Union of Jewish Students respond to their lecturers’ decision at Congress

This piece is by Dan Sheldon, incoming Campaigns Director of the Union of Jewish Students.

Throwing the bathroom out with the bathwater

That the UCU has chosen to condemn and disassociate itself from the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism is no surprise. Infact, that’s probably one of the worst aspects of this whole saga – that such a policy position has been able to establish itself without much serious consideration or opposition. Such is the sorry state of the national lecturers’ union.

Why, then, have I found myself so shocked by this grimly inevitable turn of events? Why have so many Jewish students – and others – expressed outrage?

Perhaps it is because this decision betrays an ignorance one wouldn’t expect of a collective of academics. Ignorance of the nature of antisemitism, with its coded language and deep rooted stereotypes. Perhaps they are unaware of the prevalence of such prejudice, and precisely why it is considered racist? Or perhaps they are ignorant of the recent NUS Hate Crime Interim Report, a survey of over 9,000 students? It found that 31% of Jewish students had experienced a hate incident – far more than any other religious group.

Ignorance, too, of a basic logic - spelt out by Eve Garrad here - that it is possible to be critical (or more) of Israel whilst also engaging in antisemism.  To state that criticism of Israel is always antisemitic is wrong and devalues antisemitism. However, those who hold that criticism of Israel can never be antisemitic are either blind to basic logic or acting in bad faith.

Ignorance, also, of what the Working Definition actually is. How anybody who has read the Working Definition can maintain that it “confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine antisemitism” is beyond me. In fact, it is this very confusion that the Working Definition aims to clear up.

To be sure, the Working Definition is not perfect. It never claimed to be, hence why it is known as the Working Definition. That’s why the preamble to the definition states that it is intended to be a “practical guide”, and the definition itself contains the caveat “could, taking into account the overall context” when listing potential examples of antisemitism.

In fact, any attempt to construct a perfect definition of antisemitism, or any form of prejudice, is something of a fool’s mission. No definition can capture every possible instance of prejudice, especially within something as multi-faceted and ever-evolving as antisemitism. Nor can a single definition ever take full account of the overall context and perception of the victim.

However, to afford the Working Definition the status of a definitive, water tight definition is to construct a massive, luminous straw man in this discussion.

Let me be clear – the Working Definition is not a binding hate speech code, it is not law and it should not be treated as such. Rather, it is a useful primer on antisemitism; an accessible tool for educating on and identifying antisemitism. For universities and students’ unions, it sums up in one page what Anthony Julius’ Trials of the Diaspora does in 864. It is the start of a serious conversation about antisemitism, not the last word.

Where, then, has this misplaced perception of the Working Definition’s intent and purpose come from? No doubt there are some who misunderstand and misuse the Working Definition. Instead of using it as a pedagogical resource or a tool for monitoring antisemitism, some may attempt to use the Working Definition as a means to punish those responsible for expressions similar to those potential examples of antisemitism it lists. To the contrary, this is not the position of the Union of Jewish Students, the Community Security Trust, the Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism, the American Jewish Congress or anybody else who does serious work on this issue.

To pretend, as the UCU policy does, that the Working Definition “is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus” leaves the impression that this is a widespread issue; that the Working Definition is regularly used to punish those who criticise Israel.

Where, then, is the evidence for such a claim? The example cited in the debate at UCU Congresswas that the recent ‘Freedom for Palestine’ motion adopted by NUS had been objected to on the grounds that it breached the Working Definition. In fact, this example proves that it is, in fact, perfectly possible to debate and criticise Israel without being accused of antisemitism. Despite having adopted the Working Definition (twice, after full debates at National Conference), NUS was able to debate and adopt a policy extremely critical of Israel. No claims were made at the time, or subsequently, that this policy breaches the Working Definition.

Quite simply, the claim that the Working Definition – when properly used – shuts down debate on Israel does not stand up to scrutiny.

The UCU, however, cannot claim to be in any doubt about the purpose of the Working Definition. The proposers of the motion have clearly read it very carefully and they know full well that it is intended to be a working guide. They just don’t agree with the content – that’s why they have dismissed it entirely, making “no use” of it, not even in “educating members”.

If the UCU were merely guilty of ignorance, that could be understood and – through education and dialogue – resolved. If someone had proposed that the UCU adopt the Working Definition, and Congress were to reject it, that would be the result of ignorance. Regrettable, but understandable.

However, the UCU has never used the Working Definition, and nobody proposed that it should start doing so. Instead, UCU has decided, apropos of nothing, to condemn the Working Definition whilst offering no serious alternative. In doing so, they have singled out antisemitism from other forms of prejudice as something only they, and not the victims, have the right to identify.

That’s where this goes beyond ignorance into genuine malice. One is left wondering what occupies the thoughts of those who are so keen to lecture Jews on what constitutes antisemitism. Jewish students are left wondering whether their lecturers’ commitment to “combat all forms of racial or religious discrimination” is anything other than hollow rhetoric.

This piece is by Dan Sheldon, incoming Campaigns Director of the Union of Jewish Students.

Ronnie Fraser’s (Academic Friends of Israel) Speech to UCU Congress

I, a Jewish member of this union, am telling you, that I feel an antisemitic mood in this union and even in this room.

I would feel your refusal to engage with the EUMC definition of antisemitism, if you pass this motion, as a racist act.

Many Jews have resigned from this union citing their experience of antisemitsim.  

