Open letter of resignation from UCU to Sally Hunt from Denis Noble

Denis Noble is an Oxford biologist with a global reputation in the scientific community.  His letter of resignation from UCU, addressed to Sally Hunt, the General Secretary of the union, has been published in the Oxford magazine:

Dear Sally

I joined the AUT nearly 50 years ago as a young assistant lecturer at University College London.  When I retired from my Oxford professorship in 2004 I chose to retain my membership – although I no longer stood to gain from the union’s negotiating any improvements in salary or conditions of service – because I believe in trade unions and thought that by remaining a member I would, in some small measure, help colleagues.  But the behaviour of UCU over the past several years has made it impossible for me to continue, and I now resign my membership.

In a letter I wrote to you over a year ago, which has remained unanswered and unacknowledged, I said that UCU’s repeated conference decisions to discriminate against certain colleagues (Israelis) on the grounds of their nationality were unacceptable.  Such discrimination is contrary to the universally recognised norms of academic practice, as set out (for example) in the Statutes of the International Council of Science (ICSU).  I also sent a letter as President of IUPS, which adheres to ICSU. Nobody in the world of learning can take seriously a professional organisation that purports to represent academic staff but which entertains proposals to discriminate whether it be on grounds of sex, race, national origin or other characteristics that are irrelevant to academic excellence.  Nonetheless our union has voted repeatedly in favour of such discrimination, and those who have been discriminated against are always Israelis.  The wording of the discriminatory resolutions has sometimes been contorted for legal reasons, but the intention has been transparent: to hold Israeli colleagues responsible for, and punish them for, the actions of their government via a type of reasoning (guilt by association) that is never applied to the academics of any other country.  Of course, I accept that the Israeli government is guilty of human-rights violations, and I accept that the union is entitled to criticise it.  But many other governments in the world are also guilty of human-rights violations, often far more egregious than those committed by Israel, and yet Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) have never been endorsed by the Annual Congress of UCU against any other country.

It is instructive to compare the motion about China adopted by Congress at its 2010 meeting with one of those about Israel.  (I choose these examples because both countries have been in occupation of the territories of a different ethnic group for many years and both have encouraged their citizens to settle in the territories thus occupied).  The motion on China, while asserting that UCU “will continue to condemn abuses of human rights of trade unionists and others”,  recognised “the need to encourage collegial dialogue” with Chinese institutions.  By contrast, a motion on Israel approved in the same session of Congress reaffirmed its support for BDS, sought to establish an annual international conference on BDS and a BDS website, and severed all relations with the Histadrut, the Israeli counterpart to the TUC.  There are many countries in the world whose governments are guilty of atrocities: there is no other country in the world whose national trade union organisation is boycotted by UCU.

I find it impossible not to ask myself why UCU exhibits this obsession with Israel.  The obvious explanation – that the union is institutionally anti-semitic – is so unpleasant that I have till recently been unwilling to accept it, but I changed my mind after witnessing the fate at the 2010 Congress of the motion of my local branch (University of Oxford) about Bongani Masuku.  As you know, Masuku was invited to a meeting on BDS hosted by the union in London last December.  Some months earlier, he had made a speech during a rally at the University of the Witwatersrand.  This speech has been described by the South African Human Rights Commission (the body set up by the Constitution to promote inter-racial harmony after the end of apartheid) as including “numerous anti-semitic remarks which were seen to have incited violence and hatred”.  The Oxford motion debated at Congress did not allege that the union invited Masuku despite knowing his views; instead it merely invited Congress to dissociate itself from Masuku’s views. This was the minimum that UCU could be expected to do to reassure members like me that we still belong.  That this motion was rejected by a large majority makes it clear to me that the union either regards anti-semitic views as acceptable or, at least, has no objection to their being expressed in public by the national official of a fraternal trade union organisation.  I do not wish to remain a member of such a union.

Yours sincerely

Denis Noble CBE, FRS
Michael Yudkin and David Smith, also Oxford scientists with global reputations have joined their colleague in resignation, with a letter in the Oxford magazine:

Sir – Like Denis Noble, we have been a member of UCU and its predecessor AUT, for more than 40 years.  Like him, we remained a member after retiring a few years ago from our University posts.

The facts set out in Denis’s letter to Sally Hunt show beyond dispute that UCU is now institutionally anti-semitic.  We too have resigned our membership of the union.

Yours Sincerely

Michael Yudkin, Kellogg College

David Smith, Department ofPharmacology

Sally Hunt’s reply is also published in the Oxford magazine, as follows:

Sir - UCU has always encouraged robust debate amongst members and will continue to do so.  As defenders of academic freedom all members’ opinions are welcome and their views are always treated fairly and with respect.

With regards to motions debated at our conference, it is members who propose motions and delegates who debate them and pass policy.  It is the job of the union to deliver the policy members decide.

A resignation is always a cause of concern for any organisation, even in a union like UCU which is among the fastest growing in the UK.  Our growth is a result of the current uncertain times, and it is vital that all academic and related staff have the protection of their union.  As would be expected of an academic union, members have a broad range of views on many issues including of course Israel/Palestine.

