The tipping point for UCU -David Hirsh

institutional racism?

Ronnie Fraser, a Jewish UCU member who has been bullied, scorned, ridiculed and treated as though he was a supporter of racism and apartheid for ten years,  is going to sue the UCU His letter to Sally Hunt, written by Anthony Julius, says that UCU has breached ss. 26 and 57 (3) of the Equality Act 2010:

That is to say, the UCU has “harassed” him by “engaging in unwanted conduct” relating to his Jewish identity (a “relevant protected characteristic”), the “purpose and/or effect” of which has been, and continues to be, to “violate his dignity” and/or create “an intimidating, hostile, degrading humiliating” and/or “offensive environment” for him.

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.

The Equality Act 2010 codifies our society’s rejection of racism even in its subtle and unconscious forms; it is one of the most important victories of the trade union movement and of antiracist struggle.  The Equality Act is our Act, passed by a Labour government, a weapon designed to help antiracist trade unionists to defend workers who are subjected to racism.

How is it that a union is itself charged with its violation?  The story begins with the campaign to boycott Israeli academia.  It began to take root in the predecessor unions AUT and Natfhe after the collapse of the peace process between Israel and Palestine.  By 2005, AUT Congress passed motions to boycott Haifa and Bar Ilan Universities on spurious grounds.  There was a mass membership revolt in the union, an unprecedented recall conference was called, there was a whole day of debate, following debates on campuses up and down the country and the boycott movement was democratically defeated.  But then Congress shrunk back to its usual size, the hard core activists reasserted their control and the mood to single out Israelis for punishment gained ground on the British left more generally.

There has been an unhappy and unstable stalemate in the union since.  UCU Congress passes resolutions to support boycotts of Israel and only Israel; the boycotters and the Socialist Worker Party are allowed their demagogy, but they know that the leadership of UCU won’t ever implement a boycott because they all know that it would violate antiracist law in the UK.  The rhetoric ratchets up, the Jews are bullied out and the union does nothing at all to help Israelis or Palestinians.

With the boycott campaign, which is antisemitic in its effect though not in its intent, comes an antisemitic poltical culture.  Anyone who opposes the boycott is accused of being an apologist for Israeli human rights abuses; Jews who do not define themselves as antizionists are suspected of being Zionists; Zionists are denounced as supporters of racism, oppression, war, apartheid. Nazism and imperialism.  People who are concerned about antisemitism are routinely accused of raising the issue in bad faith in order to try to de-legitimise what is always called “criticism of Israel”.

Now we have reached a tipping point.  The government has found UCU’s weak spot, its institutional racism, and it has begun targetting it.

What will UCU do?  There are two factions inside the decision making structures of the union.  There are the hard core antizionists and then there are the grownups.

The antizionists will storm with anger that UCU is being sued.  They will say that it is a matter of principle that UCU should defend its independence from the courts and that it should defend its own democratic structures and its right to make whatever policy it chooses.  They will say that the Israel lobby is conspiring against the union, that it is hugely powerful, that it is in cahoots with those who want to privatise education, that it is playing the antisemitism card in bad faith and that it is putting trade union solidarity at risk.  They will say that there is no question of antisemitism in the union and they will at all times try to construct the question as a debate about Israel and Palestine. The antizionists will be tempted to treat their right to demonize Israel as more important than building a united defence of education.  They will say that the fight against the Zionists is the same fight as the fight against the education cuts.

The grownups in the union, including the trustees, and including the lawyers who will advise the leadership, will want to settle this court action and to make it go away.  They will be worried about the immense cost to the union of defending its antisemtic record in front of a tribunal, both in terms of money and also in terms of humiliating publicity.  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 Fraser.  They will remember that the union’s legal advice was withheld even from the National Executive Committee.  They will remember that internal complaints by members of the UCU regarding institutional antisemtism were passed to a committee chaired by Tom Hickey, one of the central people responsible for the antisemitic culture in the union.

But what are Ronnie’s terms?  The reinstatement of the EUMC definition; an apology from the union for its record of institutional antisemitism; a new code of conduct concerning Jewish members; an ongoing campaign of education within the union about the relationship between antisemitism and antizionism.

It would appear that Ronnie is ready to go to a tribunal.  He must know that it will be difficult for the leadership of the union to agree to these terms.   Evidently he wants his day in court and he wants to prove his case.