Only yesterday a delegate here said: “they are an expansionist people”. It is difficult to think that the people in question are anything other than the Jews.

You may disagree with me.  You may disagree with all the other Jewish members who have said similar things.

You may think we are mistaken.  But you have a duty to listen seriously.

Instead of being listened to, I am routinely told that anyone who raises the issue of antisemitism is doing so in bad faith.

Congress, Imagine how it feels when you say that you are experiencing racism, and your union responds: “Stop lying, stop trying to play the antisemitism card.”

You, a group of mainly white, non-Jewish trade unionists, do not have the right to tell me, a Jew, what feels like antisemitism and what does not.

Macpherson tells us that when somebody says they have been a victim of racism, then institutions should begin by believing them. This motion mandates the union to do the opposite.

Until this union takes complaints of antisemitsim seriously the UCU will continue to be labelled as an institutionally antisemitic organisation.

It’s true that anti-Zionist Jews may perceive things differently.  But the overwhelming majority of Jews feel that there is something wrong in this union. They understand that it is legitimate to criticise Israel in a way that is, quoting from the definition, “similar to that levelled to any other country” but they make a distinction between criticism and the kind of demonisation that is considered acceptable in this union.

Ronnie was met with stoney silence.

Live blogging from UCU Congress: the EUMC Working Definition

1439.  Congress is discussing rule changes for the union.

1440.  The motion we’re here for is the following, proposed by the National Executive Committee of the union:

70 EUMC working definition of anti-semitism - National Executive Committee

Congress notes with concern that the so-called ‘EUMC working definition of antisemitism’, while not adopted by the EU or the UK government and having no official status, is being used by bodies such as the NUS and local student unions in relation to activities on campus.

Congress believes that the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine antisemitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.

Congress resolves:

  1. that UCU will make no use of the EUMC definition (e.g. in educating members or dealing with internal complaints)
  2. that UCU will dissociate itself from the EUMC definition in any public discussion on the matter in which UCU is involved
  3. that UCU will campaign for open debate on campus concerning Israel’s past history and current policy, while continuing to combat all forms of racial or religious discrimination

1443. proposal to change the rules to allow Conference Business Committee to co-opt members between Congresses

1445.  Business of the equality committee.  Chair of the committee to move.

1448. Marion Hersh argues for Motion 66, which says that the union should be in favour of institutions carrying out equality impact assessments.  This means that things such as cuts imposed by universities shouldn’t impact on one ‘equality’ group more than another.

But there is no call that the union itself should undergo an equality impact assessment about how its policies on Israel impacts on minorities within the union.

1458.  Motion 67.  From Black members standing commitee.  Another motion about impact assessment.  remitted.

1500.  Motion 68.  Every branch should have a properly resourced Equalities Officer.

1503.  Motion 69. “defend multiculturalism”.  conratulate UAF for its opposition to the EDl.  Work with UAF and Hope Not Hate against fascism.  Defend the values of multiculturalism.

1504.  The atmosphere in conference is calm, quiet relaxed.  Nobody is cheering or booing.  Just doing business in a normal kind of way.    See if the atmosphere changes for motion 70 on the EUMC defiinition?

1505.  Ammendment: give United Against Fascism (UAF) £1000.

1509.  another speech about how the EDL’s “flash mob” tactics make it necessary for the union to give £1000 to UAF.

1511.  vote on the motion.  Surprisingly, Sally Hunt is on the platform.

1512.  Sue Blackwell to propose the motion against the EUMC.  definition adopted by NUS, parliamentary inquiry, US State Department.  In Jan 2010 Denis Mcshane tried to have Azzam Tammimi banned from speaking.  [Tammimi is Hamas's guy in London - DH]  Blackwell goes on,McShane argued that an external speaker should be rejected if they have a history of antisemitic language in line with the EUMC…”   EUMC comes from the American Jewish Committee, European Jewish Congress, self confessed lobby groups for Israel.  Ken Stern, author of EUMC is deeply concerned about “politically based antisemitism” otherwise known as antizionism which treats Israel as the classic Jew….  antisemites seek to qualify israel from membership of the community of nations.”  In other words, if you are for a boycott, you are an antisemite.  These influences are evidenced by American spellings in the document.  Definition is not fit for finding Real antisemitism but is ideal for those who want to blur boundaries between antisemitism and antizionism.

1515.  Mike Cushman, LSE.  Opponents of this motion have been filling the internet with insults against this union.  Lets see how EUMC definition is used.

One example:  a member wrote “no compromise with Zionists or university closures”.  Claimed to be antisemitic.  Linking the international with the local is part of our politics.  Not racist.  By making Israel a special case the proponents of EUMC are being antisemitic.

Cushman goes on: David Hirsh that “expert” on antisemitism says “Israel murders children is antisemitic”   Not its not, its pro children.  Antisemitism must never never  be normalized.  Puts jews at risk  Crying wolf puts the sheep and the shepherd at hazard.

Support this motion because the EUMC definition is dangerous to Jews.

1517.   Ronnie Fraser (I had this text already):

I, a Jewish member of this union, am telling you, that I feel an antisemitic mood in this union and even in this room.

I would feel your refusal to engage with the EUMC definition of antisemitism, if you pass this motion, as a racist act.

Many Jews have resigned from this union citing their experience of antisemitsim.   Only yesterday a delegate here said ‘they are an expansionist people”. It is difficult to think that the people in question are anything other than the Jews.

