UCU Logo 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Not long ago in this column I wrote about the case which had been brought
against the University Trade Union in the UK by one of its members, accusing it
of institutional anti-Semitism. The case was heard by an independent employment
tribunal last December.
Earlier this week, the tribunal made its ruling.
The Tribunal found in favour of UCU on all ten complaints of harassment. In
giving their reasoning the Tribunal stated that 'the proceedings are dismissed
in their totality' and that they " greatly regret that the case was ever
At heart it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a
political end by litigious means." It would, of course, be too easy to simply
turn around and argue that the members of the Tribunal were also anti-Semitic or
that the British legal system is biased against Jews – which is clearly not the
case. Employment and industrial tribunals in the UK have a long tradition of
fairness and of detailed examination of the facts and the evidence that is
placed before them.
But the Tribunal did not adequately deal with the
feelings of alienation which many Jewish members of the UCU have felt in recent
years, causing not a few of them to resign their membership. Jews play a
prominent part in the British academic and scientific community and the fact
that so many of the mainstream, not the radical ideologues of which there are
very few, feel increasingly uncomfortable with the general atmosphere in the UCU
in recent years, must not be dismissed as a result of this ruling.
is one sentence in the ruling which raises serious questions concerning the
intelligence or understanding of the tribunal members. They write: "a belief in
the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel cannot amount to a protected
characteristic. It is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness..." (para 150). The
use of the term "Zionist project" is highly prejudiced from the outset. It is a
term which is used by those who are highly critical of Zionism as an ideology of
national liberation. It is a value loaded term which would indicate the
political positions of those who use it. Equally, the idea that some form of
Zionist attachment – be it of the far left pro-peace camp, or the right wing
pro-settlement proponents, be it a secular Zionism or one deeply rooted in
religion - is not an intrinsic part of Jewish identity and behavior for well
over 95 percent of the global Jewish population, would indicate a prior
prejudice, or simple ignorance, on their part.
Anyone who has dealt with
issues of Israel deligitimization in recent years, whether it be amongst
academics, church organizations or other sectors of the trade union communities,
are aware that there is a very fine, and often undistinguishable, line
separating the criticism of Israel from anti-semitism. There are cases where the
two are strongly intertwined with each other or where, at the very least, a
one-sided critique of Israel opens the back doors for anti-semites to get
involved and ply their filth.
But equally, not every case of anti-Israel
sentiment can be attributed to anti-semitism, and we have to be very careful not
to throw the anti-semitism argument back in the face of every organization and
every individual who are critical of Israeli government policy. When we do so,
we cheapen anti-semitism and make it all the more difficult to garner support
for the fight against real, hard core, anti-semitism when it occurs – and occur
it does, all too often – even at universities.
The forthcoming 4th
International Conference of the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, to be
held in Jerusalem at the end of May and jointly organized by the Ministries for
Public Diplomacy and for Diaspora Affairs, along with the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, has a chance to seriously examine this topic. However, based on past
conferences and looking at the all too familiar line up of professional
anti-semitism fighters, this conference will not offer any significant new
insights. The conference will be used, yet again, as an excuse for crying on
each others' shoulder, and bashing the entire world for being anti-semitic.
There will be no attempt to differentiate between legitimate criticism of Israel
(even amongst its friends) and anti-semitism, and it will provide little in the
way of any serious introspection as to how the world should be dealing with the
issue of anti-semitism, beyond the context of criticism of
EQUALLY, THE UCU leadership must surely be aware that its intense
one issue concern with Israel, when it should be focusing on its own
professional issues or, at the very least, discussing a diversity of foreign
countries which have serious problems of human rights, political freedom and
academic freedom, have made it an uncomfortable organization for anyone who is
supportive of Israel – even from a critical perspective as so many liberal
pro-Israel academics are - or is openly and blatantly Jewish in their appearance
This needs to be addressed by the UCU leadership if they
desire to continue to be an organization which represents the best interests of
all of its members. In her response to the Tribunal decision earlier this week,
the UCU Secretary General stated that the "UCU will look at our own processes to
see if improvements can be made in line with the advice given to us within the
decision. We remain opposed to discrimination of any kind including
anti-Semitism and we will work with energy and determination with all who will
work with us to oppose it in the workplace and society at large." It is also to
be hoped that the Jewish community organizations, for whom the Tribunal decision
must have come as a big shock, will equally re-examine the way in which the
anti-semitism argument is used. Neither they, nor the Israeli government, would
want to create a situation where this argument becomes so over-used as a means
of diverting the debate away from Israel and its policies, that when real issues
of hard core anti-semitism come to the fore, they are ignored.
be asking a lot for two sets of people who appear to be very set in their ways.
There is still the possibility that the litigants could choose to appeal the
Tribunal decision before the courts. Whether this will serve any useful purpose
(regardless of the outcome) is questionable. It would be advisable for this
latest round of blood letting to cease and for both sides to re-examine the ways
in which they do business.
If the words of Hunt, by all accounts a highly
capable Director of the UCU, are to be believed, the two groups should actively
seek ways of collaborating in combating all forms of racism, including
antisemitism, as a matter of joint concern. They should also provide a more
balanced platform, as befits an academic community, for the very real difference
of opinion over Israeli government policies and the status of the Palestinians,
without attempting to silence the voices of those with whom they
disagree.The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social
Sciences at Ben- Gurion University and has been active in combating pro-boycott
activities in the UK, and promoting joint Israeli-UK scientific cooperation. The
views expressed are his alone.