UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members

University & Colleges Union (UCU) - an organisation that has suffered a series of resignations by Jewish members claiming institutional antisemitism - is fanning those fears

Adam Langleben is a Political Adviser to Labour peer Lord Janner of Braunstone

Last weekend, the University and College Union (UCU) – an organisation that has suffered a series of resignations by Jewish members claiming institutional anti-Semitism – fanned those fears by  actively voting to ignore a definition of anti-Semitism increasingly accepted on UK campuses.

A motion put forward by the UCU executive committee stated:

“Congress notes with concern that the so-called ‘EUMC working definition of antisemitism’, while not adopted by the EU or the UK government and having no official status, is being used by bodies such as the NUS and local student unions in relation to activities on campus.”

“Congress believes that the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine antisemitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.”

However, it would seem as if the UCU have not even read the definition as the document clearly states:

“Criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

The motion went on to propose:

1. That UCU will make no use of the EUMC definition (e.g. in educating members or dealing with internal complaints);

2. That UCU will dissociate itself from the EUMC definition in any public discussion on the matter in which is involved;

3. That UCU will campaign for open debate on campus concerning Israel’s past history and current policy, while continuing to combat all forms of racial or religious discrimination.

This motion follows a spate of resignations over the past six years by Jewish members, with many citing institutional anti-Semitism as the reason. Following these resignations (the most recent of which happened yesterday), the UCU did not investigate these claims and has continued to ignore accusations from Jewish members.

A motion to look into the resignations was voted down by UCU’s Congress in 2009; this latest motion at UCU congress takes this a step further. The UCU can no longer be accused of simply being complacent about anti-Semitism, they can now be accused of blocking action on it.

The EUMC definition is by no means a definitive definition of anti-Semitism – anti-Semitism by nature changes with the times. The EUMC definition is one definition for our time, and the definition that the democratically elected representative bodies of the Jewish community broadly agree on serves as a useful guideline for understanding what anti-Semitism is and  how it can manifest itself.

Its widespread adoption would appear to be in line with the recommendations of the MacPherson Inquiry, whose report following the death of Stephen Lawrence stated that an incident is racist if:

“…it is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.”

The MacPherson Inquiry goes on to define institutional racism:

‘The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin.

“It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”

This seems to be exactly what has occurred in the UCU. The UCU have continually ignored accusations of discrimination against Jewish members. In 2007, Gert Weisskirchen, then  SPD member of the Bundestag Parliament in Germany and personal representative of the Chairman-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism, requested a meeting with the UCU. UCU refused to meet him.

When David Hirsh of ENGAGE and Goldsmiths College made a complaint about institutional anti-Semitism to UCU in 2008, the union’s response in dismissing his complaint made no mention of anti-Semitism. More recently, in December 2009, UCU invited Bonganu Masuku, a South African trade unionist who  had just been found by the South African Human Rights Commission to have made anti-Semitic remarks, to the UK to speak about boycotting Israel.

When challenged about Mr Masuku’s comments, UCU defended him by saying the claims against him were “not credible”. 

Last week, The Board of Deputies of British Jews, The Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust jointly signed a letter to general secretary (and Left Foot Forward contributor) Sally Hunt asking her to drop this motion and to take the concerns of Jewish members seriously. These organisations also wrote to Trevor Phillips of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Phillips stands by the MacPherson Inquiry and stated:

“…if the object of harassment or attacks 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.”

He went on to suggest that legal problems could arise under the Human Rights and Equality Acts if the motion was fully implemented.

All trades unions ought to take note: Accusations of racism, of any kind, need to be taken seriously and not simply ignored or written off. Any political party or a trade union faced with accusations of racism or discrimination should, at the very least, properly investigate them rather than pass motions denying there’s a problem.

Jewish organisations are now calling for an EHRC formal inquiry, a demand supported by John Mann MP. For the UCU, not only to ignore the concerns of its Jewish academics and community members – but to actively vote to dismiss them out of hand – disgraces the Left.

