The University and College Union has been accused of being antisemitic and institutionally racist by one of its members at a seminar it was running — to fight antisemitism.
The union, whose repeated attempts to introduce an academic boycott of Israel have led to a number of resignations, was the subject of a scathing attack by David Hirsh, who runs the Engage anti-boycott website.
Mr Hirsh told the seminar in Brighton that “since 2003 it has become clear that antisemitic ways of thinking and antisemitic practices have been imported into our union alongside this campaign to punish Israeli academics”.
Mr Hirsh said: “UCU has demonstrated repeatedly that it is simply not bothered by antisemitism if it comes packaged in the language of criticism of Israel. Jews in UCU have been bullied, have resigned, have been pushed out and have been silenced.”
He declared: “We have a union from which hundreds of members — many of them Jewish — have resigned in protest at the unwarranted exceptionalism of its attitude to Israel. I believe that many more will do so. UCU entirely refuses to investigate concern about institutional antisemitism when raised through the proper channels, by members.”
But his comments led to a furious exchange with UCU executive committee member Tom Hickey, the man behind the boycott campaign.
Mr Hickey accused Mr Hirsh of telling lies; Mr Hirsh said that this was part of the “structure of intimidation” used against Jewish members who opposed the boycott.
The seminar was the first of three called “The Legacy of Hope: Antisemitism, the Holocaust and Remembrance, yesterday and today” that the union undertook to hold as a result of a resolution at its congress last May. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt chaired the meeting.
Six academics, including Mr Hirsh and Mr Hickey, spoke, with a panel debate at the end. Panellist Mary Davis, professor of labour history at the London Metropolitan University, admitted she felt “isolated and, yes, intimidated” at last May’s congress because she was the only Jew present and the only one prepared to speak out against the boycott.
Mr Hickey denied Professor Davis had been intimidated and then attacked Mr Hirsh. “David Hirsh’s contribution was supposed to be about the existence of a variety of forms of antisemitism. The only thing we heard was the union discussing the boycott question. The discussion of the appropriateness of a boycott of Israel by the UCU is not an example of antisemitism, and to ignore all of the real forms of antisemitism in Europe today is, quite simply, a disgrace.”
Mr Hickey said Mr Hirsh’s accusations about institutional racism, antisemitism and intimidation were “a traducement of the truth and it’s a straightforward lie and the author knows it. There has been no intimidation — the union and the chief executive would not allow it.”
Mr Hirsh hit back: “He said there was no intimidation in UCU notwithstanding all the examples I gave. But that explains the structure of intimidation in UCU. They don’t want any debate of evidence. We are routinely accused of being liars for Israel, but I would like to hear the evidence.
“Is the Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism (which described an academic boycott of Israel as ‘anti-Jewish’) a liar for Israel, or are the people who wrote letters to UCU liars for Israel? The structure of intimidation is that we are ‘liars for Israel’ and that’s a really serious problem.”