Jewish Chronicle Report of UCU meeting on antisemitism

This report, by Leon Symons, is from the JC.

The University and College Union has been accused of being antisemitic and institutionally racist by one of its members at a seminar it was running — to fight antisemitism.

The union, whose repeated attempts to introduce an academic boycott of Israel have led to a number of resignations, was the subject of a scathing attack by David Hirsh, who runs the Engage anti-boycott website.

Mr Hirsh told the seminar in Brighton that “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”.

Mr Hirsh said: “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.”

He declared: “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. UCU entirely refuses to investigate concern about institutional antisemitism when raised through the proper channels, by members.”

But his comments led to a furious exchange with UCU executive committee member Tom Hickey, the man behind the boycott campaign.

Mr Hickey accused Mr Hirsh of telling lies; Mr Hirsh said that this was part of the “structure of intimidation” used against Jewish members who opposed the boycott.

The seminar was the first of three called “The Legacy of Hope: Antisemitism, the Holocaust and Remembrance, yesterday and today” that the union undertook to hold as a result of a resolution at its congress last May. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt chaired the meeting.

Six academics, including Mr Hirsh and Mr Hickey, spoke, with a panel debate at the end. Panellist Mary Davis, professor of labour history at the London Metropolitan University, admitted she felt “isolated and, yes, intimidated” at last May’s congress because she was the only Jew present and the only one prepared to speak out against the boycott.

Mr Hickey denied Professor Davis had been intimidated and then attacked Mr Hirsh. “David Hirsh’s contribution was supposed to be about the existence of a variety of forms of antisemitism. The only thing we heard was the union discussing the boycott question. The discussion of the appropriateness of a boycott of Israel by the UCU is not an example of antisemitism, and to ignore all of the real forms of antisemitism in Europe today is, quite simply, a disgrace.”

Mr Hickey said Mr Hirsh’s accusations about institutional racism, antisemitism and intimidation were “a traducement of the truth and it’s a straightforward lie and the author knows it. There has been no intimidation — the union and the chief executive would not allow it.”

Mr Hirsh hit back: “He said there was no intimidation in UCU notwithstanding all the examples I gave. But that explains the structure of intimidation in UCU. They don’t want any debate of evidence. We are routinely accused of being liars for Israel, but I would like to hear the evidence.

“Is the Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism (which described an academic boycott of Israel as ‘anti-Jewish’) a liar for Israel, or are the people who wrote letters to UCU liars for Israel? The structure of intimidation is that we are ‘liars for Israel’ and that’s a really serious problem.”

This report, by Leon Symons, is from the JC.

Note by David Hirsh:

Leon Symons is wrong to say that Mary Davis was the only Jew present at the 2009 UCU Congress.  The point I have made is that there were no Jews present at that Congress who were prepared to speak against the boycott.  Mary Davis is against the boycott and did make a procedural move against the boycott but did not speak against it in the debate.  Of course there are lots of Jews at UCU Congress who are prepared to speak for the boycott.   My piece on that Congress is here:

Tom Hickey’s point was telling.   Leon Symons is right to report that he accused me, and everybody else who raises the issue of antisemitism in the union of doing so dishonestly – of being liars for Israel.  I responded that by doing so Hickey demonstrates the precise nature of the intimidation.  People who raise the issue of antisemitism in the union are not related to as people with whom the boycotters disagree – there is no debate, presentation of evidence, or arguement – instead they are related as people who are liars for Israel – and denounced as such.  So if you raise a question about antisemitism in the union, somebody will intimidate you by accusing you of being part of a conspiracy to lie in order to try to de-legitimize criticism of Israeli human rights abuses.  People who raise the issue of antisemitism are denounced as liars.  No evidence is ever offered to show that we do not mean what we say.  Ever.

The text of my talk at this UCU event is here:

19 Responses to “Jewish Chronicle Report of UCU meeting on antisemitism”

  1. David K. Says:

    The Tom Hickey case in essence: I’m not a bully, and I will thump anyone who says otherwise.

  2. Ex-UCU member Says:

    Let me get this right,

    David Hirsh accuses the UCU are allowing antisemitism through the back door provided it is packaged in the language of antisemitism.

