email was sent to NTEU members on Friday morning with an attached letter of resignation from Cahill. In the letter, Cahill acknowledges that the Branch Committee’s decision on May 23 to override the members’ vote on BDS on May 15 “was an inappropriate response to the issue that confronted us.”

“Because I initiated the motion passed at the Branch Committee meeting of May 23 that brought forward a vote on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) strategy against Israel, and recommended that members not endorse this strategy, I bear some responsibility for the subsequent conflict that has ensued,” Cahill states.

He also alleges that he and other Branch Committee members have been subject to “personal attacks” in the last week, due to the fallout over the BDS issue, and claims that “some of the core principles of [BDS], in my view, do not align with those of the union.”

Dr Cahill declined to comment on the matter when contacted by Honi Soit late on Thursday. Honi has also contacted other senior NTEU members, including Branch President Michael Thomson, but as of Friday afternoon they were yet to respond to requests for comment.

On May 15, a members meeting of the NTEU passed a motion in support of advancing a discussion around BDS, with a view to voting on a policy in support of the movement later this year. It is understood that approximately 35 members attended the meeting, and that the motion passed unopposed.

The Branch Committee – an elected organising committee within the Union – then passed its own motion calling for a “members’ meeting for Wednesday 4 June to discuss and vote on whether the Branch should endorse the BDS” and advising members that “endorsing the BDS would not be in the interests of the Branch and therefore recommends that members vote not to endorse the BDS.”

This motion was then rescinded on Thursday, after pro-BDS NTEU members expressed their outrage that the Branch Committee had undermined the original members’ vote. In rescinding its motion from May 23, the Branch Committee also reaffirmed the members’ vote on May 15.

BDS aims to put diplomatic pressure on Israel to end its military occupation of Palestinian territories, grant equality under the law to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.

The movement has come to the fore at USyd in the last year, with the Director of the University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Jake Lynch, currently in the Federal Court fighting a Racial Discrimination action against an Israeli legal group.

The action was initiated over Lynch’s refusal to endorse a fellowship application for an Israeli academic who had applied for a fellowship under an arrangement between the University of Sydney and Hebrew University.

Lynch’s high profile legal battle has fed into discussions about BDS within the NTEU branch, and has been a factor in the development of a ‘Staff for BDS’ group on campus.

It is understood that some NTEU members believe the Branch Committee’s initial decision to call for an immediate vote on BDS may have come in response to legal threats from Shurat HaDin, the group suing Lynch, to drag the NTEU into the case.

But Cahill suggests in his resignation letter that the Branch Committee’s decision was made due to a lack of notice of the BDS motion before the May 15 members meeting and “scarce branch resources” in the face of the branch’s other campaigns.

More to come.