Archive for the ‘UCU’ Category.

UK academic union faces claims of ‘institutional anti-Semitism’

This is a cross post from The Times of Israel by Miriam Shaviv

Severe anti-Israel bias ‘makes Jews feel uncomfortable and unwelcome,’ lecturer charges in landmark tribunal

The UK’s trade union for academics, the University and College Union, is “institutionally anti-Semitic,” a London employment tribunal heard Monday.

The claim was made on the opening day of a potentially landmark case, which partially revolves around UCU’s resolutions concerning an academic boycott of Israel.

The claimant, freelance mathematics lecturer Ronnie Fraser, is alleging that the union harassed him by creating a hostile environment for him as a Jew, which “derives from a culture and attitude which is informed by contemporary anti-Zionism. Complaints about anti-Semitism are met with either bald denials or accusations that the complainant is attempting to stifle legitimate debate. As a result of the role which the State of Israel plays in contemporary Jewish identity, the hostile environment necessarily has an adverse impact on Jewish members of the union, making them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.”

He says that this contravenes the 2010 Equality Act, which prevents discrimination on grounds of race or religion.

Unusually for an employment tribunal, the case will take four weeks to be heard. Over 30 witnesses for the claimant include the Booker Prize winning novelist Howard Jacobson — who has submitted a witness statement but will not be cross-examined — as well as Jewish community officials and numerous academics, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The seven witnesses for the respondent are all UCU officials.

Two of the three witnesses who testified during the opening session Monday discussed UCU’s decision to allow the international relations spokesperson for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Bongani Masuku, to speak at a UK conference promoting boycott and divestment of Israel in December 2009. Just two days earlier, the South African Human Rights Commission had publicized its finding that Masuku was guilty of hate speech against the Jewish community of South Africa. The statements, which were made at a student rally at the University of Witwatersrand the previous March, included threats to South African families with children in the IDF, as well as a promise to make the lives of Zionists in South Africa “hell.”

Wendy Kahn, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, a representative body, argued that UCU leaders were informed of the ruling the day after it was made public (and the day before the conference) and had ample time to ensure Masuku did not have a platform in the UK. She rejected the suggestion by UCU’s lawyer, Antony White QC, that since Masuku had announced his intention to make further representations to the SAHRC, there was at the time “the possibility of a range of views about what Masuku had done”.

“That range of views was brought to the Human Rights Commission, they had a finding that was communicated to the Union and to the people who had invited over Masuku,” she said.

She was repeatedly questioned about when criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism and whether comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa were anti-Semitic.

“Whether Israel is or is not an apartheid state is academic discourse; it’s often discussed in the South African media,” she said. “When comments are made, ‘I came to the conclusion that Jews are arrogant’ or ‘Jews control the US’ — these comments are unacceptable, that’s when you go to the Human Rights Commission. When Jews are talked about as having blood dripping from their hands, that they should leave the country — that’s when you go to the Human Rights Commission.”

Political debate is “valid, to be admired,” Kahn later added. However, she said, “I have a problem with using the Israeli situation as an excuse for hate speech and making comments on fellow South Africans. Some of the comments drew on classic and modern anti-Semitic discourse.”

A second witness, retired University of Oxford biochemistry professor Michael Yudkin, had helped draft a motion in his local UCU branch disassociating members from “Masuku’s repugnant views,” which was passed 14:1. In May 2010, he proposed the motion at the UCU Annual Congress, but lost by “an overwhelming majority”. Yudkin subsequently resigned his UCU membership.

By the time Masuku was invited to the London conference, Yudkin  stated, “it was a matter of public record that he had made remarks at a public meeting several months earlier that were, to put it no more strongly, prima facie anti-Semitic. The most cursory search of Google in October or November 2009 would have revealed both that such remarks had been made by Masuku, and also that there had been official complaints about them. The fact that UCU nonetheless invited Masuku to the conference in London suggests either that the union was reckless in failing to scrutinise the background of its invitees or that it knew of Masuku’s anti-Semitic remarks and didn’t consider them a reason for rescinding the invitation.”