You may disagree with me.

You may disagree with all the other Jewish members who have said similar things.

You may think we are mistaken but you have a duty to listen seriously.

Instead of being listened to, I am routinely told that anyone who raises the issue of antisemitism is doing so in bad faith.

Congress, Imagine how it feels when you say that you are experiencing racism, and your union responds: stop lying, stop trying to play the antisemitism card.

You, a group of mainly white, non-Jewish trade unionists, do not the right to tell me, a Jew, what feels like antisemitism and what does not.

Macpherson tells us that when somebody says they have been a victim of racism, then institutions should begin by believing them. This motion mandates the union to do the opposite.

Until this union takes complaints of antisemitsim seriously the UCU will continue to be labelled as an institutionally antisemitic organisation.

It’s true that anti-Zionist Jews may perceive things differently.  But the overwhelming majority of Jews feel that there is something wrong in this union. They understand that it is legitimate to criticise Israel in a way that is, quoting from the definition, “similar to that levelled to any other country’ but they make a distinction between criticism and the kind of demonisation that is considered acceptable in this union

Ronnie met with stoney silence.

1519.  Speech against.  Pete Radcliffe, (AWL).  No definition of any form of racism can prevent misuse.  each time an accusation of racism is made it should be assessed by the specifics.

The fact that defs may have been misused is no argument that they are wrong.

What does it say?

Look at what is written.

The most controversial is where it says those who claim that the existence of the israeli state are antisemitic.  Consider the peaceniks and the Israeli peace movement.  The def says that to call such people racist – because they are Israelis – is antisemitic.  They are Israelis who aren’t racist.

Congress we should be endorsing this definition, not condemning it.

We are going to have a general secretary election.  We need to take care.  OUr union is never more in the public eye.  do we want to make this a bit issue?

[Link to Pete's whole speech is here: http://www.workersliberty.org/blogs/pete/2011/05/30/speech-opposition-ucus-junking-eumc-antisemitism-definition]

Des Freedman, Goldsmiths.  “As a Jewish member of this union I urge you to support.”

By conflating justificed criticism of Israel with antisemitism it restricts our ability to make justified criticism.

One example:  the NEC of NUS recently passed a motion calling for freedom for Palestine.  The reaction by the outgoing president was to promise to campaign against it and referred to it as a form of hate speech.  The point of something like that which was much debated, reflecting on the events for example in gAza, over a thousand people who were killed – adopting the EUMC definition unnecessarily curtails our ability to intervene, to call for justice, to call for freedom for Palestinians.

We shouled be firm in opposition to a-s.  EUMC prevents us from doing that.  I urge support.

1526.  Another speech.  This union should not be challenging antisemitism by rejecting a definition.  We should propose our own definition if we want to speak on this.

EUMC does not use the definition.

1527.  Sean Wallis.  Definitions include things and exclude things.  Read the definition and you’ll see how we need to be clear.  My branch defines antisemitism as a form of racism and so we oppose it.  The only way of doing this concretely is in concrete circumstances.  This elaborate extensive definition is unhelpful.    I was libelled 2 years ago.  There are people in this room who participated in this libel.  As a jew I find it offensive that the term antisemitism should be used in this way.  Throw it out .  It is not a definition. It is not working.

[ I think Sean Wallis means us:https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/ucl-ucu-branch-secretary-sean-wallis-lines-up-with-antisemitic-lehman-brothers-conspiracy-theorists/  - DH]

Ronnie Fraser point of information.

The EUMC definition itself.  It is used by law enforcement authorities throughout the world for guidance to recognise antisemitic statements and acts.  It is recommended to be used in academic and the unions by the Parliamentary Conference of 2009.

Sue Blackwell:  I think Ronnie just made a speech in favour of the m0tion – that’s why we should be worried about it.

EUMC has been replaced.  successor organisation have no plans for any further development of it.  the latest publication doesn’t mention the definition.  They’ve dumped it because it is not fit for purpose.

Whether we need an alternative definition.  I recommend Brian Klug’s “hostility towards Jews as Jews”.

Quoting richard Kuper: the strong fight back by israel and its supporters has been sometimes crude… the EUMC has been effective.  inadequate, yet it is increasingly presented as THE definition of antisemitism, it cannot bear this weight.

The vote was overwhelmingly carried.  4 people, I think, voted against.

After the vote, Ronnie was very upset.  “I feel physically sick and so upset because of their racism,” he told me.  He was close to tears.

DH

[Link to Pete Radcliffe's whole speech is here: http://www.workersliberty.org/blogs/pete/2011/05/30/speech-opposition-ucus-junking-eumc-antisemitism-definition]

Press release from Academic Friends of Israel

 

The Academic Friends of Israel

            Press Release

For immediate release 29 May 2011

The Academic Friends of Israel condemns the University College Union for passing an illegal resolution that promotes the academic and cultural boycott of Israel

The Academic Friends of Israel condemns the University College Union for passing a resolution today at its conference in Harrogate which ignores the legal advice that the UCU received in 2007 which made it clear that distributing and promoting a call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel is in breach of discrimination and equality legislation and also outside the aims and objects of the union.

Ronnie Fraser, Director of the Academic Friends of Israel, commented:

“If UCU distributes copies of the Palestinian boycott call to its members or promotes the call with Education International or its affiliates it is effectively asking them to participate in the boycott. As well as being in breach of the 2010 Equality act; their actions would also be outside the aims and objects of the union.

