Instead of adressing its antisemitism, UCU proposes to change the definition of antisemitism

This motion is proposed by the National Executive Committee of the UCU for UCU Congress in Harrogate next week:

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.

The EUMC working definition is downloadable here.

David Hirsh writes:

The EUMC definition says it may, in some contexts, be antisemitic 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.  All of these things have been going on a lot inside the academic unions for the last eight years.  Instead of addressing the antisemitic culture, the leadership of the union now proposes to alter the definition of antisemitism.  The union wants to carry on treating ‘Zionists’ as disloyal; singling out Israel and only Israel for boycott; holding Israeli universities responsible for their government; allowing ‘Zionist’ union members to be denounced as Nazis or supporters of apartheid.

The precise form that bullying typically takes within UCU is that people who complain about antisemitism are accused of doing so in bad faith in a dishonest attempt to outlaw criticism of Israel.  The antisemitism isn’t seen, isn’t acknowledged, the accuser is accused; and Israel is blamed for the unseen and unacknowledged antisemitism.

The new motion makes this form of bullying into official union policy.  Even though the definition says that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic’, the new motion declares that the definition outlaws criticism and is intended to silence debate.

UCU will now oppose all bigotry except for one particular category: racism which can be said to resemble criticism of Israel.  UCU will oppose racist and religious antisemitism, but political antisemitism will be protected under the new policy.

Israel murders children?  Not antisemitic.  Israel controls US foreign policy?  Not antisemitic.  Magen David = Swastika stuck on your office door?  Not antisemitic.  Jews invent antisemitism to de-legitimise criticism of Israel?  Not antisemitic.  Host a man found guilty of hate speech by the South African Human Rights commission?  Not antisemitic.  Exclude nobody but Israelis from the global academic community?  Not antisemitic.

It is clear now how antisemitism against Israelis far away, in the form of a boycott campaign, also threatens ‘zionists’ within the union.  We have learnt that the boycott campaign brings antisemitism with it into any organisation which treats it as one side in a legitimate debate. UCU have understood it too, now.  The only thing left for them, now, is to change the defiinition of antisemitism so that they fall outside of it.

David Hirsh

UPDATE: CST comment on this resolution is here.

Robert Fine on antisemitism

click here for links to some of the evidence that UCU has a problem with antisemitism.

Steve Cohen on how the boycott campaign made him feel.

32 Responses to “Instead of adressing its antisemitism, UCU proposes to change the definition of antisemitism”

  1. conchovor Says:

    Isn’t the main reason UCU want to do this because challenging the very legitimacy of Zionism and a Jewish nation state is precisely what they want to do, including by insisting on complete (more or less) ROR?

    Denying Jews a right of national self-determination is exactly what it is all about.

  2. The CST » Blog Archive » UCU, EUMC, antisemitism and anti-Zionism Says:

    […] (Note – the Engage website is indispensible for anyone seeking further information on the history of UCU’s repeated clashes with opponents of antisemitism, including UCU’s rebuttals. The full text of the UCU motion and comment from David Hirsh of Engage can be found here.) […]

  3. Bill Says:

    I’ve darkly joked about people putting antisemitism on a pedestal, making it ironically always at their fingertips. Or making it a museum piece, etc. Now we’re coming close to trying to defining out existence. While not saying that it doesn’t exist, all one need to do is link the Jew to Israel, by past statements, innuendo or “just saying stuff,” and with I suspect there will be no critical crazy-glue test to affirm that it sticks.

    Would the NEC be so kind as to provide examples of what is antisemtism? I suspect they would go so far as to present swastikas and such thus only providing the most extreme skinhead type of cases. Meanwhile acts and statements that are unquestionably racist when applied in parallel to other groups will be given an out. Just say Israel. Or better still, after the fact, say that it really was about Israel after the fact. Some dumb student citing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Well we all know it’s not really a forgery now. Swastikas = Stars of David on a protest sign? Well we all know it’s about Israel, unless of course you object at which point which side are you really on? Jews leaned on constantly and pervasively to the point of disrupting their work on to support Israel (if done to others it would be called capital-H harassment)? Well serves you right for not agreeing to whatever the BDSer said in the first place; you deserve whatever retaliation you get.

    This is going to make antisemtism, including its most toxic forms, a certainty in the university. And will invite a lawsuit. And when the University start looking for recriminations, the UCU will have nothing to hide behind but this transparently lame attempt to “evade” antisemitism by making it legal.

