Almost two years ago I reported about the British University and College Union (the UCU) rejecting the EUMC working definition of antisemitism in favour of their own distorted version. In that post I quoted Ronnie Fraser, a member of the UCU, who protested against the motion to reject the EUMC definition and complained of an anti-Semitic atmosphere inimical to Jewish members in the UCU.
The time that has passed since that shameful day has not improved matters within the UCU. My occasional Guest Post writer and commenter Brian Goldfarb updated me last week (via The Elder of Ziyon) about an article by Ben Cohen in Commentary Magazine which reported that a UK Employment Tribunal has dismissed Ronnie Fraser’s appeal against the UCU for discrimination against him (and other Jewish members) by virtue of their repeated passing of boycott motions and their dropping of the European Union Draft Definition on Antisemitism.
As Brian writes:
According to the Commentary report, “several passages in the verdict argued that the UCU’s officers were not themselves responsible for the specific instances of anti-Semitism Fraser’s complaints highlighted, while another lazily bemoaned the “gargantuan scale” of the case, asserting that it was wrong of Julius and Fraser to abuse the “limited resources” of the “hard-pressed public service” that is a British employment tribunal.” Re the first part of that sentence, it is almost impossible to ignore the comment from Tom Hickey, made in the June 2007 edition of the online British Medical Journal, “In the case of Israel, we are speaking about a society whose dominant self image is one of a bastion of civilisation in a sea of medieval reaction. And we are speaking of a culture, both in Israel and in the long history of the Jewish diaspora, in which education and scholarship are held in high regard. That is why an academic boycott might have a desirable political effect in Israel, an effect that might not be expected elsewhere.”
Tom Hickey was and is a member of UCU’s Executive Committee, and if this doesn’t at least verge on the antisemitic, to say nothing of racism (no-one other the Jews cares for their children’s education), then it’s difficult to see what does. The second bespeaks an impatience with detail and close argument. Even without looking further (and I will, in a moment), this raises a question as to whether this might in itself be sufficient grounds for an appeal to the High Court, given that it could only be on a point of law: that the law had been interpreted wrongly. Failure to adequately consider the law may well be a point of law in itself.
Looking further, certain events in the UCU (repeated boycott resolutions, inviting Bongo Masuku of COSATU, adjudged to have made antisemitic comments in South Africa) “convinced both Fraser and his lawyer, the prominent scholar of anti-Semitism Anthony Julius, that the union had become institutionally anti-Semitic and was therefore in violation of British laws protecting religious and ethnic minorities.” The judgement would also appear to deny any possibility for whatever the trade union equivalent of corporate responsibility is. This is ‘interesting’ (i.e., odd), given that, while their lawyers constantly tell them that they cannot act on any boycott motion that Annual Conference passes, members of the National Executive equally constantly present these Resolutions and speak in favour of them.
And we haven’t yet come to the fact that the self-same Executive Committee members who “were not themselves responsible for the specific instances of anti-Semitism” cited in the case papers nevertheless were the ones who dropped the UCU’s use of the European Union’s Working Definition of Antisemitism. Puts them in good company: the UK Green Party has done exactly the same. This all gets much worse and much more political (which is not exactly the job of a tribunal or court in a democracy under the rule of law) when:
The verdict also contained extraordinary personal attacks on the integrity of Fraser’s witnesses, among them Jewish communal leader Jeremy Newmark and Labor Party parliamentarian John Mann, and even insinuated that the plain-speaking Fraser was unwittingly being used as a vassal by the articulate and florid Julius!
John Mann is plain-speaking and exceedingly anti-racist Labour MP, one of the major members of the Parliamentary All-Party Committee on Antisemitism, which is exactly what it says: all-party.
Ultimately, though, highly partisan political considerations decided the outcome. After dismissing all 10 of Fraser’s complaints …the honorable judges then leveled some acutely politicized accusations of their own. Fraser and his supporters were accused of showing a “worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression.” Their broader conclusion, that it “would be very unfortunate if an exercise of this sort were ever repeated,” is clearly designed to discourage other potential plaintiffs from pursuing complaints against the UCU.
This gets worse. As the Commentary article goes on to say:
Most disturbing of all is paragraph 150 of the verdict, which will doubtless become shorthand for one of the most insidious attempts to redefine anti-Semitism ever devised. After accepting that British law does protect “Jewishness” as a characteristic of individuals, the judges went on to say that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel … cannot amount to a protected characteristic.”
This excerpt of the verdict should not be understood as protecting the rights of anti-Zionists to free speech. It is, rather, about protecting anti-Zionists from accusations of anti-Semitism by arguing that anti-Zionism is, by definition, not anti-Semitic.”