The rhetoric used against Israel in the debate today was totally unacceptable such as Israel is an authoritarian, totalitarian and fascist state.  The motion also contains a relentless attack on the Jewish state and follows similar motions that have been adopted at UCU conferences over the last five years.  No other state in the world has been singled out for attack in this way. There might be some justification for such an attack if the facts alleged in the preamble were true.  In fact almost everything stated is a falsehood , Moreover, any state has the right to penalise those involved in economic boycotts against it, and the implied condemnation of Israel for doing so, or for considering such action, is the application of double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

He continued:

“I recognise of course that many of these issues are open to debate and discussion and that legitimate criticism of Israel is acceptable.  But the recitation of a long list of allegations against Israel, and Israel alone, without any recognition that Palestinians might bear any guilt or responsibility for the current impasse, or for their own crimes against Israelis, is one-sided and antisemitic.”

END

For further details, please contact Ronnie Fraser, Director of The Academic Friends of Israel, via email (mail@academics-for-israel.org).

 

The Academic Friends of Israel

            Press Release

Appendix: UCU motion 36        

Composite: Threats to academic freedom in Israel and Palestine                  National Executive Committee, LSE

Congress notes:

  1. Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestine and daily oppression of Palestinian teachers and students
  2. the restrictions on the free movement of Palestinian Academics within the Occupied Territories and crossing between the Territories and Israel and on foreign travel
  3. Israel’s ongoing construction of settlements
  4. the current witch-hunting of Israeli academics, civil rights campaigners and NGOs who are deemed to be damaging Israel’s economic interests by their political activities
  5. the recent alarming moves in the Israeli Knesset to penalise Israeli academics who support boycott action or even just provide information which may assist boycotts; this law will lay academics open to fines of £5000 with ‘no need to demonstrate that injury was done’ and to unlimited damages if losses are caused.
  6. the petition from 155 Israeli academics expressing their “unwillingness to take part in any type of academic activity taking place in the college operating in the settlement of Ariel”, calling Ariel an illegal settlement whose existence contravenes international law and the Geneva Convention.

Congress deplores these attacks on the academic freedom of our Palestinian and Israeli colleagues.

Congress instructs NEC to:

  1. circulate to all members
  • the call by the Israeli academics
  • the PACBI call for academic and cultural boycott of Israel
  • information about the current legislation passing through the Knesset threatening heavy fines and other penalties on Israelis taking non-violent action against the occupation.
  1. seek a delegation to meet the Israeli Ambassador to raise our concerns
  2. press the Foreign Office to protest to the Israeli Government
  3. raise the issue with Education International and press them to seek similar action by all affiliates
  4. publicise these threats and our actions in response.

Live Blogging from UCU Congress

1657.  Congress is due to finish at 6 today and is running late.  This boycott motion is on the agenda but it looks like it may not be taken today.

1659.  I am going to describe what is going on – to the best of my ability.  When something is “in quotation marks” then it is a direct accurate quote.  When there are no marks, it is my description of what is being said.

1701.  Sally Hunt, General Secretary spoke half an hour ago.  It was a general critique of Government education policy.  A call for some reform in the union – including reducing the size of the NEC. She made an appeal against factionalism.  Preparing her bid for re-election?

1706.  Debating motion concerning the timing of Congress.

1707.  Coming up later, mtion L10 Venezuela:  “UCU Congress notes the unilateral and unlawful sanctions imposed by the US administration against the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA for trading with Iran.  Venzuela is a sovereign country that has the right to trade with any country it chooses.”  So this Congress may vote to “circulate the PACBI call” for an academic boycott of Israel while at the same time “strongly condemning US sanctions against PDVSA”.  We’ll see.

1713. Coming up, the international debate, starting with  Composite 35, wishing Amnesty International a happy 50th birthday and seeking ways to work with it.

1716.  A count has been ordered on Motion 34 concerning future timings of UCU Congresses.

1720.  Amnesty motion next, and then is the motion entitled “Threats to Academic Freedom in Israel and Palestine”.   We are still counting votes on the motion about Congress timing.

1725.  Amnesty International.  Marion Hersh proposing for the NEC.

1726.  Not contentious.  I’m going to briefly talk about Amnesty International.    Amnesty does good work supporing womens rights and LGBT people.  Amnesty has done interesting work on recent events in the MIddle EAst and Egypt.  Also calling for the impeachment of Ghadaffi.  This is urging us to strenthen our links and support Amnesty.

1728.  Mike Cushman for LSE moving.  UCU has always been proud of its record for defending academics under attack from Columbia to Burma and beyond.  What kind of state crminalizes non violent civil society action against criminality?  An authoritarian, totalitarian and fascist state.   A bill in the Knesset that will do exactly that.  “it is prohibited to initiate a boycott against Israel…”

Criminality every day.  And it says if you engage in BDS  – you will be liable for a fine of £5000 each time.  If you provide information, if you do research, if you find out what is going on in the occupied territories, you will be fined.

The money will be paid to the people who have been boycotted.  This bill mixes criminal and civil law.  £5000 every time you do some research that says this settlement is exporting goods illegally.  I Beg to move.

1732. Sue Blackwell.  Ariel is the 4th largest settlement in the West Bank.  The wall around Ariel separates Palestinians from their services.  Once a 5 minute trip now takes half an hour.  Waste from ariel pollutes Palestinian villages.  Ariel receives more money than other places in Israel.

