University and College Union is 'institutionally racist'

The leaders of the Jewish community have recorded their outrage at the University and College Union, which has voted to distance itself from the European Union's working definition of antisemitism, at its annual congress in Harrogate.

Delegates overwhelmingly supported the move on the part of the union's executive, which believes the 2005 European definition prevents the full and open discussion of Israel and Palestine on campus.

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt responded that the union remained opposed to antisemitism and asked for a meeting with Jewish leaders to help write an "acceptable" definition of anti-Jewish prejudice.

But Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: "After this weekend's events, I believe the UCU is institutionally racist."

Representatives of the JLC, the Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust have now appealed to government ministers David Willetts and Eric Pickles to support a formal Equality and Human Rights Commission investigation into the decision.

Their calls were echoed by John Mann MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

"These claims have been made and should be investigated independently, ideally by the EHRC," he said.

Before last week's vote the UCU was urged to adopt the definition of racism contained in the MacPherson report on the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

This defines a racist incident as one which is viewed as such by the victim or a third party.

Trevor Phillips, chair of the EHRC, said he was "surprised" at the failure of the UCU to introduce its motion on the definition of antisemitism "without consulting the EHRC" at all.

The Board's president, Vivian Wineman, also wrote to university vice chancellors asking them to consider whether maintaining a normal relationship with UCU could still be compatible with their requirement to "eliminate discrimination and foster good relations" with minorities.

"Business as usual should not be an option with an institutionally racist organisation," he said.

He added that vice chancellors should put in place procedures to ensure that UCU's institutional racism and perverse definitions were not allowed to "pollute your own processes for handling reports of antisemitism on campus".

Mr Wineman said that if the UCU refused to address the issue, "we would ask that you reconsider whether formal union recognition of UCU is appropriate at all".

The UCU resolution has been condemned across the Jewish community. Tanya Stern, Europe director of the grassroots pro-Israel group, StandWithUs, said: " By passing this motion, the union has confirmed that it neither has an understanding of antisemitism nor the desire to protect people who suffer from it."

Paul Usiskin, chairman of Peace Now UK, said: "This is the UCU's heinous attempt to justify antisemitism as part of its criticisms of Israeli government policy."

Last updated: 12:14pm, June 2 2011