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

17 Responses to “The tipping point for UCU -David Hirsh”

  1. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    “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 can say what they like, but that won’t alter the law. They have plainly forgotten the classic definition of freedom that the freedom to wave one’s fist about ends where the other person’s nose begins. They have just managed to be so ill-advised as to land a blow when they only wanted to wave the fist around. They managed to avoid this situation before by passing boycott resolutions and immediately declaring them null and void (if with a little help from the legal profession): having their cake and eating it. This time, they’ve gone too far to achieve this end, especially if David’s conjecture is correct and Ronnie Fraser wants his day in court.

    If he does and if he wins, the four conditions given at the end of Anthony Julius’s letter would be a very bitter pill for the “hard-liners” to swallow.

    For them my heart bleeds.

  2. Stefan Says:

    “How is it that a union is itself charged with its violation?”
    Because most of the people who are committed enough to unions to devote their private and/or professional lives to them are on the hard Left. And they see issues like racism only as a means of radicalising working people on the way to “changing the system”. They are fundamentally dishonest, opportunist and cynical. In this instance you rightly say that the UCU ends up helping neither Israelis nor Palestinians. But, on the other hand, neither are victims of this union’s silliness. The victims are not only Jewish members of the union but all the union’s members who are denied an organisation which is truly committed to their interests (rather than distant and spurious ideological goals) and is effective in fighting for them.

  3. Mark2 Says:

    Stefan is right up to the point he says it is about “radicalising working people”

    I think they want to radicalise some people and don’t give a damn about others (mainly but not solely Jews and the white working class) who they have largely given up on or who don’t suit the agenda. The anti semitism isn’t only institutional – it is also instrumental in that it aims to convince with nods and winks the favoured groiups that the hard left are “on side”.

  4. Jimbo Says:

    While I am least sympathetic with UCU in this matter, I fail to see precisely in what way it has ‘harrassed’ Fraser. I fear he is destined to lose this ill considered attempt to sue. And so ‘our’ final state will be worse than the first.

    Don’t start fights you can’t win.

    • Paul M Says:

      I don’t think Anthony Julius is given to taking cases he thinks are un-winnable or ill-considered. I would say —- pun only slightly intended — that the jury’s still out.

    • Gideon Swort Says:

      I fear he is destined to lose this ill considered attempt to sue.

      The letter, rightfully so, does not reveal information as to amassed evidence nor strategy. You are lacking a valid apparatus to make a “considered” evaluation. Your apparent “fear”, and reading of “destiny” is not likely to be the substance by which a proven top caliber (awe inspiring genius) lawyer makes his legal decisions. I rest assured that Ronnie is made of sterner (shtarker) stuff too.

  5. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    If I was on the UCU National Executive, I’d start to worry – and the trustees and the union’s solicitors own lawyers will have their own views on this matter, and may well overrule the Executive.

  6. Gideon Swort Says:

    If he does and if he wins, the four conditions given at the end of Anthony Julius’s letter would be a very bitter pill for the “hard-liners” to swallow.

    For them my heart bleeds.

    Brian, as always – compassionate and considerate.

    I’d rather hope they disregard AJ’s letter with contempt, and make the (stupid) assumption that they can fight this (him) out in court.

    We all note, again, it’s Mr. Julius who steps up to the plate to take action.

  7. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    If the case goes to the Equality tribunal and The UCU loses, can The UCU appeal the judgement and to which court(s)?

  8. Isca Stieglitz Says:

    Good luck to Ronnie Fraser, with the help of Anthony Julius and thank you so very much.

  9. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    Ronnie Fraser “Academic Friends of Israel” :

    This year’s classic comment came in the debate over the UCU’s invitation to Bongani Masuku, International Secretary of the COSATU to attend the UCU’s BDS conference. You knew immediately which way the vote would go when the seconder for the motion which criticised the invitation was shouted down with cries of “shame” when he said that the BDS conference cannot be considered a success because they invited an anti-Semite. Even though the South African Human Rights Commission had found that Masuku’s statements were directed at local Jewish community and amounted to hate speech, delegates were told that there was no substance to these charges and Masuku was not an anti-Semite because his remarks were not directed at the South African Jewish community – as if this makes a difference. One of Masuku’s supporters, Mike Cushman implied that Masuku was a good guy because he was clear about the difference between Jews and supporters of Israel – Supporters of Israel, he stated whether Jewish or not, had Masuku’s contempt whereas opponents of Israel or those who criticized Israel whether they were Jewish or not had his support. Unsurprisingly when it came to the vote, the motion was lost.

    Motion 33 UCU’s invitation to Bongani Masuku of South Africa
    Congress notes that:
    UCU invited Bongani Masuku to a meeting in December 2009 to discuss Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions against Israel;
    the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has found that at a rally at the University of the Witwatersrand in March 2009 Masuku ‘uttered numerous anti-Semitic remarks which were seen to have incited violence and hatred amongst the students who were present.’;
    the SAHRC has determined that these statements, and others made publicly by Masuku, amount to hate speech prohibited by the South African constitution;
    the SAHRC finding makes it clear that Masuku does not deny making the remarks attributed to him;
    these remarks were publicly available on the internet well before UCU’s invitation to Masuku was issued.
    Congress dissociates itself from Masuku’s repugnant views.

  10. David Miller Says:

    I can’t imagine that this development has gone unnoticed by UCU activists in which case, they appear to be studiously ignoring it so far. Not a mention on the Activists’ list although as I only get daily digests, I may have to wait a little longer………

  11. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    If UCU analysed British military actions since 9/11, in the same manner that it does Israel’s, then it would have no option but to call for a boycott of Britain. Inevitably, this might impinge on the ability of British academics to work with their foreign counterparts, but it would, I am sure, be a price worth paying.
    Israel’s military has done its best to avoid killing civilians (even Judge Goldstone now seems to agree re Cast Lead) and one could certainly argue that Britain has much to learn from the procedures which she adopts. Moreover, Israel has killed far fewer people since 9/11 than Britain has in her various “imperialist” wars, and one has to wonder why such carnage has not resulted in a demand by The UCU to “Boycott Britain”. Perhaps they are being ridiculously patriotic, or are just obsessed about Israel?

  12. Times Higher Education on UCU « Soupy One Says:

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  13. Portia, Shylock and the exclusion of Israeli actors from the global cultural community – David Hirsh « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

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