Dear Sally Hunt,
I note the official UCU rejection of the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) working definition of anti-Semitism at the recent UCU Congress.
One part of that working definition rejected by the union stands out: it is anti-Semitic to ‘deny the right of the Jewish people to self-determination’, within some borders, unspecified as what they might be. It is hard for me to comprehend how anyone could consider this relatively anodyne claim as unacceptable, let alone reject it as a current form of anti-Semitism, which it most certainly is.
I also note that in rejecting this definition, they have singled out anti-Semitism from other forms of prejudice as something only they, and not the victims, have the right to identify. So a group of mainly non-Jewish trade unionists feels no compunction in telling its Jewish minority what anti-Semitism feels like. Read the transcript of the speech by Ronnie Fraser (http://www.academics-for-israel.org/index.php?page=v10n4), the lone (brave) Jew to speak out against the motion at Congress, and reflect on the fact that his words were met with stoney silence according to contemporaneous reports.
Given that no external body has or is likely to require UCU to take a position on this definition, the decision by UCU to single out anti-Semitism in this way is hard to understand
Yet when one considers the acceptance of actual and indirect expressions of anti-Semitism within UCU, perhaps the position becomes easier to understand. For example, in 2009, UCU invited Bonganu Masuku, a South African trade unionist who had just been found by the South African Human Rights Commission to have made anti-Semitic remarks, to the UK to speak about boycotting Israel. When challenged about Mr Masuku’s comments, UCU defended him by saying the claims against him were “not credible”. Additionally, there have been a number of oral and written comments by UCU members (see http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/02/20/mike-cushmans-protocols-moment/, for example) that can be regarded as anti-Semitic in character, but no action has been taken in respect of these by UCU.
At a time when working conditions and pay are under extreme pressure, it is incredible to me, and no doubt to most academics and external observers, that UCU chooses to waste its time on these ridiculous motions, which bear no relationship to its fundamental purpose as a union to protect the pay and working conditions of its members.
As a Jew, I wonder very seriously whether I should, following many resignations by Jewish members over the last six years, leave this tainted organization. Yet the academic community needs union representation in respect of its legitimate defence of pay and working conditions in the context of the spending review as never before. It is only my hope that the vast majority of UCU members do not ascribe to these views, and that they are confined to a misguided activist minority, that makes me hesitate, although voices of protest against the motion from rank and file members have been not been raised with any noticeable vigour.
Principal Lecturer in Education
Department of Education
London South Bank University