Harrogate, that rather genteel and prosperous spa town in north Yorkshire, will be the setting from 28-30 May of the anual conference of the University and College Union (UCU), which to the dismay of many rank-and-file members has been hijacked by elements devoted to the boycott of Israel. (See, for instance, http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/01/21/jewish-chronicle-report-of-ucu-meeting-on-antisemitism/)
Among the items on the Congress's agenda, which in addition to issues directly focusing on the higher education sector in the UK also embraces topics pertaining to British society (including motions condemning the EDL and Islamophobia), is a pernicious motion designed to redefine the meaning of antisemitism in order that Israel can be maligned with impunity on campuses in the UK.
The motion upon which delegates are asked to vote concerns the "Working Definition of Antisemitism" set out in 2005 by the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), now known as the Fundamental Rights Agency.
The EUMC document, which was adopted by all the EU member states as well as by the USA, and by the National Union of Students (NUS), includes several clauses relating to Israel in its definition of antisemitism, but specifically says: "critiscism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be considered antisemitism".
The Israel-demonising Left have predictably been deeply unhappy with the relevant aspects of this document, and some have sought to discredit it - witness a piece from 2007 in the Guardian's notorious "Comment-is-Free" online section by self-described "Jewish anti-Zionist" Arthur Neslen and a piece written earlier this year by Richard Kuper, a former chairman of the fringe group Jews for Justice for Palestinians.
Last Tuesday, as the result of a vigorous campaign waged by the NUS's Black Students' Committee, supported by students from nine universities including such hives of anti-Israel activity as the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Sussex, Essex, and Bradford, the NUS adopted a virulently anti-Israel motion.
To quote the current issue of the Jewish Chronicle, it undertook
'to send British students on future flotillas to Gaza, build links with the Hamas-backed Islamic University of Gaza, twin British student unions with Palestinian universities, and called for the right to return for all Palestinian refugees....
The motion makes no reference to Hamas, but acknowledges Archbishop Desmond Tutu's likening of Israel to apartheid South Africa, and former UN relief agency head John Ging's belief that conditions in Gaza represent a "medieval siege".'
The shock move was condemned by a spokesperson for the Union of Jewish Students, who said:
"This is such a regressive move when NUS is taking so many steps forward with regard to hate speech and its negative impact on campus..... This is not just NUS taking a side on a heavily-polarised conflict, irresponsible though that is. It is NUS taking actions that isolate Jewish students from their national movement."And a Board of Deputies official added:
"This motion will not contribute to bringing peace to the Middle East. It will only serve to undermine attempts to improve campus relations and will leave Jewish students and those who support Israel feeling marginalised and abandoned by the very union which is meant to protect, defend and represent them."The motion to be voted upon in Harrogate, framed by the ECU's National Executive Committe, reads:
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.Congress resolves:that UCU will make no use of the EUMC definition (e.g. in educating members or dealing with internal complaints)
that UCU will dissociate itself from the EUMC definition in any public discussion on the matter in which UCU is involved
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
Notes blogger and academic David Hirsh, who's been in the forefront of opposition to the UCU's noxious boycott of Israel policy:
"The EUMC definition says it may, in some contexts, be antisemitic to accuse Jews of being more loyal to Israel than to their union; to say Israel is a racist endeavour; to apply double standards; to boycott Israelis but not others for the same violations; to say that Israeli policy is like Nazi policy; to hold Jews collectively responsible for the actions of Israel. All of these things have been going on a lot inside the academic unions for the last eight years. Instead of addressing the antisemitic culture, the leadership of the union now proposes to alter the definition of antisemitism. The union wants to carry on treating ‘Zionists’ as disloyal; singling out Israel and only Israel for boycott; holding Israeli universities responsible for their government; allowing ‘Zionist’ union members to be denounced as Nazis or supporters of apartheid.
The precise form that bullying typically takes within UCU is that people who complain about antisemitism are accused of doing so in bad faith in a dishonest attempt to outlaw criticism of Israel. The antisemitism isn’t seen, isn’t acknowledged, the accuser is accused; and Israel is blamed for the unseen and unacknowledged antisemitism.
The new motion makes this form of bullying into official union policy. Even though the definition says that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic’, the new motion declares that the definition outlaws criticism and is intended to silence debate.
UCU will now oppose all bigotry except for one particular category: racism which can be said to resemble criticism of Israel. UCU will oppose racist and religious antisemitism, but political antisemitism will be protected under the new policy."He adds, with understandable sarcasm:
"Israel murders children? Not antisemitic. Israel controls US foreign policy? Not antisemitic. Magen David = Swastika stuck on your office door? Not antisemitic. Jews invent antisemitism to de-legitimise criticism of Israel? Not antisemitic. Host a man found guilty of hate speech by the South African Human Rights commission? [For this shameful incident see http://www.thejc.com/blogpost/antisemitic-meeting-soas] Not antisemitic. Exclude nobody but Israelis from the global academic community? Not antisemitic."And observes:
"It is clear now how antisemitism against Israelis far away, in the form of a boycott campaign, also threatens ‘Zionists’ within the union. We have learnt that the boycott campaign brings antisemitism with it into any organisation which treats it as one side in a legitimate debate. UCU have understood it too, now. The only thing left for them, now, is to change the defiinition of antisemitism so that they fall outside of it."http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/instead-of-adressing-its-antisemitism-ucu-proposes-to-change-the-definition-of-antisemitism/ (The Engage blog is essential reading for developments in academia)
Mark Gardner of the Community Security Trust's Mark Gardner told the Jewish Chronicle:
"It proves, once again, that the UCU's executive are political extremists who care only about their ideological wars, including obsessively hating Israel and condemning mainstream political attempts to protect Jews from antisemitism..."
And on his blog he notes, inter alia:
'This resolution ... not only hurts Jews and the fight against antisemitism, it actually reinforces antisemitism; and does so notwithstanding that noisy minority of people of Jewish identity or origin, who consciously parade their Jewishness in order to help legitimise political and rhetorical attacks upon Israel and Zionism and Zionists (and therefore the broad mass of their co-religionists, over 70% of whom self-identify as Zionists).
The resolution comes under the header, “Campaigning for equality”. It would be funny, or at least ironic, were it not so Orwellian.'Read all of Mark Gardner's blogpost here: http://thecst.org.uk/blog/?p=2575