Delegates at the UCU congress voted overwhelmingly for a motion to reject the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia's (EUMC) working definition of anti-Semitism, a set of guidelines drawn up in 2005.
The motion states that despite not being ratified by the UK government or by the European Union, the definition is being used by bodies such as the National Union of Students and local students' unions in relation to activities on campus.
"Congress believes that the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine anti-Semitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus."
It goes on to say: "that UCU will make no use of the EUMC definition (eg, in educating members or dealing with internal complaints); that UCU will dissociate itself from the EUMC definition in any public discussion on the matter in which UCU is involved; that UCU will campaign for open debate on campus concerning Israel's past history and current policy, while continuing to combat all forms of racial or religious discrimination".
This motion is related to the UCU's longstanding preoccupation with an academic boycott of Israel. Many members have resigned over this matter and others have expressed great disquiet. The union has refused to deal with members' concerns and in 2009 voted down a motion to investigate the resignations.
In the same year, it invited Bongani Masuku, international relations secretary of COSATU (South Africa's equivalent of the TUC), to speak at a seminar to discuss a boycott of Israel, even though the South African Human Rights Commission had deemed that Masuku's statements amounted to hate speech against the country's Jewish community.
It seems quite bizarre for the union to proscribe any consideration of the working definition, to dismiss the whole document and to resolve to disassociate itself from it in any relevant public discussion.
Should this really be a priority for members when higher and further education face unprecedented cuts and a radical overhaul of fees?
Sarah Annes Brown, Professor of English literature, Anglia Ruskin University
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