  4. Harry Goldstein Says:

    ‘…that UCU will make no use of the EUMC definition (e.g. in educating members or dealing with internal complaints)’

    So what definition will it make use of then? The thing that exposes this for the charade that it is, is precisely that UCU feels no need to offer any alternative definition of antisemitism, or any process of debate within the union for arriving at one.

    If they did in fact reject a complaint of antisemitism subsequent to this, would they therefore be in breach of the law because their procedure was not fair or transparent (i.e. no definition of antisemitism).

    BTW, there was no notification (in my UCU branch at least) that the motions were available for viewing on the UCU web site. When I did know, I asked my branch about the possibility of proposing an amendment, only to be told – surprise, surprise – that the deadline for amendments had passed.

    • Bill Says:

      If they did in fact reject a complaint of antisemitism subsequent to this, would they therefore be in breach of the law because their procedure was not fair or transparent (i.e. no definition of antisemitism).

      The remedy to this is easy, eh? In the case of Antisemtic incidents the employee should go to the university and not the union — which of course further pushes UCU away from day-to-day relevance. Ah, the convenience of a union so efficient that it bashes itself.

  5. Howard Moss Says:

    Just to say that it isn’t the UCU membership that is trying to define anti-semitism out of existence but that small poltically-motivated minority in the union who have made themselves powerful in the National Executive and control the Congress by the large majority of delegates they have there. There is absolutely no way that, if a free vote of members were allowed on this motion, it would suffer a crushing defeat. The politicos know that, so there is no way they will allow a free vote. Sad. very sad. But the UCU membership is not these people, is not anti-semitic, nor would single out Israel as a government or a nation to be uniquely hostile to.

  6. bob Watt Says:

    Howard Moss has it right! Most UCU activists and members of the NEC actively hate anti-Semitism . The problem is that we have a bad attack of the Trots (pun intended – they are sh*ts). Most of us just want to concentrate on the proper industrial business of the union, and would do no more than send the people of Israel and Palestine their best wishes for a peaceful solution.
    Please don’t blame ordinary trade unionist for the antics of – to put it bluntly- pathetic, juvenile, unwanted scum.

  7. Absolute Observer Says:

    Coincidentally, here are a few quotes from George Orwell that I read in a review recently and which have stood the test of time.

    “What I saw in Spain, and what I have seen since of the inner workings of left-wing political parties, have given me a horror of politics…. I am definitely “left,” but I believe that a writer can only remain honest if he keeps free of party labels.”

    “Where I feel that people like us understand the situation better than so-called experts is not in any power to foretell specific events, but in the power to grasp what kind of world we are living in.”

    “What sickens me about left-wing people, especially the intellectuals, is their utter ignorance of the way things actually happen. I was always struck by this when I was in Burma and used to read anti- imperialist stuff.”

    “The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.”

  8. conchovor Says:

    I wonder how many departments of Jewish Studies departments the UCU NEC has consulted on this? I wonder how many academics in Jewish history or studies they can count among their numbers.

    There’s irony in a bunch of academics defining antisemitism as suits without reference to academic specialists in the subject.

    • David Hirsh Says:

      Oh don’t worry about that. Read your Hannah Arendt. There are plenty of academic ‘experts’ on antisemitism just itching to side with the UCU exec.

      • conchovor Says:

        I take your point, David, which I think is ironic. But isn’t it true that few, if any, of these ‘experts’ to which you refer are actually academics or lecturers in Jewish studies departments, or who even have undertaken postgraduate research in that subject?

  9. Absolute Observer Says:

    “Please don’t blame ordinary trade unionist for the antics of – to put it bluntly- pathetic, juvenile, unwanted scum.”

    Bob, I have little doubt you are dead right.
    However, and with all respect, UCU have been pushing this agenda for at least the past few years. The membership as a whole have allowed this to happen year after year after year, whether through apathy or whether through sheer tedium with the whole affair or through their concerns with other matters – wages, pay, fear of redundancies, etc. This is completely understandable.

    Surely though there comes a point when the membership as a whole has to take at least some responsibility for allowing the antics of a minority to get away with it for so long.

    After all, it is not “their” union, it is “yours” and all the other x thousand of members.

    I am sure that somewhere there is some pithy saying about inaction leading to bad actions or some such!

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      “For evil to happen needs only good men to do nothing” Edmund Burke, 1780 or so: he may have been a Tory and conservative, but he knew his human beings.

      • Harry Goldstein Says:


        Actually Burke was a Whig not a Tory (apologies for the pedantry).

        But I agree with your main point.