There is a conference at Ariel conf tomorrow.  Gush shalom is calling for a boycott of this conference.  American Jewish activist Lawrence Davidson has dubbed it “criminal criminology”.

We should not forget that our Palestinian colleagues believe that the exclusive focus on settlement institutions obscures the call against all israeli institutions.

1733. Ronnie Fraser.  I would like to remind proposers of this motion they ignore UCU’s legal advice.  Distributing and promoting the call for a boycott is in breach of legislation.  outside the aims of our union.  if this is adopted and the NEC distributes the boycott cal then it is in breach of the Equality Act 2010.

If any UCU officer or member of the NEC were to raise the matter of the boycott the union will be once again guilty and in breach of the equality legislation.  The Legal advice also prevents us supporting a call for a boycott by others.

This affects me now.  I hold a position at an Israeli university.

Motion 36 contains a relentless unique attack against the Jewish state.  And almost everything stated in the motion is false.

Any state has the right to penalise those involved in boycotts against it.

Chair: stop now please.

Ronnie asks to raise a point of order.

No, says the chair.

Chair: “you need to stop now and if you do not stop I will ask for your microphone to be cut”.  You can raise a point of order later”

Next a delegate named “David” by the Chair.  He made an emotional speech.  He said that some settlers in the West Bank are against the wall, saying that they wanted to build houses on the land taken up by the wall.  He said they wanted to build from the Nile to the Euphrates.  “This is an expansionist people” he said.

Camila Bassi – motion is unbalanced.  No criticism of Hamas, which prevented people from protesting in support of the Egyptian uprising

Mike Cushman: We have been misled from the platform.  Don’t worry.  We’re not going to be sued.  You can stand up for justice and it won’t cost you.

Ronnie Fraser, point of order.  The legal advice made it clear that calling for boycott would expose us to legal action.  I ask that the following points be withdrawn as they are asking the members of the NEC to break the law.

Paul cotteril: if any of the motions would have raised legal issues, congress would have been so advised.

Big round of applause.

Move to the vote.

Very clearly carried.  (as many as 10 people voted against the motion).  Maybe half a dozen abstentions.

That’s it for today.   Motion was overwhelmingly carried as we knew it would be.

The claim that some of the settlers want to occupy all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates was extra-ordinary.  His claim then that “This is an expansionist people” is an antisemitic claim.

Same time tomorrow.  Sorry for the rushed and incomplete notes.

DH

Trevor Philips and Sally Hunt respond to the JLC letter

The Jewish Leadership Council has published two responses which it has received relating to the letter it sent to Sally Hunt concerning antisemitism in the UCU.

The Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has responded.  Click here for a pdf of Trevor phillips’ letter.

He says that he is “surprised” that UCU had brought the motion on the definition of antisemitism “without consulting the EHRC” at all.

He expects UCU’s National Executive Committee to discuss the motion with the EHRC as Britain’s National Human Rights Institution, even if it passes

 EHRC stands by the MacPhearson Report, which requires organisations to start from the perception of the victim. Trevor Phillips says:

 “..if the object of harrasment or attack regards her treatment as being anti-semitic, even if the perpetrator maintains that their action is politically motivated, the presumption is that the victim’s perception is what defines the incident”.

 On the issue of reporting incidents -  both for students on campus and academics inside UCU – he says: “Nothing should be able to prevent Jewish students (or any other group, for that matter) being able to complain of harrasment, racism or anti-semitism”

 He suggests that there could be legal problems under Human Rights and Equality law if the motion is fully enacted.

The General Secretary of UCU has responded.  Click here for a pdf of Sally Hunt’s response.

She says:

1. UCU opposes antisemitism and there will probably  be some sort of statement to this effect at Congress.

 2. UCU still endorses the MacPhearson definition of racism

 3. She specifically asks for a meeting to discuss how UCU should define antisemitism.

 4. The letter ignores any references to antisemitism within UCU itself.

David Hirsh writes:

What Sally Hunt seems to be doing is continuing the compromise with the boycotters in the union which she has been relying upon for some years now.

She allows antisemitic debates at Congress and she allows antisemitic motions to be passed by Congress.  She allows the SWP and the boycotters to whip up the Jew-baiting atmosphere within the Union.  She protects them from any charges of antisemitism.  She does not speak up against antisemitism.

Her price is that none of this nonsense is ever implemented, so the union doesn’t get sued.  She doesn’t want trouble from the TUC or from Trevor Philips or from the courts.

The leadership has not allowed the union to adopt a policy of boycott.  But the price has been a slow but relentless gain for the politics of BDS and the denial of antisemitism which comes with it, in the union.

Sally Hunt will be up for re-election during the next year.  She is afraid that the beast she has been feeding for the last five years will eat her too.  And it might.  The SWP controlled Broad left faction may well stand a candidate against her.

Expect Sally Hunt to look for the support of people who oppose antisemitism in the union.

Eve Garrard on the UCU motion on the Working Definition

The UCU wants to dump the EUMC definition of anti-Semitism, which says (among other things) that the use of double standards to criticize Israel, and the use of mendacious, dehumanizing, or stereotypical charges against Jews as a collective, including but not limited to stereotypes such as the myth of Jewish power in controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions, could be anti-Semitic, as could the drawing of comparisons between contemporary Israeli policy and that of the Nazis.