50 Responses to “UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members”

  1. Adam Langleben

    . @UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members: http://bit.ly/kYxjSw writes @AdamLangleben

  2. Adam Langleben

    RT @leftfootfwd: @adamlangleben writes UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members http://t.co/QpH01aH #UCU #antisemitism #jewish

  3. paulstpancras

    . @UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members: http://bit.ly/kYxjSw writes @AdamLangleben

  4. Alex Dwek

    . @UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members: http://bit.ly/kYxjSw writes @AdamLangleben

  5. Deborah B

    . @UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members: http://bit.ly/kYxjSw writes @AdamLangleben

  6. AltGovUK

    RT @leftfootfwd: . @UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members: http://bit.ly/kYxjSw writes @AdamLangleben #NewsClub

  7. Marhta Arehart

    UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members: Last weekend, the University and College Union (UCU) – an organis… http://bit.ly/ieqs7r

  8. Left Foot Forward on UCU and antisemitism « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism

    […] UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members – Adam Langleben – click here. […]

  9. John Brooks

    RT @MustbeRead Adam Langleben at @leftfootfwd: UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members http://j.mp/jVmDvl

  10. Left Foot Forward on UCU’s alienation of Jews « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism

    […] At Left Foot Forward, Adam Langleben reviews developments in UCU related to its anti-Israel campaign. […]

  11. Mr. Gerson

    UCU and Antisemitism… http://t.co/cmp1a6u

  12. John

    The ‘left’ is a disgrace, and has been for a long time now.

  13. George McLean

    To kick off the thread, could I suggest that one reason for not adopting the EUMC definition (the sentences in bold on their hyperlink in the OP) is that “semitic” is too narrowly defined, as, as well as Jewish people, “semites” include people of Arabic origin. But if the definition were widened to include all semitic people it would become a nebulous injunction not to discriminate against a huge group of people that, in fact, could equally be extended – even more nebulously – to semite and non-semite alike.

  14. Fair Play Campaign

    UCU is alienating its Jewish members, says @adamlangleben on @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/jVtVQK

  15. Arieh Kovler

    RT @fairplaycg: UCU is alienating its Jewish members, says @adamlangleben on @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/jVtVQK

  16. CiF Watch

    UCU is alienating its Jewish members, says @adamlangleben on @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/jVtVQK

  17. Elise

    UCU is alienating its Jewish members, says @adamlangleben on @leftfootfwd http://bit.ly/jVtVQK

  18. Arieh Kovler

    people aren’t “semitic”, languages are – but “antisemitism” has always meant the hatred of Jews since it was popularised by Wilhelm Marr, founder of the League of Antisemites in Germany in 1879.

  19. Paul

    George,
    all you had to do was look up the word if you were curious about its etymology. I’ve heard this same line of argument from people feigning an interest in word origins but who aren’t even capable of a simple search on the word. And no, the UCU is not confused about what antisemitism means as it has meant hatred of Jews ever since it was coined in self-description by Mr. Marr. They want to figure out a way to promote antisemitism without being called antisemitic. If they craft their definition carefully enough they can perhaps say “I used the word Israel in that same sentence (along with moneylender, usury, and jewnose) so it was not antisemitic. Thanks for the input.

  20. racheljoyce

    RT @leftfootfwd: UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members http://t.co/DSq8G9l

  21. mike, london

    @Paul
    Get real. No one in UCU, or anywhere else I hope, wuld have difficulty in seeing Israel linked with the classic tropes you list as anything other than anti-Semitic.

    The issue is, as I am sure you are aware, is whether linking Israel with such terms as ‘expansionist’ ‘serial human tights abuser’ ‘war crime’ and so on is anti-Semitic. The draft working definition is consistently used to make such spurious accusations,that is why UCU said it wouldn’t use iit. The bodies of the Jewish community which support Israel, even when it is under extreme right-wing leadership, endorse the definition (as do the hard right Christian Zionists in the US, many with established anti-Semitic credentials of their own).

    The Jewish groups critical of Israel perceive it as highly dangerous and dangerous to Jews as it risks normalising anti-Semitism.

    This is an argument about Israel not anti-Semitism and part of a sustained hasbara campaign, following a playbook written in by the Reut Institute and others, to deligimise opposition to Israel’s crimes.

  22. Sarah AB

    Could Mike (or anyone else) provide some examples of the EUMC definition being invoked spuriously in any context which counts – eg not on a blog comment?

  23. Ofer N

    As an Israeli citizen, I would like to express my gratitude for this decision.

    Jewish members of UCU are advised to focus on the Israeli government’s policies of apartheid and occupation, the real cause for delegitimization of Israeli institutes.

    Ofer
    Supporter of the BDS campaign and the Israeli BDS action group

  24. George McLean

    @4. Paul

    Thanks for your input, too. I did look it up, and its narrowness is why I think the definition is unworkable. For example, using the definition, is it anti-semitic for me to say I believe the state of Israel should be renamed Israel-Palestine and become a secular state with equal rights for Jewish and non-Jewish people (whether or not they are, on my definition, Semitic)?

  25. Anthony

    @6. George

    Your example exactly exposes the need for an EUMC-type definition. On the face of it the stated belief in your example (that Israel and the West Bank and Gaza should become all one state with equal rights for everyone in it) seems perfectly reasonable and not anti-Semitic in any way. However, that same belief could very well be anti-Semitic.

