University and College Union apologises after failing to include Jews on list of groups of Holocaust victims

The organisation blamed 'drafting errors' after an e-mail promoting Holocaust Memorial Day mentioned all groups targeted during the Shoah - except Jews


The University College Union (UCU) has apologised after it left out Jews from a description of the different groups murdered in the Holocaust, an omission the chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust called “completely unacceptable”.

The UCU had sent out an e-mail to branch and local association secretaries, in which chapters of the union were encouraged to observe HMD 2020, which takes place on January 27.

It described how the Nazis had persecuted groups such as “trade unions, including social democrats and Communists”, “Europe’s Roma and Sinti people”, “Black people”, “disabled people”, “freemasons”, “gay and lesbian people”, “Jehovah’s witnesses” and “'asocials’, which included beggars, alcoholics, drug addicts prostitutes and pacifists” were persecuted by the Nazi regime.

It also specifically mentioned “non-Jewish Poles and Slavic POWs”. However, it made no mention of Jews, the primary targets of the Holocaust.

When the e-mail was publicised, Jews on social media attacked the “shocking” and “sickening” omission, with others suggesting that the mention of “non-Jewish Poles” showed the Union had clearly been thinking about who to include – and who to leave out.

A link in the e-mail led to a specific page on the UCU about HMD, which also neglected to mention Jews as victims of the Holocaust, while mentioning other significant groups.

In a subsequent e-mail from the union’s “equality support official”, the organisation apologised for what it called “drafting errors” in its initial message.

“UCU apologises for the offence this caused and reassures all members that it continues to fight against all forms of antisemitism, hatred and bigotry in society.”

However, Jews on social media described the follow-up statement as “mealy-mouthed…adding insult to injury” and pointing out that it did not “even directly say what they are apologising for.”

The HMD page on the UCU’s website was also updated to include specific mention of how “the systematic murder of six million Jews across Europe began with the separating and dehumanising of the Jewish people.”

In 2011, the UCU was accused of being institutionally antisemitic, after a number of incidents, including the organisation’s passing of a resolution boycotting Israeli academics and its disassociation from the EUMC’s working definition of antisemitism, the forerunner of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

The General Secretary of the union at the time asked for a meeting with Jewish communal leaders to help write an “acceptable” definition of antisemitism.

A Jewish member of the UCU went on to sue the union for breach of the Equality Act 2010; however, in 2013, the case was rejected.

Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, described HMD as “an annual opportunity for people across the UK to come together to commemorate the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust, all victims of Nazi persecution and those who were murdered in subsequent genocides".

She added: “The Holocaust is and should be at the centre of the day; omitting to mention Jews when marking Holocaust Memorial Day is completely unacceptable.

“We were pleased to see that UCU amended the information on their website. They are planning a number of activities for HMD, and we trust that the Jewish victims of the Holocaust will hold a central place within them.”

Responding to a request for comment by the JC, a UCU spokesperson said:

“We are deeply sorry that an incomplete version of a circular detailing plans for Holocaust Memorial Day was sent out by mistake, and for the offence this caused. It was human error, and we amended the copy once the error was identified.

"Holocaust Memorial Day is an important part of the union’s work in tackling antisemitism and we would like to thank those members and non-members who contacted us over this.”

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