Institutional Antisemitism

by A. Jay Adler on July 12, 2011
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For Americans unfamiliar with it, Britain’s University College Union (UCU) might be thought of as a higher ed American Federation of Teachers (AFT) or National Education Association (NEA) combined with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). It is a union and a professional association. It has a membership of 130,000. After years of obsessive political attention to that crucial British educational issue, Israel, and ever growing resignations by its Jewish members, who cite a hostile and persecutory environment, one Jewish UCU member is now calling a spade a spade. From Engage:

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 Israelthe conduct of these debatesthe moderating of the activist list and the penalising of anti-boycott activiststhe failure to engage with people who raised concerns; the failure to address resignationsthe refusal to meet the OSCE’s special represenative on antisemitismthe hosting of Bongani Masukuthe 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.

More from the letter by Julius, one of the foremost experts on the history of and current British Antisemitism:

You will see that I complain, among other things, about the UCU’s year-on-year anti-Israel boycott resolutions (and the conduct of the debates on those resolutions), the moderating of the on-line forum for UCU members, the penalising of anti-boycott activists, the failure to engage with Jewish and non-Jewish members’ concerns regarding these matters, the failure to address the resignation from the union of many of those members, and the rebuffing of the OSCE’s special representative on anti-Semitism.

Conditions for the generality of Jewish members have only deteriorated since then. Further boycott resolutions have been passed; further incontinently anti-Semitic comments on the “Activists’ list” have been posted; there have been further resignations from the union by Jewish members. And if I add to this sorry list the union’s welcoming in 2009 of Bongani Masuku (and its 2010 endorsement of that welcome) it is only because the UCU’s hospitality to a confirmed anti-Semite makes for such a pointed contrast with its inhospitality to its own Jewish members.

The scandal is thus a long-standing one. It is continuous with the history of the union (indeed, it reaches back into the histories of the predecessor unions, the AUT and NATFHE). From its inception, the UCU has been inhospitable to Jews. It persists in its inhospitable conduct – indeed, intensifying it year by year, piling fresh insults upon accumulated insults to its Jewish members.

The recent resolution repudiating an internationally-accepted working definition of anti-Semitism (Resolution 70 / 2011) is among the most recent of such insults. It was a telling development, however.

Unable to defend itself against the charge of institutional anti-Semitism, the UCU sought instead to legislate anti-Semitism itself out of existence.

This indecent, discreditable resolution was passed in active disregard of the feelings of Jewish members – a disregard amounting to a kind of inflamed contempt for all Jews other than that minority among them ready to abet a degraded and obsessive “anti-Zionist” activism.

My client has had enough. He believes that the UCU’s conduct, over so many years now, has limited his options to either resigning or suing. He has chosen to sue. Unless I hear from you confirming that the UCU will meet his proper demands, as set out below, he will make an Equality Act claim to the Employment Tribunal. He expects to win, and in winning, to perform a service not just to his fellow Jewish UCU members and ex-members, but to the cause of decent, principled trades unionism.

One can find at Engage, a site dedicated to the coverage of British Antisemitism, longstanding and continuing coverage of the UCU disgrace.

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