Cross-posted from David Hirsh at Engage
We have heard a lot about fighting antisemitism a long time ago and far away. I wish to turn to events closer to home.
Antisemitism within the UCU started to become a serious problem when people in the union began to support the campaign to boycott Israeli universities, but no other universities in the world. This campaign has dominated academic union Congresses in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Normally trade unionists aim to make links with other trade unionists across international boundaries. Normally academics make links with other academics in other countries. But in our union Israelis have been treated differently. Instead of seeking to work with Israeli colleagues for peace and against bigotry, the dominant faction in our union has tried again and again to exclude Israelis from our community.
Since 2003 it has become clear that antisemitic ways of thinking and antisemitic practices have been imported into our union alongside this campaign to punish Israeli academics.
Report of the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism (p 41):
“We conclude that calls to boycott contact with academics working in Israel are … anti-Jewish in practice.”
18 January 2007
The Union response to the Parliamenary Inquiry was
(1) to conflate the criticism that boycotts were anti Jewish in practice with a charge which was not made, that UCU members hate Jews.
(2) to declare that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic – although the charge was made in relation to the union setting up an institutional exclusion from British campuses on the basis of nationality – and was not made in relation to criticism of Israel.
(3) the union says that those who raise the issue of antisemitism do so in bad faith in order to silence criticism of Israeli human rights abuses. It produces no evidence regarding the bad faith of those who raise the issue.
(4) the union replies to a charge of institutional antisemitism in the union by saying that the inquiry ought to have looked into the issue of Islamophobia instead.
76 members of the UCU signed a letter in the Times Higher taking issue with UCU’s denials in the face of criticism by the parliamentary inquiry. The union did not respond to the disquiet articulated by these members. Silence.
UCU Congress 2007 passed the following clause as union policy:
“…Congress believes that … criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic.”
This statement is an irresponsible denial of the possibility of antisemitism since ‘criticism of israel’ is evidently sometimes antisemitic and sometimes not antisemitic.
UCU Congress 2008 passed the following clause as union policy:
“Criticism of Israel or Israeli policy are not, as such, anti-semitic”
But nobody has ever heard criticism “as such”. They have only ever heard this or that particular criticism of Israel. Some of them are antisemitic and some of them are not. So again, UCU’s mode of denial was irresponsible for an antiracist union.
19 June 2007
Professor Shalom Lappin’s resignation letter to UCU:
“The boycott… attempts to impose a discriminatory sanction on Israeli academics that its advocates do not seek to apply to any other nation, even in situations of conflict where far greater human rights abuses are being committed. …it is a crude effort to delegitimize Israel as a country and express hostility for its people.”
Gert Weisskirchen, a veteran German Social Democrat member of the Bundestag, antiracist, and official of the OSCE responsible for combatting antisemitism in Europe asked the UCU for a meeting about antisemitism in the Union. The union leadership could not find half an hour to sit and hear his concerns. Silence. 39 UCU members signed a letter in the Times Higher asking the union to meet with Weisskirchen. The Union did not respond.
UCU was advised by its own lawyer, Lord Lester QC, one of the foremost human-rights lawyers in the UK, that making a call to boycott Israeli institutions would run a serious risk of infringing discrimination legislation, and that the call to boycott was considered to be outside the aims and objects of the UCU.
13 May 2008
“Stop the Boycott” published the legal opinion given to it by Michael J Beloff QC and Pushpinder Saini QC. Neither are glove puppets of “the Jews” or of “the Zionists” or any such thing. Both are senior QCs, specialists in employment and discrimination law, with reputations to safeguard.
1 “…It would be unlawful for the union to pass” a boycott motion at Congress.
The motion purports to be less than a boycott motion but is in fact a boycott motion.
The motion discriminates against Israelis on the basis of nationality and it discriminates against Jews in a number of indirect ways.
2 The motion is “ultra vires” because it is a breach of the union’s own fundamental and foundational commitment to equality.
The motion is therefore unlawful partly because it violates, in a profound way and not in a purely formal or technical way, UCU’s own law and its own core values. This problem cannot be addressed by fiddling with the wording of the union’s Aims and Objects. It could only be addressed by changing the commitment to equality which is at the heart of the UCU.
