UCU snubs concerns

August 3, 2007

Gert Weisskirchen is the representative of the chairman-in-office on combating anti-Semitism for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Weisskirchen, who is a professor, social scientist and also a member of the German parliament, publicly expressed concern when the University and College Union congress passed a motion supporting the campaign to exclude Israeli academics from our campuses, journals and conferences.

Professor Weisskirchen was recently in London and requested a meeting with the UCU to discuss anti-Semitism issues. He was told that all of the union officials were busy. He offered to meet with UCU representatives in London or Berlin, but the union has so far refused to meet him.

The UCU has a policy against anti-Semitism, but it now also has policy that says that "criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-Semitic". This formulation protects any statement that resembles criticism of Israel, or that incorporates criticism of Israel, whether or not it is anti-Semitic.

The statement is also factually incorrect. Much criticism of Israel, for example that which comes from the Iranian presidency, is certainly anti Semitic.

The UCU is also committed to the fiction that a campaign to blacklist Israelis - and nobody else - constitutes "criticism of Israel". Criticism is, of course, often entirely legitimate; exclusions on the basis of nationality are not.

The claim that "criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-Semitic" constitutes itself an anti-Semitic claim. It licenses certain kinds of anti Semitism, it denies the distinction between criticism, demonisation and concrete exclusion, and it implicitly accuses those who are concerned about anti-Semitism of dishonestly trying to delegitimise criticism of Israeli human rights abuses.

The UCU's reluctance even to discuss the issue of anti-Semitism with Weisskirchen is an indicator of its failure to take the issue seriously.

We union members call on the UCU to stop playing with the fire of anti Semitism, to stop ruling out in advance the possibility of anti-Semitism through word-play, to meet Weisskirchen and to listen seriously to his concerns.

David Hirsh, Goldsmiths, University of London
Bencie Woll, UCL UCU
Carol Wilson, Leeds UCU
Caroline Fertleman, UCL UCU
David Hirsh, Goldsmiths UCU
David La Rooy, Kingston UCU
David Lass, King's College London UCU
David M. Seymour, Lancaster UCU
Deborah Lynn Steinberg, Warwick UCU
Deiniol Jones, Leeds UCU
Dena Attar, Open UCU
Eva Frojmovic, Leeds UCU
Eve Garrard, Keele UCU
Fiona Fairweather, UEL UCU
Harriet Tenenbaum, Kingston UCU
Harry Lesser, Manchester UCU
Howard Fredrics, Kingston UCU
Jane Andrews, Aston UCU
Jean Seaton, Westminster UCU
Jeanne Katz, Open UCU
Jeffrey Boss, Bristol UCU (retd.)
John Strawson Stratford UEL UCU
Jon Pike, Open UCU
Joseph Mintz, LSBU UCU
Josh Cohen, Goldsmiths UCU
Larry Ray, Kent UCU
Mira Vogel, Goldsmiths UCU
Orna Almog, Kingston, UCU
Pauline Allen, London School of Hygiene, UCU
Raphael Levy, Liverpool UCU
Robert Fine, Warwick UCU
Sandra Fredman, Oxford UCU
Sasha Roseneil, Birkbeck UCU
Stephen Soskin, BCUC UCU
Steve Shnyder, Bradford UCU
Tania Woolf, U.W.E. UCU
Tessa Rajak, Reading UCU

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