His motion, Yudkin said, “centered on the expression of anti-Semitic views by someone who had been invited by the union to the UK. It recited incontrovertible facts and it invited the union to dissociate itself from remarks that had been found by an authoritative body (the South African Human Rights Commission) to amount to hate speech. That the union was unwilling to do so indicates, in my opinion, that it regards the expression of anti-Semitic views as acceptable.”

When White suggested that some UCU members felt it was inappropriate to support the motion as COSATU had said it was going to make further representations on Masuku’s behalf and legal proceedings were still ongoing, Yudkin responded, “I’m struck by the overwhelming opposition to the motion, 10:1 [against]. I don’t think these niceties about whether COSATU supported the appeal can be used as an excuse for that degree of opposition — all the motion asked [members] to do was to disassociate themselves from Masuku’s racist remarks, and that they refused to do. The context was the last several years of anti-Israel resolutions. All added together made it clear that the union was run by those committed to disregarding the feelings of its Jewish members and thinking that the kind of behaviour in which it was indulging did not need an explanation. It was institutional antisemitism.”

Told that several of the speakers opposing the motion were Jewish, Yudkin responded, “The fact that they are Jews by birth or upbringing is not a sufficient reason to think people may not be guilty of disregarding what is important to the majority of Jews.”

The panel of three judges, led by AM Snelson, will spend Tuesday listening to audio recordings of the UCU debates on an Israel boycott and the claimant, Ronnie Fraser, will take the stand on Wednesday



The UCU antisemitism motion

Today, UCU voted to reject the EUMC working definition of antisemitism, leaving nothing in its place.

  • CST explain why the EUMC definition is important here
  • Ben Gidley has an excellent piece on why this motion is so problematic here

The motion comes after five years of UCU passing boycotts of Israel, inviting racists to speak, ignoring the resignations of Jewish members and allowing a deeply uncomfortable atmosphere for Jewish members to persist in the union.

Before the motion, Jewish leaders wrote to UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt. They also contacted Trevor Phillips of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who confirmed that nobody from UCU consulted with the Commission. He restated the importance of the MacPhearson definition of a racist incident, saying:

“..if the object of harrasment or attack regards her treatment as being anti-semitic, even if the perpetrator maintains that their action is politically motivated, the presumption is that the victim’s perception is what defines the incident.”

None of this made any difference. The motion was proposed by the Union’s own National Executive Committee and passed by a huge majority. See Engage’s live blog of the debate.

We now believe that UCU is an institutionally racist organisation. If you agree, join our Twitter campaign and help spread the word. We tweeted:

We believe that @UCU is an institutionally racist organisation. RT if you agree.

If you’re a Twitter user and you agree with us, then join in, tweet and spread the word.

Fair Play reacts to the UCU motion on antisemitism

“UCU’s treatment of its Jewish members over the last five years includes assaulting their identity, ignoring their harassment in the Union and refusing to investigate their resignations. Now UCU has gone further and simply redefined ‘antisemitism’ itself. UCU will actually campaign for other organisations to stop fully fighting antisemitism, and has changed its procedures so complaints from Jewish members will be treated with suspicion.

The truth is apparent: whatever the motivations of its members, we believe UCU is an institutionally racist organisation.”

For a live report of UCU’s vote on redefining antisemitism, see ENGAGE.


UCU tries to dance between the raindrops, gets soaked

The email below was sent out to UCU branches a couple of weeks ago. We have obtained a copy. In it, UCU’s General Secretary and President try to promote a boycott of Israel without actually promoting a boycott of Israel.

