Martin Bright on Ronnie Fraser’s Legal Action


Martin Bright

This piece, by Martin Bright, is from the

Pivotal moment for unions and Labour

For many years, too many trade union members have stood by as their officers expended significant time and money on international “solidarity” campaigns. The honourable cause of Palestinian national self-determination has thus been swallowed up in an ideological pudding that bundles together Venezuela, Chile and Cuba within campaign groups often run by the same small number of hard-left organisations.

Mr Fraser, director of Academic Friends of Israel, has been driven to this course of action by his treatment at the hands of his fellow trade unionists. This should be a matter of deep shame to all his comrades in the UCU. The union that represents the country’s intellectuals and thinkers should never have allowed itself to be drawn into this kind of fringe politics. Now it finds itself the subject of a harassment complaint under the Equality Act 2010.

As it has done so often over recent years, the trade union movement has provided the stick with which its opponents can beat it. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was able to occupy the moral high ground when he wrote in the JC last week that the UCU was sending a “chilling message” to Jewish academics and students.

The labour movement and the party that represents it has been left flat-footed once more.

The TUC leadership has so far held the line against an all-out boycott on Israel but it will come under increasing pressure to harden its stance in the run-up to this year’s Congress in September. So far Ed Miliband has been silent on the issue. He has the rest of the summer to reflect, but then he must show some leadership.

This piece, by Martin Bright, is from the

Norm – the Hunt elucubration 4

Norm with a  further UCU chestnut.

See 1, 2, and 3.

Posted in UCU. 2 Comments »

Sarah Annes Brown – more on UCU and the EUMC working definition of antisemitism

From Sarah Annes Brown’s further reflections on the University and College Union and the EUMC’s working definition of antisemitism:

“The working definition notes that, with all these possible diagnostic criteria, the overall context must be taken into account when making a judgement. One probably isn’t going to fret too much about the ‘overall context’ of a call to genocide. But it is true that some of the criteria are calculated to help identify rather less threatening cases, including the accidental use of an antisemitic trope, which – just like a single chance use of the epithet ‘narcissistic’ to describe a homosexual – should probably be overlooked. But where there is a whole cluster of subtle innuendos in a single article the Working Definition can help pinpoint a real problem. For in order to be truly useful any guidelines for helping identify prejudice must go beyond the obvious. For example, burning a mosque is pretty clearly Islamophobic, but what about criticising Halal slaughter? Here, as with antisemitic tropes, there would be a need to look at the overall context. The issue of Halal food is certainly often manipulated by anti-Muslim bigots – but that fact shouldn’t be used to close down debate about animal welfare. “

Read it all.

Four UCU members resign from the union in Scotland

[letter available as pdf from the website of The Scottish Council forJewish communities]

30 June 2011

Dear Sally Hunt,

We have all been members of UCU and its predecessors throughout our careers. We are also, however, members of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, the representative council for Scotland’s Jewish communities. Now that UCU has adopted a racist policy towards Jews, these positions have become incompatible. We are resigning in consequence.

At the end of May, the UCU Congress adopted motion 70 on antisemitism. The resolution criticises the definition of antisemitism proposed by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) and now sponsored by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights. The resolution states that UCU will make no use of this definition of antisemitism, and that it will dissociate itself from the definition. It takes the view that the effect of objecting to antisemitic comment is to “silence debate”. In other words, UCU is claiming a licence to vilify Jews in service of its political aims.

The EUMC definition, which you have rejected, reflects the perceptions of many people in the Jewish community at large. The Macpherson report’s test for racist action is widely accepted: “a racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.” The problems identified in the EUMC definition are all problems of which the Jewish community in the UK is acutely aware, and the denial of those problems is a denial of our experience.

The definition gives a range of examples of positions to avoid. Antisemitism is often presented covertly – holocaust denial is an example – and it has become common for antisemitic comments to be masquerade as comments about Israel. Last year, SCoJeC explained the problems to the Scottish Trades Union Congress in these terms:

“… criticism of Israel is often expressed in racist terms. When you read, for example, that Israel’s behaviour is determined by the character of the Jewish people, that a powerful Zionist lobby exerts a sinister influence on Western governments, or that Israel is setting out to kill non-Jewish children, you are reading the politics of hate.”

