Sheffield Hallam UCU passed a second antisemitic motion yesterday

Last November, Sheffield Hallam University UCU passed an antisemitic motion in support of David Miller. The UCU branch rejected a motion that outlined in detail what may be antisemitic about Miller’s work and instead declared that it was not antisemitic. The branch blamed ‘external pressure’ and it said that the allegations made against his work, by his own Jewish students, by many scholars of antisemitism, by the institutions of the Jewish community and by the Parliamentary All Party Group against Antisemitism, were ‘malicious’. For more on that motion, follow this link. To see what Jewish students in Sheffield said about this motion, follow this link.

Yesterday, SHU UCU passed a second antisemitic motion, this time in support of Shahd Absulama, a PhD student and Special Visiting Lecturer who is currently being investigated by the University for antisemitic Facebook posts and tweets.

About using the word “Holocaust”, she wrote that she wouldn’t “use such a politicized word often used to justify the racist state of Israel” and that use of the word Holocaust “distracts attention from the Zionist practices of settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians”.

Another Tweet, since deleted, urged followers to watch a YouTube video entitled, “Truth About Zionist Jews.” This video reportedly presented numerous antisemitic myths about the Talmud.

Yesterday’s motion blamed the “Zionist press”, words used by Absulama herself who was present at the meeting, for targeting her because she is “critical of Israeli policy.” This seems to have been a reference to recent articles in the Jewish News and on the Campaign Against Antisemitism website.  

At the meeting, one member said, “if there are subterranean goings on like at Bristol University, we need to know about it”. It was agreed that Absulama’s “Palestinian Holocaust” tweet was “acceptable political commentary” and that the IHRA definition, adopted by the University in February 2021, was a being used as a tool to silence criticism of Israel.

Absulama’s Talmud tweet was excused on the ground that it was made in 2012 when Gaza was being “bombarded” by Israel: “everyone is entitled to make mistakes in the past for which they have publicly apologised” declared the motion’s proposer, despite there being no evidence of any apology, public or otherwise.

Absulama’s director of studies told the meeting that “black and brown people have had to justify what they have said for many centuries” and that “it is not by chance that the IHRA definition has been used against a young Palestinian scholar.”

The one thing that was not discussed at the meeting was antisemitism, except for a passing reminder by Absulama’s PhD supervisor that the term has been wrongly used to criticise Emma Watson for her support of the Palestinians.

One person spoke against and voted against the motion. When the 97% vote in favour of the motion was announced, there was spontaneous applause, and one member gave the black power salute. Absulama has since tweeted about her victory naming the colleague and union “comrade” who voted against the motion as speaking for “Israeli apartheid and propagandists”:

This is the motion that was passed:

Sheffield Hallam UCU branch notes:

  • UCU national policy on malicious allegations and the controversial IHRA definition;   
  • Sheffield Hallam University has in recent years demonstrated a rhetorical commitment to antiracism and decolonialism;   
  • Sheffield Hallam post-graduate student and Special Visiting Lecturer, Shahd Abusalama, a UCU member and Palestinian from Gaza, is accused by the Jewish News and Campaign Against Antisemitism of antisemitism for tweets condemning Israeli policy;   
  • Her posts fall entirely within the boundaries of acceptable political commentary;  
  • Shahd is on an SVL contract, affording her only ‘worker’ status, and few effective employment rights under UK law.    
  • SHU cancelled her contracted classes before notifying her of any investigation. While her classes have now been reinstated, which this branch welcomes, there remains an investigation into her conduct;

    Sheffield Hallam UCU branch believes:   
  • The attack on Shahd is motivated by her defence of Palestinian rights and threatens academic freedom;  
  • The adoption of the controversial IHRA definition by Sheffield Hallam is prima facie directly responsible for the situation that has arisen;  

    Sheffield Hallam UCU branch resolves to:   
  • Call for any investigation against Shahd that is premised on the IHRA definition and its examples to cease;  
  • Call for the university to issue an apology for the evident distress they have caused Shahd;  
  • Call for the university to ensure there are no further question marks over the employment protections she is entitled to by moving her on to a more secure contract;  
  • Call for a moratorium on the application of the IHRA definition;  
  • Be prepared to utilise a range of sanctions (withdrawing from negotiation and consultation, calling for a vote of no confidence in disciplinary processes at SHU, industrial action) should Shahd or any other member be victimised for the expression of legitimate political beliefs;  
  • Issue a public statement of support for Shahd;   
  • Urge UCU national President to ensure support for members targeted through the malicious misuse of the IHRA definition.