UCU has a problem:

  1. It’s illegal and discriminatory for UCU to promote or organise an academic boycott of Israel. This has been repeatedly confirmed by the Union’s own lawyers and by Stop the Boycott.
  2. However, UCU’s Socialist-Worker-dominated structures have voted to pursue just such an unlawful and discriminatory boycott policy anyway

Any sensible Trade Union would have never allowed itself to get into this situation, and would have just ruled the boycott motions as ultra vires. It seems that UCU is so obsessed with Israel that it’s prepared to risk breaking the law to promote its discriminatory policy.

UCU has tried to get round this contradiction by promoting a boycott while pretending, at the same time, that it’s doing nothing of the sort.

We’re not fooled, and we don’t think you will be either once you read it. This email below is proof that UCU is promoting a boycott of Israel against its own legal advice.


UCU/350   April 2011

University and College Union

Carlow Street, London NW1 7LH Telephone 020 7756 2500

To Branch and local association secretaries
Topic Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS)
Action For information
Summary A summary of existing UCU policy and advice on Palestine/Israel
Contact Paul Bennett, Senior National Official (


Dear Colleague

Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) – the Case of Israel; and the Case of Ariel College, occupied West Bank

At the last meeting of the union’s Strategy and Finance Committee it was agreed that in the run up to Congress the president should circulate to branches and local associations for information the attached summary of existing UCU policy and advice on Palestine/Israel.

Yours sincerely


Sally Hunt

General secretary

Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) – the Case of Israel; and the Case of Ariel College, occupied West Bank

Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions

You will be aware that the matter of boycott in relation to Israeli academic institutions has been part of an on-going debate in the UCU for some time.  The question has been raised at successive Congresses in relation to a number of related issues, and branches and regions have been asked to discuss the question, and to invite speakers where appropriate. This was, quite properly, a protracted process so that colleagues in branches had much time to reflect before branch delegates to our annual Congress finally determined UCU policy.

I do not intend to rehearse either side of the argument here in any detail. In essence, however, the case for a boycott hinged on the complicity of all Israeli academic institutions in the continuance of an illegal occupation of the West Bank (research on weaponry, psychology of interrogation and pacification, surveillance, training of occupation forces, anthropological and philosophical reasons and rationalisations, etc.), and a failure to dissociate themselves from the occupation, and its adverse effects on Palestinian education and the academic freedom of its scholars, or from the discriminatory treatment of the Palestinian population within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

The case against the boycott concerned two claims: the illegitimacy of singling out Israel for such treatment amongst all the nation states that engage in oppressive and discriminatory policy, and the consequently implicit anti-Semitism entailed in the proposal for a boycott of Israel; and the unacceptability of ever infringing academic freedom by ostracizing any section of the global academic community, and particularly a section (Israeli institutions) which makes such a distinctive and disproportionate contribution to knowledge and technique.

At our last Congress, delegates again debated the policy, this time on the issue of the general application of a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions policy. The motion debated is reproduced below for information. The decision of Congress, on the vote of the overwhelming majority of delegates, was to adopt this motion unamended as the policy position of the UCU.

Since this issue was debated at UCU Congress last year, it has been adopted by an increasing number of trade unions in the TUC, and is the policy of the Scottish TUC. It is also the policy of a growing number of trade unions and trade union federations internationally. Within the last year, it is a policy that has also been adopted by a minority of Israeli academic colleagues and scholars.

Advice to Members

I am writing to you now, on the advice of the National Executive, simply to inform you of this fact. This information does not constitute an instruction from the UCU to implement a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or of Israel in general. The UCU is not in a position to issue such an instruction to members. Nor is it an individual invitation to members from me, as President, or from the NEC, to operate such a boycott. That is a matter for the individual conscience of each of us. The point of this communication is simply to draw your attention to the policy position of your union. How individual members decide to act in relation to that information is a matter for them.

Ariel College

A related matter concerned the issue of Ariel College. You will see the motion below that was passed, again overwhelmingly, about this institution. Ariel College is located in a settlement in the occupied West Bank. The mission statement of the College clearly specifies its role. The process by which it is to be granted university status is currently a matter of dispute in Israel, where many Israeli scholars are disquieted both by the process itself, and by the implication of installing a university on occupied land.

