Response to Mike Cushman, leading Jewish activist in University and College Union – David Hirsh

Last week I wrote this piece about the latest pro Israel Boycott motion overwhelmingly passed by UCU Congress.  In that piece I argued that UCU still has a problem with cultural and institutional antisemitism, but that there was no longer much noise about it.  The reason there is not much noise, I argued, is that there are almost no activists left within the decision making structures of the union who want to make a noise. Specifically, I argued, there are no Jews left at Congress willing or able to oppose antisemitism.  True, there are some Jews there, but they are either antizionist pro-boycott Jews, or they are people who choose to keep their heads down.

Mike Cushman has responded to my piece here.  It is good that he has responded in public because I am still bureaucratically excluded from the internal email discussion, so I have no idea what is said there.  I have no right to read what is said about me and I have no right to reply either.

Mike begins his piece by demonstrating in practice how Jews who refuse to identify as antizionist are generally treated in the union.  He says Engage is ‘scurrilous’.  I didn’t know what that mean so I looked it up:  ‘making or spreading scandalous claims about someone with the intention of damaging their reputation’.  Of course I don’t lie about people; I analyse what they say and do in a way with which they disagree.  Engage makes arguments.

This is how Jews get bullied in UCU: ‘Colleagues have said that we should not respond to Hirsh’s calumnies [‘the making of false and defamatory statements’], suggesting that he is such a marginal and pitiful figure that he is not worth the attention but craves it.’  My trade union colleagues and my academic colleagues talk about me in these terms.  Why?  Because I oppose the boycott and I oppose antisemitism.  This is how Jews who opposed the boycott and who opposed antisemitism were bullied out of the decision making structures of the union.

Since when have socialists and trade unionists spoken contemptuously of the marginal and the pitiful?  Only when they are Jews who can be constructed as ‘Zionist’.

Cushman then writes this:  ‘Only Jews who subscribe to ‘my Zion right or wrong’ are real Jews in Hirsh’s eyes – the rest of them, a steadily growing number, are presumably ‘asaJew’ as Engage so eloquently describes them.’

Mike Cushman knows that this is not true; he knows that I am critical of much Israeli policy, he knows that I have spent thirty years arguing against the Israeli right.  See this recent talk, for example, which I gave in debate with Melanie Philips, and see this description of the event.   So this is the another key mode of UCU bullying: even somebody considered to be on the far left of the Jewish community is understood, within UCU, to be a ‘myZion right or wrong’ Jew.  In the normal world this characterisation may appear unobjectionable but within UCU it functions as an epithet meaning that I am a supporter of a racist ideology of Jewish supremacism and apartheid.  All Jews, who refuse to disavow Israel, are thought of as this singular and disgraceful entity.  They are excluded from the community of the UCU.

Allow me to explain what Cushman means when he refers to an ‘asaJew’.  I have seen Mike stand up to introduce a pro boycott motion at UCU Congress.  He stands up and he announces how courageous he is to oppose the Zionists.  His first concern is to satisfy the audience that there is nothing antisemitic about the proposed academic boycott of Israel.  For some reasons why his boycott may be antisemitic, follow this link.  But Mike does not tend to begin by making his argument; instead he begins with something like: ‘As a Jew, I can tell you that there is nothing antisemitic about this boycott’, or about the culture in this union, or about the fact that the only Jews left at Congress are antizionist or silent Jews.  This very phrase, ‘asaJew’ is trotted out as though it gave the speaker some kind of credibility.  If this guy is Jewish, they want people to think, and if he says there is no antisemitism, he must be right.  It is a mobilization of a Jewish identity as a political weapon.  It is an inversion of the Macpherson principle.  To read more about Jewish antizionism, follow this link.

I have never argued that antizionist Jews aren’t Jews, or aren’t real Jews.  What I say is that there is a huge consensus within the Jewish community about the legitimacy of Israel, against boycotts and how to recognize antisemitism, which Mike Cushman and his ‘asaJews’ stand outside of and which they oppose.  And they always use the prefix ‘as a Jew’ when they do so.

The Macpherson principle does not rely on the victims to define racism but it does take what victims say seriously.  If it is true that there is a broad consensus in the Jewish community about antisemitism, it does not follow that the consensus is correct; but it does mean that the existence of such a consensus is relevant.

Mike Cushman tries to pretend that there could be an ‘institutional boycott’ of Israeli academic institutions which would not boycott any Israeli scholars.  For reasons why the ‘institutional boycott’ is a myth, and for what PACBI actually says about individual Israeli scholars, see this piece.

Mike has forgotten that in 2006 NATFHE, the union which merged with AUT to form UCU,  passed a motion which called for a boycott of Israeli scholars who failed to “publicly dissociate themselves” from “Israel’s apartheid policies.”  Indeed PACBI did move away from the McCarthyite test after this, preferring the institutional test.  Steve Cohen, author of ‘That’s Funny You Don’t Look Antisemitic‘, wrote this piece after the NATFHE decision in 2006, in which he argued that this kind of political test functions in a specifically antisemitic way.

Mike asks: ‘Does [Hirsh] expect UCU, or anyone else, to believe that there has been a spontaneous uprising of the recent spate of accusations’ of antisemitism?  The UCU motion explains this ‘uprising’, and much more, as a manifestation of Zionist power.  A much simpler explanation for the fact that lots of people are talking about antisemitism in the Labour movement is that there is antisemitism in the Labour movement. Here is a list of some recent examples on the one hand, and also a list of people who say that the examples are actually made up by the state of Israel to smear the left.  Which is more plausible?

Mike Cushman is normally a skeptic when it comes to the workings of the bourgeois legal system.  But when the decision goes his way, he clings onto it with all his strength.  If people want to read more about the Fraser case against UCU, they should have a look at this link.  It is worth remembering that none of the boycotters or the antizionist Jews were called as witnesses in UCU’s defence.  I wonder why not.

David Hirsh

UCU member