    Suppose that the person holding this belief also supports the movement for an independent Kurdistan and other similar movements for independent states for ethnic groups. The question one would then have to ask is why they can support independent states for most ethnic groups but not an independent Israel with a Jewish majority for the Jewish ethnic group? And then you see how easily the belief in your example could well be fuelled by anti-Semitism.

    The EUMC definition thus states that denying the right to self-determination for Jews could (could not would) represent anti-Semitism.

    So, to your example, the EUMC definition says that it could be anti-Semitic not that it definitely is. The UCU would, seemingly, want us to believe that there is no way it could be anti-Semitic which, I hope I have shown, is clearly untrue.

  26. Naomi

    Jews and others in UCU who campaigned against the EUMC draft definition did so because they oppose all forms of racism. The definition is used belligerently by supporters of the most right-wing Israeli government in history to smear anyone exposing Zionist racism. It has no other purpose. To suggest that opposing the definition is to support anti-semitism is a non-argument unworthy of anyone claiming to speak from a leftist perspective.
    Adam Langleben quotes only that part of the definition that suits him: “Criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”
    But the definition turns this on its head by placing a ban on “denying Jewish people their right to self-determination.” In the early days of the Zionist movement most Jews opposed its claims of Jewish nationhood. Lots of us still do. The premises on which any state is based are a legitimate subject for debate. Such criticism can certainly be “leveled against any other country”. Defenders of the draft definition want Israel exempted from such discourse. What is worse, by making the equation Jew=Israel they are actively promoting racist interpretations.
    If the UCU has ignored racism against Jews then it has a case to answer. In fact it has done no more than defend the right to oppose Israel’s criminal illegality against people who seek to justify it.

  27. Rachel Giora, Tel Aviv

    Criticism of Israel, even if it’s NOT similar to that leveled against any other country, cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic. Indeed, a call for boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS), issued recently against Israel, has not indeed been recently directed at any other country. But that’s not because other countries cannot be criticized in the same way Israel is, but because these measures might not be as effective when applied to them. Whereas one can call for a boycott of the USA or China, that will not open the eyes of the aggressors but fall on deaf ears. However, given Israel’s dependence on and eagerness to be an integral part of the West, criticizing it might help it realize both its limitations and huge potentials if it does justice by the Palestinians. One reason the BDS movement has found support among Israelis (http://boycottisrael.info/) is these Israelis believe this is the ONLY nonviolent way to help Israel save itself.

  28. Will van Peer

    Anti-Semitism is a horrible and vile crime. But a friend of mine (himself Jewish) once said that what the greatest danger to Jews nowadays was not anti-Semitism but SEMITISM: the notion that nothing that Jewish people do can be wrong… I cannot agree more!….

  29. Zaramart-kippot

    Let’s try to work together to support a lasting PEACEFUL solution, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and anyone else there can live side-by-side.

  30. Arieh Kovler

    @Mike
    You may think that nobody in UCU would have trouble spotting when classic antisemitic tropes are linked with Israel. Experience shows that this is not the case. Bongani Masuku’s statement that ‘Zionists’ should lose South African citizenship was recognised as a classic antisemitic theme by the South African authorities: “Jews aren’t really citizens”. UCU defended the remarks.

    When UCU activist Sean Wallis suggested at a UCU fringe meeting that the anti-boycott campaign was funded by untraceable money from the collapsed bank Lehman Brothers, he was defended by his branch and by the Union.

    When a UCU activist circulated a link to neo-Nazi David Duke’s website, other members rallied around her to defend her, saying she circulated the link ‘by mistake’ because she didn’t realise who David Duke was.

    The problem with UCU is not that they don’t accept this or that definition of antisemitism. It is that the Union’s policy is that “Criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic”, ever. The phrase in quotes was passed as formal UCU policy in 2007.

  31. George McLean

    @7. Arieh Kolver

    Please provide a link showing the context of the UCU “policy … that ‘Criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-semitic’, ever”. The “ever”, incidentally, appears to be your word, not the UCU’s, so you’ll need to produce evidence that that is really the UCU position, not yours. In the substantive line of debate, I am waiting for a response to my example at comment 6 above: sc. whether my support for a single, secular state is anti-semitic in terms of the EUMC definition (and please show your working :-)). (I can’t comment on the UCU position on the other situations you cite as I am not a member of the UCU, and again don’t know the context of the statements you report. That does not, however, mean they are not explicable.)