The motion is self-explanatory. The Strategy and Finance Committee will be taking forward the issue of an investigation.

Emergency Motion

A related Emergency Motion was also passed on the morning of the Congress that Israeli forces attacked the aid flotilla to Gaza. The text of that motion is also reproduced here.

Further Information

Members requiring further information on the policy of BDS or about Ariel College are advised to pursue their own web-based search initially, and then to contact the relevant organizations. Those who are interested in the issue of education in Israel and in the Occupied Territories could start with the chapter on Palestine in the 2009 study of academic freedom internationally by James Cemmell commissioned by the UCU ( ).[1]


Alan Whitaker

President, UCU


31 Palestine solidarity, BDS, and Histadrut – University of Brighton Grand Parade

Congress notes

n   the successful international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) conference hosted by the UCU in line with Congress policy;

n   the statement that emerged from that conference, and the call from the Palestinian Boycott National Committee for an isolation of Israel while it continues to act in breach of international law.

Congress resolves:

n   to reaffirm its support for BDS, and to seek its implementation within the constraints of the existing law;

n   to seek in conjunction with other trade unions, nationally and internationally, to establish an annual international conference on BDS, a trade union sponsored BDS website and a research centre on commercial, cultural and academic complicity with Israeli breaches of international law, with appropriate cost sharing;

n   to sever all relations with Histadrut, and to urge other trade unions and bodies to do likewise;

to campaign actively against the EU-Israel Association Agreement, and to coordinate that campaign with other trade unions and solidarity movements.



32 Ariel and West Bank Colonisation – University of Brighton Falmer

Congress notes

n   the continuing colonisation of the West Bank – construction of illegal settlements, Israeli-only roads, diversion of Palestinian water, disaggregation of the territory, disruption of Palestinian life, destruction of olive groves and separation of Palestinian cultivators from their land, denial of educational and scholarly opportunities to Palestinians, and the continuing construction of the Wall;

n   the contribution of Israel’s academy in this process – scientific and social and historical research, siting of annexes on illegally confiscated land, and support for military occupation;

n   the particular contribution of Ariel College in this process – recruiting Israelis as settlers for their education – and the recent decision of Israel to recognise Ariel as a ‘university centre’, on the way to its establishment as a university on occupied territory.

Congress resolves to commence the investigatory process associated with the imposition of a boycott of Ariel College.



L11    Emergency motion

Congress is appalled at the Israeli act of piracy in international waters on 31 May. It condemns the armed attack on the Gaza convoy and the murders of people seeking to bring aid to the people of Gaza suffering from the Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

Congress believes this constitutes a prima facie crime against humanity.

Congress believes that the senior Israeli government members and senior military and naval officers responsible for commissioning this action should be tried for this crime.

Congress demands that the UK government does not change the rules on universal jurisdiction to impede bringing the people responsible for these murders to justice.



[1] Cemmell, J. Academic Freedom: International Study (Burma, Columbia, Israel, Palestine, Zimbabwe), UCU, London, 2009



UCU’s hypocricy

The following letter appeared in the Independent last week:

I wonder whether it is just possible that those members of the University and College Union (UCU) who, for many years, have campaigned for the academic boycott of Israel – the only democratic country in the Middle East – are prepared to think seriously about the implications of the Gaddafi-LSE affair and the acceptance by several UK Universities of huge amounts of money in order to set up Oriental Institutes and Islamic and Middle Eastern studies centres whose academic appointments and courses of study are strongly influenced by their patrons. Will those members of UCU who call for the boycott of Israeli universities remain silent about the acceptance of funding with strings attached from the despotic rulers of countries such as Libya, Saudi Arabia or Qatar?

Henry Ettinghausen
Emeritus Professor of Spanish
University of Southampton

HT: modernity