    One of the antisemitic allegations made against Jewish (and non-Jewish) members who raise the question of antisemitism is that they cannot be trusted, that they are liars, that they do not mean what they say, that they will abuse their own history of oppression for no other reason than to “defend” Israel (although in the past, the claim of Jews as liars made referred to other issues of what it was thought Jews were lying about).

    Tom Hickey denies antisemitism in the Union.

    In denying antisemitism in the Union, he accuses David Hirsh (and as Hirsh says. by implication all UCU members who raise the issue of antisemitism) of lying. In so doing, Hickey perpetuates the antisemitic myth that, that they, the Jews, cannot be trusted, that they are liars, that they do not mean what they say, that they will abuse their own history of oppression, all for no for no other reason than to “defend” their co-brethren in Israel.

    At a seminar dealing with antisemitism, Tom Hickey counters an argument about antisemitism through his own adoption of an antisemitic trope.

    Why am I not surprised?

  3. duncan bryson Says:

    I witnessed the debate at UCU congress in both 2008 and 2009. The 2008 congress debate was very bad tempered, abusive even. In 2009 there seemed to be less vitriol. This does not mean there was not intimidation. I did not speak against the boycott motion in 2009 because, in a way,I felt intimidated. The debates invariably became very personal , Bricup stated on their website that opposers of boycott were ‘apologists for massacre’, even those opposing a motion which urged the ‘recognition of the democratically elected govt of gaza’ did so sheepishly and with many caveats (and unsuccessfully). In this environment it was easy to let debate go by without speaking, especially as speaking would seem to have so little effect and alienated you from so many. The intimidation was not loud or obvious, but it was effective.

  4. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Tom Hickey accuses David Hirsh of lying, but oh so conveniently forgets his own masterful contribution to the BMJ online “debate” and vote on the question of a boycott of Israeli universities back in June 2007, during which he produced this gem:

    “And we are speaking of a culture, both in Israel and in the long history of the Jewish diaspora, in which education and scholarship are held in high regard. That is why an academic boycott might have a desirable political effect in Israel, an effect that might not be expected elsewhere.”

    Is there anyone involved in this field who hasn’t read this gem yet? Clearly, Hickey has forgotten it – he should. He should be ashamed of ever having written or said anything like this, which is blatantly antisemitic. And then he has the gold-plated nerve to accuse David H. of lying. Actually, that’s better described as chutzpah – the Yiddish word is much more expressive.

    Of course, he has to, to try and divert everyone alse’s attention from the truth: which is _precisely_ as D.H. has stated it. His stance is that of the post-modernist: truth is relative, and depends on the stance and beliefs of the asserter. The best and most egregious example of this is the female academic who insisted that the speed of light was masculinist/sexist, because it was determined by men.

    The problem is that in the non-physical sphere (try insisting that the car in whose path you’re standing as it moves at 70 mph in a straight line towards you isn’t really there), it can sound plausible. Even if no evidence is ever produced in defence and one (as David K. aboves notes) threatens to punch anyone who produces the actual evidence that refutes you.

    If it weren’t for the fact that it would irreparably harm UCU and the vast majority of its innocent members, I’d love to see Hickey and his comrades in the SWP/UCULeft faction get their way over a boycott. How would they cope with the legal juggernaut that would steamroller them? Deny its existence? How would they cope with the universities and colleges that would promptly discipline, possibly even dismiss, them and derecognise the union in order to avoid a similar legal fate for breaches of the law? Call them fascists? Tools of the Israeli government? Or of the capitalist overclass?

    These are people who refuse to recognise reality when it bites them on the nose, because to do so would demand that they change at least _some_ aspects of their weltaunschang, and that would be too traumatic for their ideology to cope with. They are as rigid as any hard-line far-right winger, and the clinical psychologists would have a field day with them: even those who are really English Literature specialists (and, yes, I do mean J. Rose).

  5. modernityblog Says:

    Shame no video of the meeting, but then again would they want such an obvious public record?

    I wonder if one of the few remaining UCU members could ask, if and when there is another meeting, that it be videoed for posterity.