3 The motion would be a breach of the Race Relations Act because it would impose on Israeli academics (and potentially Jewish academics) the duty to explain their politics as a pre-condition to having normal academic contact.
4 Debating a motion of this kind is a further breach of the Race Relations Act because such a debate creates an environment which normalizes antisemitic rhetoric and which would create a hostile environment to Jewish and Israeli members and non-members of the union.
May 24 2008
Dov Stekel, Letter to Sally Hunt, General Secretary of UCU:
“…this is the only organization with which I have been involved in which I have been made to feel uncomfortable as a Jew… Repeated calls for boycott of Israeli institutions, the circulation of vitriolic, offensive and untrue allegations, the fact that Jewish members have either been excluded or bullied out of the activists list, have led to a culture in UCU that I have to describe as institutionally anti-semitic. …I am sure that the individuals involved do not themselves mean to be anti-semitic; but the net effect of these actions is to create a culture in the trade union in which Jews and Israelis feel alienated or excluded.”
May 30 2008
Robert Fine, Warwick University UCU:
“…Now for the third time our own union has chosen to go down the road of considering ‘the appropriateness of continued educational links with Israeli academic institutions’. The tones are mellow but they give me a shiver and make me feel my Jewishness in a new way.”
3 June 2008
Deborah Lynn Steinberg, UCU member, University of Warwick wrote:
“It is an infringement of my rights as a member to be co-opted into action that violates anti-discrimination policies and law and that compromises the mission of the Union…”
8 June 2008
Stephen Soskin President Buckinghamshire New University UCU, High Wycombe Branch:
“The lesson we have to draw from this Congress is that the majority of delegates and the leadership of UCU wish to pursue their biased policy against Israel, some of which is in my view racist and anti Semitic, with as little discussion as possible and with the widest possible anonymity. None of us should allow this to happen and we must continue to speak out, however uncomfortable this is.”
23 June 2008
Leslie Klaff, a lawyer from Sheffield Hallam University resigns from union:
“The UCU’s adoption of Motion 25 at Congress on May 28th 2008, and the NEC’s subsequent decision of June 13th to refer the question of its implementation to a Union committee, notwithstanding specialist legal advice that it breaches anti-discrimination legislation and Union rules, is further evidence of the UCU’s continuing and relentless obsession with the academic boycott of Israel…”
1 July 2008
Eve Garrard’s resignation letter from UCU:
“The discussion of the boycott project on the UCU activists’ list … There has been a constant deployment of some of the most traditional stereotypes of anti-Semitism, thinly concealed under the figleaf of anti-Zionism. Repeated (and demonstrably false) claims have been made that Israel is committing genocide, and is comparable to the Nazis. Those who have not shared the dominant hostility to Israel have been compared to members of an alien species. It has been explicitly asserted by Union activists that those members who resist this demonising of the Jewish state, and who are concerned about the double standards being deployed in the boycott project, are manipulatively trying to distract others from Israel’s crimes, and are indeed part of a conspiracy to do so. The Union has failed to protect its Jewish members from this constant vilifying of Jewish self-determination. Formal complaints about the creation of an atmosphere hostile to many Jews have been dismissed by the Union as groundless. Even more worryingly, complaints which have been made about the possibility of institutional anti-Semitism have not even been addressed by the Union. Silence.
The UCU’s obsessional determination to ostracise and punish Israel, and its persistent indifference to the concerns and fears of its Jewish members, have created an atmosphere within the Union which is hostile …. I, like many others, can no longer bear the shame and embarrassment of belonging to an institution which is willing to discriminate against Jews, and whose readiness to do so is supported by leading members of its Executive Committee. …This Union is no longer a fit place for those who think that Jews have the same rights of self-determination, self-defence, and national identity as other peoples do, and I hereby resign from it.
7 July 2008
Norman Geras, Political Philosopher, career-long AUT member:
“To be a Jew in UCU today is to be, in some sort, a supplicant, pleading with the would-be boycotters and those unmoved to oppose them …, pleading for Israeli academics to be accepted as having the same status as other academics …, pleading that Jewish supporters of the rights of academics in the Jewish state should not be made to feel isolated in their own union… . Well, not to put too fine a point on it, shove that. Not today, not tomorrow, and not any time.”