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          Harry, thanks, and no offence taken. We both agree that he neither a liberal nor a left-winger in today’s terms, but that didn’t stop him coming up with that straight-to-the-heart-of-the matter aphorism.

  10. Ex-UCU Says:

    “would do no more than send the people of Israel and Palestine their best wishes for a peaceful solution.”

    I think that UCU has every right as a TU to get involved with the politics of Israel and Palestine as with everywhere else.

    The problem is, of course, the way it does it. In other regions and countries, the UCU attempts to build links with trade unionists and academics.

    With Israel, however, they call to boycott them.
    With Israel, however, they call for a boycott of the entire the Israeli TU movement.
    With Israel, however, they slander those who oppose this strategy as “Zionist apologists”, as supporters of apartheid, as liars who use antisemitism to silence “debate” and who “in response” change the definition of antisemitism to exclude their own libels.

    That is the problem with the UCU’s stance to Israel and Palestine; and not the engagement with international affairs per se.

  11. Ex-UCU Says:

    “is being used by bodies such as the NUS and local student unions…….”

    This is not the first time the UCU has screwed over the NUS.

    If I recall correctly, there was some controversy when some in the UCU supported the non-union faction of the anti-cuts demos over and above that of the NUS.

    From the THES
    “The UCU Left, a key presence on the union’s national executive committee (NEC), successfully pressed for the union to officially “mobilise” for the next London student protest on 29 January.

    The protest is being organised by new student groups to the left of the National Union of Students, and is opposed by the NUS leadership. The UCU has a joint campaigning agreement with the NUS.

    Ms Hunt strongly opposed supporting the march. In a report to an NEC meeting last month where the decision was made, she refers to violence that marred the December march and warns of “long-term damage” to the union’s interests and relationship with the NUS.”

    So much for Union solidarity in the face of a brutal cutting Coalition government.

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      “So much for Union solidarity in the face of a brutal cutting Coalition government.”

      Exactly. “Trade Unions” run by middle-class backstabbers motivated primarily by their own personal agendas rather than any genuine desire to improve conditions for Union members – they’re more the children of Thatcher than they realise.

  12. Alex Says:

    So is there anything practical we can do to oppose this motion?

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

    […] for them, now, is to change the defiinition of antisemitism so that they fall outside of it.”…  (The Engage blog is essential reading for developments in academia)Mark Gardner of the […]

  14. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    “Magen David = Swastika stuck on your office door? Not antisemitic.” Try telling that to the Court, especially if it comes up before the judge who heard the David Irving v. Deborah Lipstadt & Penguin Press libel case.

    We have to remember that the leadership of the UCU is so ideologically blinkered that they have come to believe that whatever they define as _their_ rights and freedoms override any and all rights and freedom of anybody else they deem as beyond the pale (and I bet that they’d use the latter phrase without batting an eyelid, because they have no understanding as to where it comes from).

    Alex asks what can be done? The obvious answer is that the membership must reclaim their trade union. They cannot, collectively, just sit back and rely on the likes of David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Jon Pike, John Strawson, et al, to do this for them. If, as many believe, the membership would reject all these resolutions and actions predicated on them out of hand, were they given the opportunity, then they must work for this. Jon Pike, some 6 or 7 seven years ago, did just this, and the earliest of the AUT resolutions was hammered out of sight by a referendum of the whole membership.

    However, this takes time, probably money, and certainly determination to stick to the task and face down the ultra left. And make no mistake, the ultra left are past masters at organising and those who would oppose them must be equally masterful at using the rules to _their_ advantage. In other words, take back your union, and don’t com[lain about those who presently control it.

    The alternative is to let them go ahead with their plans and, as Bill says above, watch them destroy the union – unless, yet again, the union bureaucrats rescue them from themselves by pointing to yet _another_ expensively obtained legal opinion.

    Above all, never forget that the NEC is composed of people like Tom Hickey, who has conveniently forgotten that he wrote this:

    The critical quote from this article is the following:
    “In the case of Israel, we are speaking about a society whose dominant self image is one of a bastion of civilisation in a sea of medieval reaction. 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.”

    And if this isn’t antisemitic, to say nothing of racist, then what is? So much for all the other states in the world: they, clearly, care nothing for education!

    He has never revisited this, never explained, never apologised for it.

    All this is to say that if you don’t oppose them, they will take you as supporting them. Is that what you want?

  15. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    The Resolution before the UCU Annual Conference makes much of the claim that the EUMC Working Definition has not been adopted by the UK or by other member states of the EU. Of course, there is no examination of whether there is _any_ legislation in _any_ EU member state that addresses the question of antisemitism, whether implicitly or explicitly. To do so would be too logical and, well, academic.