  6. Mark Gardner Says:

    Tom Hickey lived down to his stereotype, but how was everybody else?

  7. zkharya Says:

    l liked david’s ‘antisemitism long, long ago’. Yes, hickey, swp-ucu want to focus on antisemitism that threatens the fewer jews, or millions of dead ones, rather than that most threatening the greater number of jews, the anti-zionist variety. They fight the battles of 60 years ago, 60 years too late, and thus recapitulate the errors of the past; unwilling to examine their faulty premises.

  8. stickler Says:

    I spotted your contribution to a piece in the Jerusalem Post and you
    mention how “Israeli anti-Zionists boast that their country carries out
    the most important and horrific genocides in the world” or that “Israelis
    are a unique evil on the planet”.

    This is shocking – do you David (or anyone else) have some examples of
    this to share?

  9. Absolute Observer Says:

    Well, there’s the comparison with Guernica;
    there is the implication in the call to boycott Israel and only Israel which, to be consistent, must mean that of the 200 odd countries out of which Israel is chosen, they must be “unique” in some way – other, that is, of being the only Jewish state in the world.

    Be that as it may, this is a thread about antisemitism both within and without the UCU.

    It would be a shame if this important discussion were distracted about another matter.
    Perhaps, Stickler, you would like to contribute to the discussion actually taking place, rather than another story.

  10. stickler Says:

    Sorry absolute obsever, but I was just trying to ask this question somewhere (I know its not stricly on topic!)
    I couldn’t believe that there were israeli antizionists making these boasts so hoped to learn of some examples from david or anyone else.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Avi Shlaim is cited in the article you link to, and if want _really_ hard-core Israeli anti-zionism, just try googling Gilad Atzmon. He may be a good or very good jazz musician, but as for his political views…Hope you have a long pair of tongs to hold the resulting material you access.

  11. Bill Says:

    “Yes, hickey, swp-ucu want to focus on antisemitism that threatens the fewer jews, or millions of dead ones, rather than that most threatening the greater number of jews, the anti-zionist variety. They fight the battles of 60 years ago, 60 years too late, and thus recapitulate the errors of the past; unwilling to examine their faulty premises.”

    It’s no different than the alternative strategy of defining anti-semitism as The Protocols, racism as cross burning and sexism as slapping coeds on the fan… uh bum.

    Antisemitism isn’t their problem to think about on a day-to-day basis ’cause they have defined it into a museum item, either safely behind sealed glass like a document or on a pedestal protected like a valuable piece of art. Yet it so easily finds its way into their camera bag as they walk out of the museum with a shocked but innocent “gee, how did that get there?”. Good question for ya’, Tom.

  12. zkharya Says:

    exactly so, bill. They use acknowledgment of the holocaust as the touchstone of their authority, even as the gentile, greco roman church fathers stressed alleged continuity with the israel of the old testament to put real, living jews in their place (or, sometimes, out of it).

  13. Thomas Venner Says:

    Someone really ought to start putting pressure on UCU to show a bit of consistency with their “boycotting” (or, to be more accurate, academic censorship), and also carry out a total academic boycott of, say, China, Iran, possibly the USA, followed by every other state with dodgy human rights records.

  14. UCU’s poster of far right antisemitism « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] chooses to think about the Holocaust in relation to its own activities hasn’t been sufficient to keep it free of other forms of antisemitism. Posted in Holocaust, UCU. Leave a Comment […]

  15. UCU’s poster on the Holocaust « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] chooses to think about the Holocaust in relation to its own activities hasn’t been sufficient to keep it free of other forms of antisemitism. Posted in Holocaust, UCU. Leave a Comment […]

  16. Demonic on Campus: British students and academics instigate new anti-Israel measures « Says:

    […] members has been hijacked by elements devoted to the boycott of Israel.  (See, for instance, the items on the Congress’s agenda, which in addition to issues directly focusing […]

  17. The tipping point for UCU -David Hirsh « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] They will be worried about the rules of disclosure.  They will wonder what the emails between Tom Hickey and Matt Waddup and Sally Hunt and Mike Cushman might reveal if they were made available to Ronnie […]

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