Now there are three, and only three, possibilities with respect to anti-Semitism for allegations such as are mentioned in the EU definition. The first possibility is that all such allegations against Jews are invariably anti-Semitic. The second possibility is that all such allegations may be anti-Semitic – i.e. sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren’t. The third possibility is that such allegations are never anti-Semitic. The EUMC account of anti-Semitism goes for the second possibility: such charges may be anti-Semitic (or they may not, depending on context). That’s what the UCU Executive wants to deny.

Read the rest on normblog.

Ofcom is part of the Lobby

RIP Arthur Goldreich

“Arthur Goldreich, 82, who helped the anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela hide on a farm by posing as his employer, died May 24 in Tel Aviv. No cause of death was reported.”

“In his autobiography, Mandela describes the South African-born Mr. Goldreich as having fought in the 1940s with the military wing of the Jewish National Movement in Palestine. Mandela says Mr. Goldreich provided some guerrilla expertise to the then-nascent armed wing of the African National Congress.”

More in the Washington Post.  via HP

Ben Gidley – The Case of Anti-Semitism in the University and College Union

In response to the University and College Union’s Congress Motion 70 to banish the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, Ben Gidley, an academic who studies racism, has a piece in the Dissent blog Arguing the World, titled ‘The Politics of Defining Racism: The Case of Anti-Semitism in the University and College Union‘, which we have permission to reproduce in full.

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My trade union, the University and College Union (UCU, representing professionals in further and higher education in the United Kingdom), has its annual congress this weekend, and, under the title “Campaigning for equality,” will be debating a number of motions on racism and discrimination, including one on how anti-Semitism should be defined.

Unions need policies on such things, because union case work, on relations between employees and management and among colleagues, often involves discrimination and harassment that may be racist. At times like now, when there are huge cuts in higher education and academics are being placed under ever more performance pressure by management, harassment and workplace tensions can increase, and these issues become even more important.

But there are many difficulties in addressing racism.

Racism is mercurial. It mutates over time. Pseudoscientific racial theories are now spouted only by marginal cranks. Notions that different races are different species have come and gone; eugenics has come and gone; words like “Aryan” and “Semitic” are starting to sound quaint. The period since the 1980s has seen the rise of cultural racism, or racism that focuses on cultural differences rather than biological ones.

Racism is promiscuous. It will use whatever materials it has at hand. In the age when the Church dominated European ways of thinking, racism used a Biblical language; Jews were attacked as Christ-killers, black people were condemned as under the curse of Ham. With the modern rise of scientific disciplines, racism had access to a whole new language. When that language was discredited by the Nazi genocide, new forms of expression were found—those others don’t share our way of life, they cook food that smells, they control the media, or they have a culture of criminality.

Racism proceeds through euphemism and code. At various points, “aliens,” “cosmopolitan,” “Zionist,” and “finance capital” have served as euphemisms for Jews; while the Nazis spoke about sub-humans, today’s anti-Semites mutter about Lehman Brothers or Goldman Sachs. Sometimes it is impossible to distinguish the code from what’s behind it—are Muslims hated by racists in Western Europe because of their perceived color and culture, or are North Africans and South Asians hated because they are Muslim?

Some racists wear Ku Klux Klan uniforms, or shave their heads and perform Nazi salutes. But others wear suits and ties and talk about “free speech” or the “rights of the indigenous people.” We’re not against black people, says the British National Party, we’re just for white people. We’re not fascists, says the rebranded National Front in France, we even have a black candidate.

Libraries full of books and journals full of articles are devoted to debating, dissecting, and defining racism in general, and tracking its specific mutations. For every definition or classification proposed, there are qualifications, exceptions, counterexamples, refutations. No one-page definition would be universally accepted by scholars.

But in the streets, in the workplace, and in the courts of law, you need something more straightforward. When a grassroots civil society organization monitors racist incidents, when a union is asked to represent a colleague that has been the victim of racist bullying, when a lawyer prosecutes a racially aggravated crime, when an editorial assistant has to moderate an op-ed comment thread where temperatures have been raised—you might need some kind of working definition to rule the incident in or out. If all racists looked like booted boneheads or evil Nazis, these people would have an easy job.

A few principles have emerged from the anti-racist movement to help decide a case. Three are particularly relevant. First, the victims of racism should have at least some say in defining racism. This principle is reflected, for example, in British law. Following the racist murder and failure to prosecute the killers of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager, in London, there was a thorough review of the case that profoundly changed how the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom addresses these issues, presided over by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny.

The ensuing Macpherson Report in 1999 recommended that a racist incident be defined as “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person,” and reported, recorded, and investigated as such. Of course, the offense taken by someone who sees him or herself as a victim can never be a sufficient criterion for ruling and convicting someone of a racially motivated or aggravated crime, but the victim’s voice should be heard and constitutes at least prima facie grounds for taking the allegation seriously. And this principle also means, for instance, that black people should have a role in defining anti-black racism, that Jews should have a role in defining anti-Semitism, and so on.

Second, racist intent is not necessary for a statement or action to be racist. Acting in good faith, believing oneself not to be racist, and being ignorant of what constitutes racism do not exempt us. In fact, anti-racists have long argued that racism is so pervasive that we are all often unconsciously racist. We are not aware of the implications of our words and actions, of the connotations they have, of the harm they might cause. The issue that matters, in other words, is racist deeds and words, not racist people. Combating racism does not require an inquisition into our souls; it requires attention to the impact of our actions. This principle is taken further in the concept of “institutional racism,” defined initially by Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael, whose words were drawn on in the Macpherson report, which defined it as the

collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.

