To Sally Hunt regarding UCU’s Holocaust Memorial Day film

An email to Sally Hunt from UCU member Vanessa Freedman. She sent it on 12th December last year and has yet to receive a reply. Meanwhile she posts it here.

Dear Sally

Thank you for your invitation to take part in the Holocaust Memorial Day film. I have no testimony to share as none of my family was directly affected by the Holocaust. In any case I have grave reservations about this project, which seems like mere window dressing given the UCU leadership’s continued refusal to address the issue of institutional antisemitism within the union – to the extent that one Jewish member has been driven to take legal action.

The Congress motion on antisemitism in 2009 that instructed  the NEC to organise events on Holocaust Memorial Day failed to mention antisemitism within the union; an amendment proposed by my branch – instructing the NEC also to investigate the reasons for resignations from UCU members apparently in connection with perceptions of institutional antisemitism – was defeated at Congress. Such an amendment should have been unnecessary: when letters to you include statements such as ‘I, like many others, can no longer bear the shame and embarrassment of belonging to an institution which is willing to discriminate against Jews, and whose readiness to do so is supported by leading members of its Executive Committee’ (Eve Garrard, 1 July 2008), and ‘this is the only organization with which I have been involved in which I have been made to feel uncomfortable as a Jew’ (Dov Stekel, 2008) you and the NEC should have taken these seriously.

Other instances of concern to Jewish and other members include UCU’s invitation to Bongani Masuku to speak at a seminar to discuss a boycott of Israel, even though the South African Human Rights Commission had deemed that Masuku’s statements amounted to hate speech against the country’s Jewish community; and Congress’s rejection of the EUMC definition of antisemitism, which has led to more resignations and statements like ‘whether intentionally or otherwise, this has made UCU an even more uncomfortable place for Jewish members than it was previously … your repeated claim that UCU abhors anti-Semitism is not borne out by the evidence; rather, the evidence points overwhelmingly in the other direction … I sent you three emails on related issues in 2008 … I think you would agree that a trade union which abhorred anti-Semitism would take such emails from an ordinary member seriously. Regrettably, I never received a reply to any of them … I no longer wish to contribute my money to an organisation which has a problem with institutionalised anti-Semitism’ (James Mendelson, 14 July 2011).

Unless you and the NEC are prepared to take these concerns seriously, initiatives to mark Holocaust Memorial Day are an empty, even cynical, exercise.


Vanessa Freedman

2 Responses to “To Sally Hunt regarding UCU’s Holocaust Memorial Day film”

  1. Susan Anne Woolley Says:

    Absolutely. Agree totally. It’s a meaningless empty gesture, nothing more.

  2. R Davies Says:

    I have always found it fascinating that there is an assumption there is really just one lesson to draw from the Holocaust, that being the lesson the perpetrators, their allies and onlookers need to draw. The propagators of this perspective seem to expect the victims of the Holocaust and their descendants to share this same view.
    Of course the Holocaust was the prime example of how outwardly civilised people can rapidly become genocidal monsters, willing to murder, rob and dispossess millions. Of course the perpetrators and their descendants should be horrified at their own image looking back at them in this stained mirror called the Holocaust.
    But if you are one of the survivors or their descendants you may draw a fundamentally different lesson. That lesson is that without a viable independent defence force, the land where it and the community it defends can based itself, and the will to aggressively assert its right to exist and live freely; then the Holocaust and it’s many lesser monstrosities will happen over and over again.
    I find it also strange that people imagine that just because the state of Israel exists and is widely recognised, and since the war violence and discrimination against Jews has lessened, that somehow the previous centuries can be wiped away behind the curtain of Holocaust Memorial Day. The perpetrators of the Holocaust, their allies and the onlookers, and their descendants, have yet to earn the right to demand anything of the Jews or Gypsies in respect of anything. Perhaps the fiorst step to earning that it the recognition that there is no single simple lesson to learn from the Holocaust.

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