21 August 2008
UCU activist Jenna Delich posted a link to a piece of antisemitic conspiracy theory from the website of David Duke, former head of the Ku Klux Klan. Mike Cushman, one of the leaders within out union of the campaign to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global academic community, recommended Delich to take legal action against a website in order to keep this story out of the public domain.
Physicist Raphaël Lévy resigns from UCU
The union has accepted without being moved the resignation of Jewish and antiracists union members, including philosopher Eve Garrard, philosopher Tim Crane, lawyer Eric Heinze, Professor of English Sarah Annes Brown, and Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies & Judaism Jonathan Campbell. The union has excluded sociologist David Hirsh permanently from the UCU e-list. … I have considered the ethical implications of remaining a UCU member and I thereby resign.
20 February 2009
Mike Cushman posts an article on a public website which lists the number of Jewish people in parliament in order to construct an argument about how Tony Blair required Jewish “Zionist” money to run the New Labour project after he had cut Labour’s reliance on trade union funding.
May 27 2009
BRICUP, the British organisation behind the boycott of Israeli academics, held a fringe meeting at UCU Congress in 2009.
One question came from Sean Wallis, UCL UCU branch secretary. He wanted to speak about how UCU should debate a boycott, whether it’s legal or not. One of the threats he mentioned was from lawyers backed by those with “bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down.” Sean Wallis never explained what he thought was the connection between anti boycott lawyers in Britain and allegedly stolen money from Lehman Brothers in New York.
The Human Rights Commission is a national institution of post apartheid South Africa. It ruled last December that the statements of Mongani Masuku on the subject of Israel amounted to antisemitic hate speech. He was invited to the UK on a trip paid for by the University and College Union to promote the exclusion of Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global academic community.
The Human Rights Commission does not makes its judgments frivolously. The Human Rights Commission is aware of the distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism. The Human Rights Commission is not pro-Israel and is not concerned with defending the reputation of Israel. It is concerned with racism.
Masuku has openly and repeatedly stated that South African trade unions would target Jewish supporters of Israel in South Africa and “make their lives hell”. He urges that “every Zionist must be made to drink the bitter medicine they are feeding our brothers and sisters in Palestine”.
The Human Rights Commission recognized unequivocally that using anti-Israel rhetoric, Masuku has attempted to mobilize South African trade unionists against Jews in South Africa. Masuku believes that Jews who are not anti-Zionist are “agents of apartheid and friends of Hitler” and he proposes to relate to them as though they were both.
UCU has paid for this man to tour Britain’s campuses to make the argument for a boycott of Israeli universities.
Surely, when it was explained to UCU that Masuku was here to use antisemitic hate speech then it would have realised that it has made a mistake?
But no. The distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism has been explained to UCU countless times over the past decade but UCU is not interested and it continues to turn a blind eye to antisemitism.
A UCU spokesperson told a journalist from the Jerusalem Post that the sources of the evidence against Masuku were not credible.
The UCU spokesperson did not understand who the South African Human Rights Commission is or the significance of what it judged.
But there is nothing new about this. UCU has demonstrated repeatedly that it is simply not bothered by antisemitism if it comes packaged in the language of criticism of Israel.
Jews in UCU have been bullied, have resigned, have been pushed out and have been silenced. The situation is so serious that at the last UCU Congress there were no Jews left who were prepared to oppose the boycott campaign.
June 4, 2009
Resignation letter from UCU National Executive.
We have a union that has allowed the distribution of antisemitic material on its internal lists, and the peddling of antisemitic conspiracy theories by some of its members, whilst banning anti-racist and Jewish members who have objected to such material.
We have a union from which hundreds of members – many of them Jewish – have resigned in protest at the unwarranted exceptionalism of its attitude to Israel. I believe that many more will do so.
We have a union that entirely refuses to investigate concern about institutional antisemitism when raised through the proper channels, by members. The UCU is now the most complacent public institution in Britain with respect to the current rise in antisemitism.