The key word here is “unwitting”: it is not racist intent that matters, but the harm done. Saying “some of my best friends are black” doesn’t let you off the hook.

Third, context matters. A word might be racist in one context but not another. This principle is well established in British case law around racially aggravated crimes. For instance, in the case Director of Public Prosecutions v M 2004, the Divisional Court held that the phrase “‘bloody foreigners’ could, depending on the context, demonstrate hostility to a racial group.” This was cited in Rogers v Regina 2007, when one of the judges, Baroness Hale, said, “The context will illuminate what the conduct shows.” For example, the word “Zionist” means something very different in the name of the Zionist Federation than it would if a BNP member were to walk into a synagogue and shout, “Kill the Zionists.”
DEFINING ANTI-SEMITISM has become one of the most difficult instances of defining racism. This is partly because of the particularly strange mutation of anti-Semitism in recent years, including the emergence of what has contentiously been called “the new anti-Semitism.”

Far-right anti-Semitic movements increasingly borrow the language of anti-Zionism as a cover for their racism, and far-right anti-Semitic ideas have in turn increasingly gained traction among anti-Zionists. For example, anti-Zionists have taken up the old Christian anti-Semitic “blood libel” myth, while neo-Nazis have taken up ideas from the anti-Zionist movement, such as the idea of an all-powerful “Israel lobby.” So, while the British Chief Rabbi’s claim that we are experiencing a “tsunami of anti-Semitism” is almost certainly exaggerated, it is certainly the case that there has been a surge in the last decade.

This surge has mainly been seen in different sorts of places than where anti-Semitism has traditionally been encountered. In fact, it is often expressed by the intelligent, thoughtful, anti-racist academics who make up UCU’s rank and file.

In 2008, for example, a union activist circulated an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory taken from the website of the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke to hundreds of union members on its activist list. When this was mentioned on a blog, rather than apologizing, she took the advice of a senior union member and threatened legal action, getting the blog closed down. To my knowledge, this activist was never censured within the union. (In contrast, leading campaigners against an academic boycott of Israel were excluded from the same email list for minor infringements of etiquette.) Several Jewish academics resigned in what they saw as the rise of a culture of institutional anti-Semitism.

The following year, a senior union member posted an article to a website circulating another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, complaining that Jews are overrepresented in Parliament and that Tony Blair’s New Labour project is in thrall to Zionist money distributed by suspicious “shape-shifting” financiers. A couple of months later, a UCU branch secretary, speaking at a UCU congress fringe meeting, promoted yet another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory: lawyers ruling on union boycott policy have “bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down.” Again, no censure from the union. The same year, UCU hosted South African trade unionist Bongani Masuku, allowing him to address UCU members on boycotting Israel, despite the fact that the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) had found Masuku guilty of hate speech against Jews.

These incidents might suggest that there is a need for action and robust guidance on anti-Semitism within the union. Instead, the leadership has insisted on seeing all these instances as nothing other than legitimate criticisms of Israel. In 2006, the union executive published a formal statement denying that “criticism of the Israeli government is in itself anti-Semitic” and claiming that “defenders of the Israeli government’s actions have used a charge of anti-Semitism as a tactic in order to smother democratic debate, and in the context of Higher Education, to restrict academic freedom.” This was formalized as union policy at its 2007 congress, which resolved that “criticism of Israel cannot [emphasis added] be construed as anti-semitic”—a motion that seems to me to deny the obvious reality that some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. The following year, another policy passed, clarifying it: “Criticism of Israel or Israeli policy are [sic] not, as such, anti-semitic.” Again, the resolution did not acknowledge that some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.

By 2009, there had been so many resignations from the union because of this sort of thing that a motion was put to the congress noting the resignations and mandating that the national executive investigate the causes. This was rejected by a large majority.

When it was pointed out to UCU that its guest Bongani Masuku had been criticized by the HRC, rather than taking this institution and its findings seriously, the UCU dismissed this as “stuff doing the rounds on the internet”—shocking ignorance of post-apartheid South Africa for a union whose leaders regularly use the apartheid analogy to describe Israel, but also an a priori refusal to take racism against Jews as seriously as other racisms. A motion to UCU congress noting the HRC’s findings and disassociating congress from Masuku’s anti-Semitic views was formally rejected by an overwhelming show of hands. This near-unanimity in rejecting criticism of anti-Semitism led to a number of resignations from the union, from Jewish colleagues who took it as a sign that anti-Semitism was thoroughly institutionalized in it.

The culture in the UCU has been to dismiss in advance any criticism of racism against Jews, seeing it as merely a tactic to smother debate and criticism. While a handful of anti-Zionist Jews have applauded this, many academics from the Jewish community have felt increasingly isolated, their own understanding of racism not taken seriously, violating the principle that the victims of racism should have some voice in its definition. The a priori dismissal of allegations of anti-Semitism follows what David Hirsh has called “the Livingstone formulation”—the claim that allegations of anti-Semitism are made in bad faith to stifle debate. By alleging that Jews are merely crying anti-Semitism to stop people talking about Israel, the UCU leadership cries Israel to stop people talking about anti-Semitism.
WHICH BRINGS us up to the present, and the latest motion on anti-Semitism. This motion notes “with concern [that] the so-called ‘EUMC working definition of anti-Semitism,’ while not adopted by the EU or the UK government and having no official status,” is being used by student unions in relation to campus activities. It states a belief that “the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine anti-Semitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.” Then it resolves that the union do three things: not make use of the definition (“e.g. in educating members or dealing with internal complaints”), disassociate itself from the definition in anypublic discussion on the matter in which the UCU is involved, and “campaign for an open debate on campus concerning Israel’s past history and current policy, while continuing to combat all forms of racial or religious discrimination.”