  32. Arieh Kovler

    @George
    You said you couldn’t believe that UCU wouldn’t recognise antisemitism when confronted by it, so I gave you several examples. You respond that you don’t know the cases but it’s possible that they could all be explained away. That, itself, is a troubling position. It’s always possible to explain away particular racist incidents – that one was a joke, that one a mistake, that one wasn’t a big deal, he was drunk that one time, you should lighten up, you’re not offended, you’re just faking it to get what you want. We’ve all heard these claims before in the context of fighting discrimination.

    The EUMC working definition doesn’t answer the question definitively. In fact, it doesn’t answer very many questions definitively. It’s supposed to provide a framework for discussing antisemitism. The relevant excerpt from the working definition for your question is below, and I have added emphasis:

    Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:
    Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

    I read that as saying that sometimes denying Jewish self-determination could be antisemitic in certain contexts. Simply stating (as you do) that you support one state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean sea isn’t antisemitic, any more than noting that young black men are proportionately more likely to commit gun crime is racist. But in both cases, there are contexts in which those statements can be made in a racist fashion and used in a racist way.

  33. Arieh Kovler

    @George
    One other point – what do you mean when you say that Arabs and Jews are both “Semites”, as you do at 2 and 6?

    Is that an ethno-racial claim? Do you consider East Africans to all be Hamites? Is it a linguistic claim? When you say that Jews and Arabs are “Semites”, what do you mean by a “Semite”?

  34. Arthur Weiss

    . @UCU is actively alienating its Jewish members: http://bit.ly/kYxjSw writes @AdamLangleben

  35. Rob Brookes

    Is the ECU alienating most Jews or most Zionist jews? I think as is common the Zionist lobby is trying to define criticism of Israel policy as antisemitic to try to discredit the views of increasing numbers of people (many of them Jewish)who are appalled at Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.
    Israel is a state. To criticize a state rightly or wrongly is not racist though the criticisms of its people may be.

    Eg “Comparing Contemporary Israeli policies to the Nazi’s is antisemitic.”

    one of the EUMC examples. Why is it racist(antisemetic). I would say the imprisonment, torture, repression and indiscriminate killings of Palestinians on the occupied territories (occupied now for 65 years, how long can a territory be occupied?) is akin to Nazi policies. I do not accept that I am racist. I could compare some of the UK policies to Nazi ones, eg the use of information gained from torture.
    Rob

  36. Arieh Kovler

    Rob, if you’re the sort of person who frequently compares people and governments to Nazis, then it might not be antisemitic for you to do the same about Israel – though it is a generally hurtful attack on the victims of the worst atrocity in human history. The EUMC working definition says that, considering the context, equating Israel to Nazi Germany can sometimes be an antisemitic attack. This sounds right to me.

    When you say that the occupied territories have been “occupied now for 65 years”[sic], what do you consider “occupied territory”? As you can’t mean the West Bank or Gaza, which were captured by Israel 44 years ago in the Six Day War, I assume you mean the whole State of Israel is “occupied territory”?

  37. Will van Peer

    Anti-Semitism is a horrible and vile crime. But a friend of mine (himself Jewish) once said that what the greatest danger to Jews nowadays was not anti-Semitism but SEMITISM: the notion that nothing that Jewish people do can be wrong… I could not agree more!….

  38. Rob Brookes

    “when you say that the occupied territories have been “occupied now for 65 years”[sic], what do you consider “occupied territory”? As you can’t mean the West Bank or Gaza, which were captured by Israel 44 years ago in the Six Day War, I assume you mean the whole State of Israel is “occupied territory””

    OK I mean 44 years, does it make a difference? Why can’t I compare some Israeli and Uk policies to Nazi policies without being racist. Of course I could be racist but that does not make me racist/antisemite. What is the point of saying a policy could be anti-semite? It could be fascist, stalinist,informed, hurtful, supportive or ignorant. I just don’t see the point of the statement.

  39. George McLean

    @ 16 and 17 Arieh Kovler

    I don’t think I did say that I “couldn’t believe that UCU wouldn’t recognise antisemitism when confronted by it” (at all), and nor did I say that the UCU could “explain away” your examples (I said they may be explicable, but you have still not given me the relevant links so I can’t check the context and accuracy of them). I don’t need to define anything – the EUMC is the organisation that wants a definition that the UCU has to agree to. I’m saying the definition as it stands is unworkable and I asked whether an expreseed support for a single, secular state of “Israel-Palestine” would be anti-semitic under the EUMC definition. You accept that the “working definition doesn’t answer the question definitively. In fact, it doesn’t answer very many questions definitively.” I agree – that is why I do npot find the definition helpful, and would find difficulty in adopting it. However, you then say “that sometimes denying Jewish self-determination could be antisemitic in certain contexts”. If, by “Jewish self-determination” you mean that there will be a state that must remain “Jewish” (in religion, culturally and ethnically) then I think (a) you disagree with my wish for a secular state; and (b) democrats would be nervous: for example, if Jewish people in such a self-determining state were to become the minority and Arabic people a majority, and the majority no longer wished to have Judaism as the state religion, would the majority view be allowed to prevail constitutionally? Or should such a state have some mechanism for ensuring Jewish people are always in a majority (and if so, how large)? What would that mechanism be?