More fundamentally, the verdict denies Jews the right to determine those elements that comprise their identity and leaves the definition of what constitutes anti-Semitism to (often hostile) non-Jews
It’s the ‘by definition” part that is most worrying. We’ve been here before. Of course, it isn’t antisemitic by definition, but it may be antisemitic in practice, which the ruling appears designed to rule out of contention.
I urge you to read the whole article. I will leave you with one thought: given the various findings by the European Court of Human Rights (and please don’t confuse it with the UNHRC), it would be very interesting if the money could be found to take the case there. Especially given the political nature of the judgement and the apparent lack of a willingness to examine the evidence presented.
I thank Brian for his cogent analysis of the case and the Commentary Article.
For more reports on this tribunal, see the Jerusalem Post and the Jewish Chronicle. In addition, several other blogs have picked up on this story, notably CiFWatch, Engage (see below) and Harry’s Place.
The Tribunal found against Fraser on everything: on technicalities, on legal argument, and on every significant issue of substance and of fact. The Tribunal found everything the UCU said in its defence to be persuasive and it found nothing said by Fraser or any of his witnesses to be of any value. The culture, the practices and the norms inside the union were found to be not antisemitic, either in intent or in effect. Indeed, everything that Fraser and his witnesses experienced as antisemitic, the Tribunal judged to have been entirely appropriate. In particular what was appropriate was the way that union staff, rules, structures and bodies operated. Fraser said that there was a culture in which antisemitism was tolerated but the Tribunal did not accept that even one out of the very many stories that it was told was an indicator of antisemitism.
Instead the Tribunal found that “at heart” the case represented “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means… ”
Fraser said that the key mode of intimidation in the UCU was a constant allegation of bad faith – the allegation that Jews who say they feel antisemitism are actually lying for Israel. The Tribunal replied that the Jews who say they feel antisemitism are actually lying for Israel – they are dressing up a political end as a problem of racist exclusion. In other words, the Tribunal answers that the accusation of bad faith made against Jews who say that they experienced antisemitism is appropriate. The Tribunal employed The Livingstone Formulation.
It is unimaginable that a tribunal today would say the same thing to a woman who complained of sexual harassment at work after she chose to wear a tight skirt to the office; or after she had chosen to campaign in favour of women’s rights. But this is what the Tribunal said to a Jew.
Whatever it is that Ronnie Fraser suffered within the union, he has now suffered doubly in the Tribunal. That which he experienced as antisemitic was not only judged by the union, but now also by the Tribunal, to be not antisemitic; further, it was also judged to be entirely appropriate.
The anti-Semitism that was displayed by the UCU which was the basis of Fraser’s complaint is only exacerbated by the disgusting attack on Fraser’s character and that of his witnesses. It is quite literally sickening. If this is the future of British academia, then how can anyone see any place for Jews in British academic institutions in the future?
Another Engage article cynically asks “Who gets to judge what is Anti-Semitism“, slamming those boycott-supporting UCU members for their hypocrisy and anti-Semitism.
Ronnie Fraser may have lost one legal battle but, in boldly challenging those intoxicated by hatred towards the only Jewish homeland that ever was and ever will be, he hopefully will inspire others to continue the broader fight.
The economic, social, academic and political exclusion of millions of Jews from the international community, in the form of boycotts or other such codified restrictions, has a dark and dangerous history, and is anathema to progressivism and equality even broadly understood.
Further, questioning the Jewish state’s right to live, whether such a rejection of Jewish self-determination is couched as a “one-state solution” or by other such euphemisms, represents an assault on Jews’ political rights, an ominous threat to their physical safety, and should be seen by genuine anti-racists as morally beyond the pale.
Jews in the UK and elsewhere need to see in Fraser’s refusal to bow down, in the face of a reactionary assault by the British elite against fundamental Jewish rights, the broader truth that equality for Jewish minorities which is contingent upon passing a political litmus test – implicitly requiring that they morally distance themselves from fellow Jews in the only state with a Jewish majority – is not ‘equality’ at all.
It is a fool’s errand to civilly debate with those who advocate for the erosion of Jews’ inalienable right to equality. So, let Ronnie Fraser remind Jews around the world that they must reject the political urge to “get along to go along”, that they will never truly be free until all Jews are truly free, and, most urgently, on the necessity of understanding the historical and moral imperative that there are some things in life worth fighting for.
I stand in admiration of Ronnie Fraser at his determination and courage in facing up to the dispiriting, ominous and career-threatening anti-Semitism that pervades British academic unions today. He should be a shining example to us all. And Brian Goldfarb’s suggestion above about taking the UCU to the European Court of Human Rights should be investigated and pursued as far as possible. These anti-Semites must not be allowed to get away with their bigotry.