Monday, May 30, 2011

Reactions to UCU Congress motion on antisemitism

From the Jewish Chronicle:
By Martin Bright, May 30, 2011

The Universities and Colleges Union has voted to distance itself from the European Union's working definition of antisemitism at its annual congress in Harrogate. Delegates overwhelmingly supported the move on the part of the union's leadership, which believes the definition from the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia prevents open discussion of Israel. The union has a history of anti-Israel activism and on Sunday voted through a boycott motion. The definition includes any attacks on the Jewish people's right to self-determination.

Last week, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust wrote to the union and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission urging a rethink on the issue. The Jewish organisations urged the union to adopt the definition of racism contained in the Macpherson report on the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence. This defines a racist incident as one which is viewed as such by the victim or a third party. EHRC chair Trevor Phillips wrote back saying he was surprised the lecturers' union had not consulted him before taking action on the issue. Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council said: "After today's events I believe the UCU is institutionally racist."
Sarah AB at Harry's Place:
Although the result was fully expected, it was still extremely depressing to read David Hirsh’s report of the debate which has just taken place at Congress. 
Fair Play Campaign Group:
Today, UCU voted to reject the EUMC working definition of antisemitism, leaving nothing in its place.
David Schraub at the Debate Link:
The UCU, perhaps embarrassed over continuing allegations that it harbors a culture of institutional anti-Semitism, has finally agreed to investigate complaints from Jewish members and a torrent of resignations by Jewish academics.

Just kidding! Actually, they just decided to redefine the meaning of anti-Semitism itself, rejecting the commonly held EUMC definition (which affirms the possibility -- though, of course, not the inevitability -- that criticism of Israel could constitute anti-Semitism) in favor of, well, it appears in favor of no definition at all. So I guess it's not a "redefinition" of anti-Semitism so much as an erasure of it entirely -- which, when you think about it, is at least more in line with the UCU's general practice.
From the World Union of Jewish Studies (WUJS):
The World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) condemns the British University and College Union (UCU) in the wake of its passing a motion rejecting the European Union Monitoring Committee’s (EUMC) definition of anti-Semitism. This definition of anti-Semitism is used on a day-to-day basis by the National Union of Students to combat anti-Semitism, as well as by every major British Jewish communal body.

WUJS Chairman Oliver Worth said; “The UCU has consistently shown a total disregard for the welfare of Jewish students over an extended period of time. WUJS completely rejects the assertion that Jews cannot be trusted to define the ways in which they feel discriminated against, and that the Jewish community is incapable of defining anti-Semitism. The University and College Union stinks of institutional anti-Semitism, and as an organization that exists to protect Jewish students all over the World, we are deeply, deeply concerned.”


  1. I thought what Ronnie Fraser said was so heartfelt. What an appalling situation....

  2. I have, from time to time and with more, sometimes, and less, other times, intensity, followed what has been going on in the UK professorial unions, reading, in particular, the Engage website. My impression is that the leadership of Engage wants things two ways that cannot mix in one project. It wants to criticize the "occupation" but it wants to protect Israel and Jews from being demonized. In my mind, those two propositions cannot fill one agenda, and the results is that groups like Engage are entirely ineffectual.

    Had groups like Engage focused on the agenda of the Antisemites, and leave it other groups to express their views on Israel's occupation, they might better have stood up to the bullies. Instead, they have a muddled message - the occupation is bad, but do not say bad things about Jews or go too far in criticizing Israel. In English, these groups are saying that the Antisemites are half-right.

  3. Athenian - I agree with the Engage writers. It is, you know, possible to have two thoughts at the same time - both to condemn the occupation and regard it as a ticking time-bomb which may very well destroy Israel as a Jewish state - and to condemn antisemitism. It is possible to criticize actions of the state of Israel without being an antisemite, as I'm sure you are aware, and that is what Engage is doing when it publishes articles critical of the occupation. If the UCU Congress confined itself to criticizing Israeli actions, then I don't think that Engage would ever have formed - its organizers would have left the defense of Israel to the Zionist Federation and other bodies. UCU wants to say that it's impossible for any criticism of Israel to be antisemitic, and you want to say that all criticism of Israel is antisemitic. I prefer to remain in reality, where I think that some Israeli actions are reprehensible while others are praiseworthy.

  4. As the EUMC definition of antisemitism says: "However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic."It is not antisemitic, for example, to criticize the concentration of wealth in Israel in the hands of a very few rich families - a state of affairs dramatized last year in the film "Shitat ha-Shakshuka" which was shown on Israel television last year at about this time (when I was visiting).

  5. Rebecca,

    I agree that it is possible to have two thoughts at once. The issue is whether those two thoughts do well in one organization. My contention is that an organization dedicated to fighting Antisemitism has more than enough to deal with without muddling the message.

    Lest you have not noticed, the Antisemites are doing rather well in the UK and Engage has been more or less ineffectual. Maybe, there is nothing better that could have been done. However, my bet is that one fights Antisemites by fighting them, not by arguing about Israel's policies.

  6. Rebecca,

    For the record, I do not claim that criticizing Israel is Antisemitic. It can be, of course. Clearly groups like Engage think that they undermine Antisemitism by showing their bona fides in criticizing Israel. My view is that the Antisemites say in response: "You have criticism. I am just more vehement because I think the evil is greater than you. So, we merely disagree in the degree of fault." That is a loser for Engage.

    I am shocked that you do not understand that basic point of how political debate works. One can criticize Israel. But, do not do it as part of fighting Antisemitism. Otherwise, you are helping the Antisemites, in my humble view.

  7. So you think that David Hirsh and his comrades at Engage are trying to show their bonafides to antisemites by criticizing Israel? Are you crazy? If you had paid any real attention to David Hirsh and his comrades in Engage, you would know how ridiculous a statement that is.

    Do you know anything about Hirsh and what he and his comrades have actually been trying to do in the UCU and other venues? He's stuck it out in the National Executive Committee of the UCU, which is mostly composed of ultra-leftwingers from the British Socialist Workers Party - an unpleasant group to spend any time with. He's done his best to represent sanity in that union, which has been taken over by a small slice of its membership who are obsessed with Israel. I think he understands the current state of debate in Britain, and the UCU, a hell of lot better than you do.

    I am tired of your condescending remarks, such as "I am shocked that you do not understand that basic point of how political debate works." I am not a student in a class in which you are passing on your pearls of wisdom.

    It seems to me that you spend an awful lot of time telling other people how they should fight antisemitism and defend Israel. Perhaps you should try doing it yourself in the real world, not merely in comments to other people's blogs.

    Any more comments from you will be deleted - I can tell from the style that you're the same person who called himself N. Friedman before. I don't appreciate sock puppets. Nor do I appreciate people who never listen to what the other person in an argument says.