  40. Don’t Distort Macpherson Report’s Recommendations on Racism to Attack the UCU « Antony Lerman

    […] since the vote, a similar and perhaps even identical strategy is being advocated. For example, Adam Langleben, writing on the Left Foot Forward website, says: [The 'working definition's] widespread adoption would appear to be in line with the […]

  41. NormanC

    Reading some of these posts leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that there are a number of people who have not the faintest idea what is meant by discrimination. Coming up with a quote like “the notion nothing that Jewish people do can be wrong” is in itself anti-Semitic. It is also untrue – just ask the Guardian which allows the most horrendous posts on its CIF blog which would have gladdened the heart of Goebbels. The other problem here is that exemplified by the blogger who asks if his my support for a single, secular state is anti-semitic in terms of the EUMC definition. Yes it is because it is a denial of the Jewish Nation’s right of self determination. You cannot compare Israeli policies with the Nazis because that is untrue and is a standard anti-Semitic trope. If you want to test if what you are saying is anti-Semitic take the following test.
    http://www.talkingsquid.net/archives/1702
    Good luck!

  42. George McLean

    @ 23. NormanC

    I am that blogger (I think)! You do realise the test you link to is intended to be ironic, don’t you? Substantively, you have not explained why support for a single, secular state of “Israel-Palestine” is anti-semitic on the EUMC definition.

  43. Sarah AB

    I don’t see why expressing a personal aspiration for a single secular state of Israel-Palestine need be antisemitic. But many proponents of that option seem to do so without reference to the wishes of those involved, and without reference to the wider historical and political context which seems to help explain why such an option is viewed with misgivings. I do understand why this is seen as a problematic element of the WD – clearly there are strands which require more weight from the ‘overall context’ than others – but this would be true of any WD of any ‘ism’. Some people say that using the word hysterical, in any context, of any person, is sexist – but that’s clearly not in the same league as refusing to hire women because they might get pregnant.

  44. Don’t Distort Macpherson Report’s Recommendations on Racism to Attack the UCU « Independent Jewish Voices

    […] since the vote, a similar and perhaps even identical strategy is being advocated. For example, Adam Langleben, writing on the Left Foot Forward website, says: [The 'working definition's] widespread adoption would appear to be in line with the […]

  45. Larry Sportello

    I’ll assume you won’t be inviting Sally Hunt to blog anymore on Left foot forward?

  46. maxy

    I support the UCU motion. For too long now the Zionist lobby has monopolised debate both within and outside the student movement on the Palestine/Israel question. For too long now the Labour Party has been trapped in a zionist time warp with the Labour Friends of Israel claiming the moral high ground in the debate on Israel; resorting as usual to the tired old anti semitic rhetoric. I am surprised that LFF forward has given a platform to Adam Lengleban, where is the progressive message in his contribution. Is it the case that LFF and the LP generally has a secret soft spot for Israel. If Israel were a true democracy, how come it is using skunk and rubber bullets against unarmed protestors in Ramallah? How is it that the Labour Friends of Israel’s dogmatic uncritical support of Israel continues to dominate LP thinking. How is it that those same LP MP’s who are backing the civilians in Libya and Syria are not rushing to do the same for Palestinians. WHy does the LP not come out and support in advance the September UN motion for Palestinian statehood. Or is it that the LP is running scared of the zionist lobby within its own party?

  47. maxy

    How can Sally Hunt be anti semitic when she is Jewish herself???

  48. George McLean

    And a final thought until there is actually a response to my earlier posts: Iran is a self-styled Islamic Republic, so does that mean under an equivalent definition it would be Islamophobic to criticise the Iranian government?

  49. Jay DeePee

    Rob, you are a knob. Comparing Jews to Nazis is an anti-semitic insult. It is designed to offend. Criticising Israel is not anti-semitic and neither is criticising the murderous Mugabe regime racist. Go away, do some reading and hopefully, one day, graduate.

  50. Israeli trade unionists striking for non-unionised workers’ rights shows way forward | Left Foot Forward

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