UCU's 'fig-leaf' Shoah talks

By Leon Symons, December 23, 2009

Anger has greeted the news that the University and College Union, at the forefront of the campaign for an academic boycott of Israel, is holding three seminars on antisemitism next month.

The last of the seminars is set to be held at UCU headquarters on January 27 — Holocaust Memorial Day. All three will be chaired by Tom Hickey, the leading proponent of UCU’s boycott push.

The seminars are being held in line with a resolution passed at UCU’s annual congress last May. Subjects covered will include the Holocaust, Jewish resistance and historical antisemitism in Europe. Speakers will be the union’s executive member Mary David, UCU member John Rose and Professor Robert Fine, professor of sociology at Warwick University. Wiener Library director Ben Barkow was listed as a speaker but declined because Holocaust Memorial Day is his busiest time of year.

Mr Barkow said: “I was invited to take part in three events to address one specific issue: what was the Holocaust? I thought it was a useful opportunity to clarify why comparisons between the Holocaust and the actions of the Israeli government today are completely inappropriate and rather disgusting.”

Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “These seminars are a shameful attempt by UCU to create a fig-leaf for its discriminatory boycott policies. Until UCU investigates the resignations of its Jewish members, apologises for promoting an anti-Jewish hate speaker, abandons its boycott obsession and accepts the findings of the Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism’s report, it is institutionally incapable of lecturing others about fighting antisemitism.”

Prof Fine, a UCU member, said: “The union has taken a terribly wrong course towards Israel. I would like to see the strategy changed and if there is a chance to speak about antisemitism, I am happy to take advantage of that to try to start a trend in the other direction.”

Ronnie Fraser, director of the Academic Friends of Israel, said: “Although the idea of a programme to educate UCU members on antisemitism is urgently needed, this lacks credibility.

“It is ironic that UCU has chosen a giant image of Albert Einstein to illustrate its protests against plans to cut research funding in Britain. Albert Einstein, along with Chaim Weizman, founded the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1925 and the Hebrew University is one of the Israeli institutions that the UCU is encouraging us to boycott.”

A UCU spokesperson said: “UCU would be surprised, and horrified, if anyone was to criticise these events in the build-up to, and on, Holocaust Memorial Day. We would certainly question the motives of anyone criticising such events.”

Last updated: 1:16pm, December 24 2009