The issues identified by the EUMC, such as “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”, have been at the root of intimidation and harassment of Jews in Britain.

As officers and members of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, we take no position on Israel. Our role, and democratic remit, is to represent the interests of Jewish people in Scotland. We have grave concerns in this respect. The racist propaganda brought in the wake of the Middle East crisis has exposed Jewish people in Scotland and the UK to a wave of hostility. From a recent survey, more than half the Jews witnessing antisemitic incidents attribute those incidents to anti-Israeli sentiment. This is the situation you are feeding.

The UCU resolution claims that the effect of accepting restrictions on what might be said is to “silence debate”. The motion declares that defining antisemitism in the terms of the EUMC definition “confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine antisemitism”. On the contrary, that distinction is made by the document you are attacking: it says explicitly that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”. It is UCU that has failed to recognise the distinction. The heading on the order paper states openly that the resolution is about antisemitism. The resolution seeks to remove restrictions on people’s ability to make antisemitic statements, so long as they appear in the form of criticism of Israel. Your resolution gives licence to racists.

UCU continues to claim, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that it remains opposed to racism. Congress chose to ignore what they were told in the debate: Ronnie Fraser said: “I, a Jewish member of this union, am telling you, that I feel an antisemitic mood in
this union and even in this room. I would feel your refusal to engage with the EUMC definition of antisemitism, if you pass this motion, as a racist act.” By the Macpherson test, you had a duty to listen. You did not listen. This is a racist policy.

We cannot continue to participate in a union which legitimises antisemitism.


Professor Paul Spicker, The Robert Gordon University, UCU no 7561

Ephraim Borowski, formerly Glasgow University; former President, Glasgow AUT and national Trustee; AUT member no 9975

Walter Sneader, formerly University of Strathclyde, UCU no 28619 (resigned May 2011)

Prof Gillian Raab, St Andrews University, UCU no 5741

In 2009 UCU Congress was asked to mandate the union to investigate resignations.  But Congress said no, it didn’t want an investigation into why people were resigning from the union citing antisemitism as a reason.

Other UCU members who have spoken out:

Ronnie Fraser

Joseph Mintz

Ben Gidley

Brian Cowan

David-Hillel Ruben

Jon Pike, Open University, Resignation from NEC

Ariel Hessayon,  Goldsmiths

Michael Yudkin, David Smith and Dennis Noble, Oxford

Shalom Lappin, King’s College, London   

Raphaël Lévy, Liverpool University

Jonathan G. Campbell, Bristol University  

Colin Meade, London Metropolitan University 

Eric Heinze,  QMUL

Tim Crane, Univesity College London

Eve Garrard, Keele University

Dov Stekel, University of Birmingham

Raphaël Lévy, University of Liverpool

Sarah Brown, Anglia Ruskin University

Mira Vogel, Goldsmiths

Robert Fine’s account of Congress, Warwick U

Norman Geras, Manchester University

Eva Fromjovic, Leeds University

Robert Simon, LSE

Lesley Klaff, Sheffield Hallam

Deborah Steinberg, Warwick

David Hirsh, Goldsmiths

Stephen Soskin, Buckinghamshire New University

76 UCU members signed a public protest about UCU’s failure to take seriously the criticism made against it by the Parliamentary Inquiry. Read their protest, published in the Times Higher.

39 UCU members signed a public protest at the UCU’s refusal to meet with Ger Weisskirchen at his request. Weisskirchen is the OSCE’s Chairman-in-Office Representative on antisemitism. The protest, which went unheeded and ignored by the UCU.

Rob Marchant on UCU and antisemitism

In short, UCU, supposedly representing the cream of our intelligent people has, in its ignorance, rather shown itself deserving of our condemnation.

We must always be aware of the dangers of race-paranoia. But the reverse is also true: we are sometimes not aware of racism that really exists – like, for example, when institutional racism in the Met was highlighted by the MacPherson report – and that not everyone quite is as enlightened as we think.

UCU is just an example of a worrying wider trend. We spend a lot of time rightly criticising the white racists of the BNP and the EDL. But it’s high time we confronted those who condone those other kinds of racism around us. Before they really start to hurt the credibility, and the ethos, of the whole Labour movement.

The whole piece is on Labour List.

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

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

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