    Thus, the position the NEC adopts means that it has to ignore the existence of legislation in France, Germany and Austria (at the very least) that makes Holocaust denial a criminal offence.

    Nothing to do with antisemitism, of course. Perish the thought.

    Nor that UK Race Relations law mentions, quite specifically, _religion_, as well as race, ethnicity, nationality, culture…Nothing to do with antisemitism, of course. Nor do they bother to tell (remind) the delegates to Conference that _every_ attempt to pass a boycott against Israel resolution has failed, either because it was overturned by the membership (see above) or was thrown out, in effect, because legal opinion (the union’s own) said it was against the law.

    Of course they can pass this resolution, in effect redefining what is meant by antisemitism; they can even operationalise it. But they can’t stop the (presumably Jewish) member discriminated against by fellow academics going to law and _winning_. Or stop the employers short-circuiting the legal process by taking disciplinary action against the offending employees because their actions breach the employers own equal opportunities rules (which, of course, the union will have fought tooth and nail to make the employer adopt).

    Nor does the NEC bother (too complicated for simple minds, my dears) to note that the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Antisemitism recommended that Parliament adopt a resolution and policy that was, effectively, the EUMC Working Definition on Antisemitism.

    All this is most odd, because one of the most useful definitions of ideology (that of Alvin W. Gouldner – a paid-up member of the left his whole life) makes the point that ideology is actually a guide to political behaviour. What it is not is a strait-jacket.

    Pity no-one ever told the NEC of UCU that.

  16. Alex Says:

    Brian, I take your point about reclaiming the union, except that I don’t even seem to have enough time to do all the things I want to do in my job. I don’t know that I have the time or the strength to fight an unwinnable battle against a better resourced, better organised, more politically experienced group. Particularly a group who read 1984 not as a chilling vision of a dystopian future, but as a how-to manual.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Alex, you have my sympathy, and that is not meant ironically. I was lucky, in that Natfhe, prior to its merger with AUT, wasn’t as bad as UCU has turned out to be. Thus, the battles were different and, mostly, more “traditional” trade union ones. Nevertheless, you and those like you have, really, only three choices: grit your teeth and hope that things get better (that the NEC finally realize that the dice are loaded against them); fight to regain the union (or join those doing the fighting) – find out who is in your institution and is against this nonsense, or who else is nearby (after all, how do you think the present group got where they are?); or find another union to join.

      I accept that this is easy for me to say: I’m retired and no longer need a union. Even so, realpolitik is messy and nasty – and your opponents will be nasty. All I can add is good luck in whatever action you take, and look, at the very least, for a group who will at least accept your support (possibly financial) in their fight for change.

      • Alex Says:

        Both my current institution’s branch and my previous institution’s branch (where I was on the branch committee) were against this nonsense, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference.

        I’m now on a hunt for a new union to join. Any suggestions for a good union for an early career academic?

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          Alex, if your local trade union branch is against this nonsense, and does the necessary as far as local issues are concerned, then you may not need to take the awkward step of leaving UCU for another union. You may, however, have to give up being locally active, and stay away from Branch meetings, just to keep your sanity. In that case, union membership becomes an insurance policy against the employer doing nasty things to you.

          But it’s up to others to say what, if any, alternatives there might be.

  17. Exam Time Roundup « Says:

    […] speech for Israel.”Eve Gerrard says the UCU is beyond salvation, after its latest ploy to abandon Europe’s commonly-accepted definition of anti-Semitism because it was hitting a little too close to home (actually combating anti-Semitism in the union, […]

  18. UCU’s NEC: Antisemitism, We Don’t Want A Policy « ModernityBlog Says:

    […] 1: Engage has more, David Hirsh is very good on these issues: “The EUMC definition says it may, in some contexts, […]

  19. UCU, A Political Vacuum And Racism. « ModernityBlog Says:

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

    […] The letter alleges a course of action by the union which amounts to institutional antisemitism and it gives examples: annual boycott resolutions against only Israel; the conduct of these debates; the moderating of the activist list and the penalising of anti-boycott activists; the failure to engage with people who raised concerns; the failure to address resignations; the refusal to meet the OSCE’s special represenative on antisemitism; the hosting of Bongani Masuku; the repudiation of the EUMC working definition of antisemitism. […]

  21. The new definition of antisemitism is only a threat to antisemites – David Hirsh | Engage Says:

    […] Follow this link for the UCU’s disavowal of the working definition.   […]

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