UK academic union rejects EU definition of anti-Semitism

The UCU is institutionally racist, Board of British Jews charges; UCU claims definition designed to deflect criticism of Israel.

By JONNY PAUL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
June 1, 2011 03:28
3 minute read.
UCU Logo

UCU Logo 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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LONDON – Britain’s largest trade union for academics has voted to disassociate itself from the EU working definition of anti-Semitism, leading to accusations it is institutionally racist.

The University College Union (UCU) passed the resolution at its annual conference in Harrogate in Yorkshire on Monday, claiming that the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia definition stifles debate and is used to deflect criticism of Israel.

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The motion, raised by activists on the National Executive Committee of the union who in recent years have led on the call to boycott Israeli academia, maintains that the charge of anti- Semitism is used to confuse criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine anti-Semitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on university campuses.

The move has been condemned by an array of community officials and beyond, accusing it of being institutionally racist. The union has refused on comment on the issue or on the serious accusation leveled against it.

The UCU has been mistreating its Jewish members over the last five years, “assaulting their identity, ignoring their harassment in the Union and refusing to investigate their resignations,” said Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of British Jews. “Now UCU has gone further and simply redefined ‘anti-Semitism’ itself. UCU will actually campaign for other organizations to stop fully fighting anti-Semitism, 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 organization,” Benjamin said.

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Ronnie Fraser, director of the Academic Friends of Israel spoke against the motion at the conference. The union has crossed a red line, and “only anti-Semites” would disassociate themselves from the EU Working Definition and vote in favor of the resolution,” Fraser said.

“By adopting this resolution today it confirms what I and my colleagues have said in the past, that until the UCU takes complaints of anti-Semitism seriously the UCU will continue to be labeled as an institutionally anti-Semitic organization which pretends to be committed to fighting anti-Semitism,” Fraser said. “What gives the UCU, a group of mainly white, non-Jewish trade unionists the right to tell Jews what is and what is not anti-Semitism? “Stating that the definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine anti- Semitism is itself is a trope – the Livingstone Formulation [named after former London mayor Ken Livingstone], which states that Jews deliberately and maliciously accuse critics of Israel of anti-Semitism in order to deflect and stifle legitimate criticism of Israel,” he said.

The World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) has also condemned the decision, saying that the definition of anti- Semitism is used on a day-today basis by the National Union of Students to combat anti-Semitism, as well as by every major British Jewish communal body.

“The UCU has consistently shown a total disregard for the welfare of Jewish students over an extended period of time,” WUJS chairman Oliver Worth said. “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 UCU stinks of institutional anti-Semitism, and as an organization that exists to protect Jewish students all over the world, we are deeply, deeply concerned,” Worth said.

The incoming campaigns director of the Union of Jewish Student, Dan Sheldon, pointed said that the UCU has never used the Working Definition, nor has it ever proposed to start doing so.

“If the UCU were merely guilty of ignorance, that could be understood and – through education and dialogue – resolved. If someone had proposed that the UCU adopt the Working Definition, and the UCU were to reject it, that would be the result of ignorance. Regrettable, but understandable.

“However, the UCU has never used it, and nobody proposed that it should start doing so. Instead, UCU has decided, apropos of nothing, to condemn the Working Definition whilst offering no serious alternative. In doing so, they have singled out anti- Semitism from other forms of prejudice as something only they, and not the victims, have the right to identify,” Sheldon said.

On Sunday, the UCU voted to support an academic and cultural boycott against Israel.

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