The antizionists will also believe they can win in court.  And they will believe that they can blame the Zionists for the huge cost of defending their antisemitic record and for the disruption to UCU unity which will become even worse than it is now.  They will think that it is enough to parade a couple of dozen Jewish antizionist academics before the tribunal who will say that the union has an unblemished record on the question of antisemitism.

The grownups will not believe that they can successfully defend UCU’s record on antisemitism before a tribunal and they will know that there is a good chance that UCU will be found by an antiracist tribunal to have breached our own hard-won equality legislation.  They will imagine how the antizionist Jews will cope with unrelenting and forensic cross-examination as to the relationship between criticism of Israel, demonization and antisemitism. They will understand that the usual demagogy will fail to impress a tribunal.

The leadership of the union is now between a rock and a hard place.

Will UCU allow itself to be led into a train-wreck in court by the antizionists?  Or will the grownups be allowed to open negotiations over how they will recognize, apologze for, and deal with UCU’s problem of institutional antisemitism?  But this course of action would be greeted by antisemitic howls from the conspiracy theorists, who would say that Zionist power has forced the union to admit to that of which it is not guilty.  Who in the union has either the power or the authority to lead UCU out of this predicament?

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths UCU

Here is Ronnie Fraser’s speech to UCU Congress 2011.

Here are links to some of the evidence concerning institutional racism in UCU.

Tories target UCU’s weakspot

Ben Cohen on Jello Biafra’s decision to cancel gig in Tel Aviv

“… there are words and there are deeds, and Biafra’s decision to cancel the Tel Aviv concert is what matters. Already, his about-turn has been seized upon by BDS activists as a victory.

Biafra’s wobbling in the face of the BDS onslaught neatly captures the slippery nature of punk rock’s political interventions. On the surface as with the root causes of anarchy itself, the genre seems uncomplicatedly leftist. Examined more closely, the narratives — there’s that word again! — are more complex.”

Read the whole piece by Ben Cohen.

Tories target UCU’s weakspot

Eric Pickles, the Tory government minister has attacked the University and College Union for its institutional antisemitism.

It is embarassing because he’s right.  The union does have a problem with institutional antisemitism.  Engage has been providing the evidence for this for years now.  Here for example.

Nobody in the union hates Jews; it isn’t that sort of antisemitism.  Institutional antisemitism is the result of sets of norms, practices and shared commonsense assumptions which create an environment within the union which is hostile to Jews, even if nobody intends to create such an environment.

That the atmosphere within the union isn’t experienced as being hostile by a small number of antizionist Jews does not tell us that it isn’t hostile to Jews in general.  The analogy is with pornographic pictures on the walls of a workplace.  It creates a hostile environment for women.  It isn’t an answer to produce a number of individual women who will swear that they like the pictures and they don’t feel that it creates a hostile environment.

It is embarassing because he’s right, it is embarassing because our union, which is normally hot on institutional racism when it is found in academic instutions, even when it is not intended, has failed to free itself from its own institutional racism.

It is embarassing becasue Pickles is a minister in a government which is doing serious, deep and widespread damage to further and higher education; our union is supposed to be defending education; Pickles has found our union’s weak spot and has begun to poke around in it.

It is embarassing because Pickles’ argument is a kind of warmed up re-hashing of the argument which has been put forward by UCU activists who care about our union and who want our union to be stronger, not weaker.

It is embarassing becasue Pickles has got some of his facts muddled up.  He bungles the Bongani Masuku story.  He is wrong to say that UCU has been boycotting Israeli academics.  He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The issue of antisemitism is now seriously degrading our union’s ability to defend us, its members and to defend education in the UK against the current government.

The union needs to deal with its institutional antisemitism for two reasons.

1.  It is wrong, in itself, to tolerate a situation where Jews are intimidated and pushed out of their own union.

2. It is making us an easy target of the Tory government just at the moment when we need to be strong and united.

The boycott campaign is an antisemitic campaign – it wants our union to treat Israeli academics in a way which is different from all other academics who live in states which violate human rights norms.  It has imported antisemitic ways of thinking into our union.

Engage is a pro-union left-wing campaign.  The fight against antisemitism in our union is now, more than ever, a necessary part of the fight against the Tory cuts to education.

David Hirsh

I’m Shocked, shocked to find that antisemitism is going on in here!

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