UCU branch’s support for ‘intifada’ condemned by Jewish students

Union members at UCL claim to have been the ‘victim of a smear campaign’ as higher education minister calls them Hamas’ ‘useful idiots’

十月 31, 2023
Source: iStock/peterspiro

The English higher education minister and Jewish student groups have condemned a union branch for backing a motion that contained the phrase “intifada until victory” and called for a “mass uprising” in Israel, Gaza and the wider Middle East.

UCL has also sought to distance itself from the actions of its local University and College Union (UCU) branch and called for the general secretary, Jo Grady, to “take action” against it.

In a series of motions passed by UCL UCU, the largest branch of the academic union, at an emergency meeting on 27 October, members voted to “strongly condemn all forms of violence that have been taking place in the current war between Israel and Hamas” and the “targeting of defenceless people”.

One motion said that “imperialist diplomacy” has failed to resolve the situation in Israel and Palestine.

“Only a mass uprising on both sides of the green line and across the Middle East can free the Palestinian people, end the occupation and ensure equal rights for all peoples,” it added.

The same motion later resolved the branch to “call for a Socialist Federation of the Middle East – Intifada until victory!”

In a statement posted online, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said the branch was advocating a “mass uprising against Israeli civilians” and called this a “horrific incitement to violence and terror”.

“We have written to UCL’s provost to express disgust at the motion and call for urgent action in the wake of this,” the group added.

UCL UCU responded to the post on X (formerly Twitter) to accuse the UJS of “out and out lying and smear tactics”.

“No motion at UCL UCU has ever said anything about uprisings against civilians,” it said, pointing out that other motions had condemned attacks against civilians on both sides.

Neither the UJS or UCL UCU responded to THE’s requests for further comment.

Robert Halfon, the higher education minister, joined the criticism of the motion, calling it “appalling” and said it should be condemned both by both UCL and UCU nationally. “A fifth column of Hamas’ ‘useful idiots’ far too prevalent at some of our universities,” he added.

A national UCU spokesperson said it was the right of all members to bring motions to their branches to be debated, amended and voted on but they did not become national policy until voted on at the union congress. 

They condemned “in the strongest possible terms the targeting of civilian life by both Hamas and the Israeli military, and we also condemn instances of antisemitism and Islamophobia that we have witnessed since the violence unfolded”.

But, UCU added, government ministers “should think long and hard before calling university staff ‘a fifth column’” when cases of antisemitism and Islamophobia were on the rise. His language adds to a hostile environment for academic freedom on campus –  from the very party that claims to be the guardian of free speech,” the spokesperson added. 

UCL itself accused its UCU branch of passing “a series of incoherent and disturbing motions”. 

“While they ‘condemn all forms of violence’ and note that the ‘deliberate killing of civilians is always an atrocity’, they also use language that clearly incites indiscriminate violence,” a spokesperson added.

“We wholly condemn this incitement to violence, have called on the local branch to withdraw the statement and have written to Dr Jo Grady, the general secretary of the national UCU, to take action against the local branch. Language such as this has no place on a university campus.”

The latest violence in the Middle East has prompted fresh concerns about academic freedom being stifled on university campuses in the US and the UK, while Jewish students have also warned that an escalation in the rhetoric has prompted a surge of antisemitic incidents and left them feeling unsafe.

The science secretary, Michelle Donelan, has faced criticism for urging UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to disband an equality advisory body because some of its members were alleged to have made “unacceptable” social media posts about the conflict.

An open letter condemning this “unacceptable political interference in the decision-making and governance of the funder” has gained more than 1,500 signatures in less than 24 hours.

“We categorically refute the suggestion that expressions of support for Palestinian civilians and their right to engage in organised political resistance can be equated with support for Hamas and believe that such a conflation serves to undermine popular and growing opposition to Israel’s bombardment and policies of siege against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip,” the letter says. 

“Targeting one of the most authoritative research bodies in the country has surely been designed to produce a chilling effect across the whole academic community at the cost of intellectual and professional integrity.”




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Reader's comments (1)

UCU banners were evident at the latest pro-Hamas/anti-semitic hate marches through central London at the weekend. Union members should be fully aware as to what their union fees are spent on, and reappraise their membership accordingly.