Baroness Deech: Universities should break with UCU

Baroness Deech

Baroness Deech

Universities should consider breaking off links with the union representing academics in the wake of its new policy on antisemitism, Baroness Deech told the House of Lords this week.

The peer, a former principal of St Anne's College, Oxford, launched a scathing attack on the University and College Union for rejecting a definition of antisemitism adopted by the European Union.

"The European working definition of antisemitism states that the singling out of the state of Israel for criticism not levelled at other countries, the denial of Jewish self-determination and comparison with Nazi policies may be antisemitic," she said during an 75-minute debate on antisemitism in the Lords on Wednesday.

The UCU at its annual congress last month, she explained, had "resolved not to use this understanding of antisemitism in its own internal complaints procedures, so that it can cry Israel in order to stop Jews talking about the racism that they have experienced."

This was the union that "has spent years trying to establish an illegal boycott of Israeli academia", she declared. "This is the union that would now deny Jews the ability to complain about racism by denying their perceptions of victimhood if the topic of Israel is in the frame."

In response, government spokeswoman Baroness Warsi said that the UCU policy would be discussed at a meeting between Whitehall officials and Jewish community representatives later this month.

The debate had been called by Conservative peer Lord Boswell, who drew attention to a "worrying upward trend in antisemitism internationally". He was a member of the parliamentary committee which reported on antisemitism in 2006.

Lord Beecham said there were "real grounds for concern about what is happening in various parts of the country, not least, rather surprisingly, in the Greater Manchester area," which appeared to have accounted for almost a third of the incidents investigated by the Community Security Trust.a

Lord Mitchell, chairman of the Coexistence Trust, said that "what gets to many Jews is the way in which Israel is singled out in the media and by those in power."

Contrasting the demonstrations in the UK against Israel two years ago over its Gaza operation with the lack of public protest against Arab regimes now, he said: "There is a not a word on Syria, on Libya or Iran, but when Israel overstretches the mark, everyone goes nuts. Many Jews think, and with good reason, that anti-Israeli invective is often antisemitism masquerading under a different name. The fact is that to criticise Israel is not antisemitic, but to single out Israel simply because it is a Jewish state surely is."

But he said that the situation had improved on campuses from the perspective of the trust, which brings Muslim and Jewish students together.

"For example, in the immediate Gaza aftermath, we were encouraged not to be present at the universities of Manchester and Nottingham," he revealed. "It was judged that the situation was too inflammatory and that we would only worsen it. Today, I am pleased to say, we are welcomed and work closely with them."

Last updated: 2:57pm, June 10 2011