However for the avoidance of doubt let me use this opportunity to confirm that UCU does not endorse an academic  boycott of Israel and that our position of opposition to the occupation is, far from being extreme, in line with that of the TUC and most other UK trade unions.

Yours Sincerely

Sally Hunt, UCU

Here are links to a number of other previous resignations and statements of concern, relating to antisemitism in the union, writen by members.

This is Michael Yudkin’s case against the academic boycott of Israel.

This link reports that there are no longer any Jews left in UCU who are willing or able to oppose the boycott view at UCU Congress.

This is the Oxford motion relating to Bonganu Masuku, found guilty of antisemitic hate speech by the South African Human Rights Commission, which was rejected by UCU Congress.

This is the formal complaint relating to antisemitism in UCU that David Hirsh made and which was rejected by UCU.

8 Responses to “Open letter of resignation from UCU to Sally Hunt from Denis Noble”

  1. Institutionalised Racism And UCU. « ModernityBlog Says:

    [...] A recent letter of resignation (or 2) from the University and College Union highlights how the proposed boycott of Israelis has weakened the Trade Union movement in Britain. [...]

  2. Sarah AB Says:

    I think the comparison with China is a good one, as China is a country I imagine many universities might seek links with – by contrast with other countries with a bad human rights record but few ties with UK HE.

    I found the bit in Sally Hunt’s letter about growing membership a bit smug – the union can of course feel confident that it unlikely to be faced with mass resignations in the current climate.

  3. modernityblog Says:

    Let’s be honest Sally Hunt’s contribution is really a non-reply.

    Ms. Hunt is compelled to say something, but really can’t deal with the issues thrown up by the stream of resignations, which goes back to the issue of institutionalised racism.

  4. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Sally hunt says in her reply in the Oxford Magazine to those resigning from UCU that “However for the avoidance of doubt let me use this opportunity to confirm that UCU does not endorse an academic boycott of Israel…”

    If this is genuinely the case, why does the Annual Conference organising committee (or Rules Committee, or whatever it’s called) strike out as unacceptable the now-annual resolutions calling for a boycott of Israeli universities? Why does it not delete and refuse to admit to the agenda resolutions calling (according to Prof |Noble’s letter) for the establishment of “an annual international conference on BDS and a BDS website” and why has UCU (again according to Prof Noble) “severed all relations with the Histadrut, the Israeli counterpart to the TUC”?

    Especially as UCU does not seek to sever relations with any other national trade union movement.

    One is hard-pressed not to come to the same conclusion as Professor Noble: that the UCU, at its highest levels, has become institutionally antisemitic. Either that, or it is failing, at the highest levels, to recognise antisemitism when it is staring the UCU in the face.

  5. Jonathan Romer Says:

    Sally Hunt has a politician’s gift for claiming legitimacy from members’ “broad range of views on many issues including of course Israel/Palestine”, without ever acknowledging that her union’s positions are completely rigid and reflect that broad range not at all.

  6. The Faces of Antisemitism Today Says:

    [...] Union (UCU) of three Oxford faculty members, including biologist Dennis Noble, whose open letter read in part: Nobody in the world of learning can take seriously a professional organisation that [...]

  7. Gideon Swort Says:

    Denis Noble has been summarily dismissed.

    “UCU has always encouraged robust debate amongst members and will continue to do so. As defenders of academic freedom all members’ opinions are welcome and their views are always treated fairly and with respect.”

    This sentence frames Denis Nobles points as part of ‘the’ ongoing debate, and consequently frees Hunt from addressing the issues head on.

    “With regards to motions debated at our conference, it is members who propose motions and delegates who debate them and pass policy. It is the job of the union to deliver the policy members decide.”

    Here’s the misdirection. This sentence makes it clear that any consequential or implied “injury” or fault may not be extracted at the union’s leadership level, but is contained and may be faulted only at the Member’s level.

    “A resignation is always a cause of concern for any organisation, even in a union like UCU which is among the fastest growing in the UK. Our growth is a result of the current uncertain times, and it is vital that all academic and related staff have the protection of their union. As would be expected of an academic union, members have a broad range of views on many issues including of course Israel/Palestine.”

    The door’s direction has been shown, while being confident enough that many others will come through it in the opposite direction – so, on-yer-bike, no great loss to the union.

    “However for the avoidance of doubt let me use this opportunity to confirm that UCU does not endorse an academic boycott of Israel and that our position of opposition to the occupation is, far from being extreme, in line with that of the TUC and most other UK trade unions.”

    So, we know that the Union has taken legal counsel and appreciates that a blatant boycott may legally jeopardize them, and is taking the naturally selective, passive defense of safety by numbers.

    Union members are free to conduct their own personal boycotts, which may or may not be tacitly encouraged.

  8. Time to leave UCU argues Eve Garrard « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    [...] For the resignation letter of Dennis Noble, Michael Yudkin and David Smith, click here. [...]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 121 other followers

%d bloggers like this: