Does the UCU harbour hate? You decide

Sally Hunt

Sally Hunt

In 2006, Ronnie Fraser stood as a delegate to NATFHE conference (a predecessor to UCU). It was said at the regional meeting that Mr Fraser could not be a delegate because he was a Zionist and therefore a racist. NATFHE held an investigation and found that this statement had not been antisemitic.

Israel has been relentlessly condemned at every UCU congress, often by motions to boycott Israel. There were no motions to boycott any other states.

The Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism reported that the boycott debates were likely to cause difficulties for Jewish academics and students, to exclude Jews from academic life and to have a detrimental effect on Jewish Studies. UCU responded that these allegations were made to stop people from criticising Israel. Seventy-six members of the UCU published a critique of the union’s response but the union took no notice. John Mann MP told the tribunal that UCU had been unique among those criticised by the inquiry in its refusal to listen.

Sean Wallis, a local UCU official, said that anti-boycott lawyers were financed by “bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down”. Ronnie Fraser asked him whether he had indeed made this antisemitic claim. Mr Wallis admitted having said it. But it was Mr Fraser who, for the crime of asking, was found to have violated union rules concerning “rude or offensive communications”.

Gert Weisskirchen, responsible for combating antisemitism for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), asked the union leadership for a meeting to discuss antisemitism relating to the boycott. The union did not meet with him. When 39 union members protested publicly, the union ignored them.

The union invited South African trade unionist Bongani Masuku to speak at a pro-boycott conference in London. Masuku was known to be under investigation by the South African Human Rights Commission for antisemitic hate speech. Here is an example of what he had said: “Bongani says hi to you all as we struggle to liberate Palestine from the racists, fascists and Zionists who belong to the era of their friend Hitler!” Mr Fraser told the union about Masuku’s record. Masuku was found guilty in South Africa of hate speech before speaking as a guest of UCU. Months later, UCU Congress explicitly rejected a motion to dissociate itself from Masuku’s “repugnant views”.

The Activists’ List is an email list hosted by the union. Mr Fraser argued on the list that there was no absolute blockade of Gaza. In response, another union member said that he was like the Nazis at Theresienstadt. The union found that there was nothing inappropriate about this comment.

In court, Sally Hunt, the union general secretary, was asked hypothetically: “If somebody said ‘if you want to understand the Jews, read Mein Kampf’, would that be antisemitic?” She answered that it would not necessarily be antisemitic.

Last updated: 4:45pm, April 4 2013