Every clause of the motion is deeply problematic. What is this “so-called” EUMC working definition? The EUMC was the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, an agency of the European Union. It was itself preceded by the Commission on Racism and Xenophobia (CRX), established in 1994, known as the Kahn Commission. The CRX became the EUMC in 1998 with an official mandate from the European Commission. Among other things, the EUMC published one of the most important studies of Islamophobia in Europe, in 2002, summarizing several separate reports on specific aspects of Islamophobia from the member states of the EU. In 2007 the EUMC became the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). The FRA has continued the important work of the EUMC in documenting anti-Roma racism and homophobia across Europe.

It reports annually on discrimination and fundamental rights in the EU, and therefore reports on anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic incidents. It is only natural that it should seek a standard, usable, operational definition of anti-Semitism, just as its massive Islamophobia report set out a working definition of that form of racism. To this end, it published a one-page working definition in 2005. This has been adopted by the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Enquiry into Anti-Semitism in 2006, by several branches of the National Union of Students (NUS), and more recently by the NUS itself.

The text defined anti-Semitism thus: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” In the fifth line, it continued: “In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” Note, not “do” but “could,” and not Israel as such but Israel “conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” It proceeds to give examples of what anti-Semitic incidents might look like. These include stereotyping Jews, including the myth of a “world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media,” as well as holding all Jews responsible for the actions of some Jews.

Then, it gives examples of how anti-Semitism might manifest itself with regard to Israel, which David Hirsh summarizes concisely:

It may, in some contexts, be anti-Semitic to accuse Jews of being more loyal to Israel than to their union; to say Israel is a racist endeavour; to apply double standards; to boycott Israelis but not others for the same violations; to say that Israeli policy is like Nazi policy; to hold Jews collectively responsible for the actions of Israel.

And here too there is a caveat in the working definition: these might be anti-Semitic, “taking into account the overall context.” In other words, talking about hidden Lehman Brothers bank accounts might be completely legitimate in the context of analyzing the subprime collapse, but not when talking about the politics of people who just happen to be Jews and have no connection to the bank, at a time when conspiracy theories about it are circulating on the Internet.

After the list of examples, the report insists, “However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled at any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” This sentence is important, and its existence refutes the second clause of the UCU motion, that “the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine anti-Semitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.” Not only does the motion name no instances when this has happened (because it is highly unlikely any such instances have ever occurred), but the working definition itself explicitly avoids the claim that criticism of Israel “in itself” is to be regarded as anti-Semitic.
FOR ALL the reasons I’ve made clear in this article, any definition of any racism is bound to be imperfect, and the EUMC working definition is no exception. I would not want it to be included without amendment in employment law, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for it to be adopted by the UK government—and, indeed, I’ve not heard of any of the working definition’s advocates arguing it should be. (In fact, it would be bizarre if the British state did adopt it formally, as the government has affirmedthat it includes anti-Semitism among the racisms covered by the Macpherson definition of a racist incident discussed above—an incident “perceived to be racist by the victim.” That definition is significantly broader than the EUMC’s.)

But the EUMC definition is a guide, a working definition, and this makes it useful in deciding when, for example, to take seriously and investigate an internal complaint. The working definition could never be used to definitively rule an incident in or out. Its uses of “could” and “context” make this clear. The specific context of an internal complaint would always have to be the determining factor. To resolve to make no use of the document in such circumstances is therefore ridiculous. Similarly, it might be useful in an education setting as a heuristic device for examining different manifestations of racism—also perversely ruled out by the motion.

For the union to disassociate itself from the working definition in any public discussion of anti-Semitism is beyond ridiculous. It means insisting that all of the organizations that do take the working definition seriously—the Community Security Trust (CST), which monitors anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom; the NUS; the Union of Jewish Students; the Fundamental Rights Agency; the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe—are dismissed in advance. It undermines their work on anti-Semitism, and it undermines their vital work on anti-Roma racism, Islamophobia, and other racisms.

In the workplace, as the CST’s director writes, this “will serve to (even) further alienate Jews from the union; and it will make it (even) harder for anti-Semitism to be raised there as a matter of concern….[I]t carries the implication that people who complain about anti-Semitism in any Israel-related context are likely to be a bunch of liars, dancing to a pre-ordained tune.”

As an academic who studies racism, I find it bizarre that my union cannot accept that there is even the faintest possibility that institutional racism might exist in our own ranks, even after a series of clearly documented incidents and a shocking number of resignations by Jewish members who perceive it as such. This motion, if passed, will in fact legitimate racism in the union and stop any allegation of anti-Semitism—in debates or in the workplace—from being taken seriously. That the motion will be tabled in a session entitled “Campaigning for equality” is ironic, but the irony tastes bitter indeed.

This piece by Ben Gidley is at Dissent’s Arguing The World blog.

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