Tribunal slams academic for bringing anti-Semitism case

A Jewish academic who claimed the UCU’s policy on Palestine constituted harassment has been rebuked by an employment tribunal for misusing the legal process

March 27, 2013

Ronnie Fraser, a further education lecturer and founding director of Academic Friends of Israel, argued that the UCU was institutionally anti-Semitic owing to motions passed in favour of a boycott of Israel.

Despite enlisting the services of Anthony Julius, best known as Diana, Princess of Wales’ divorce lawyer and a partner at Mishcon de Reya, all of his 10 claims of harassment have been “dismissed in their totality”.

During the 20-day hearing in December, Mr Fraser called several witnesses to give evidence, including Howard Jacobson, the Booker Prize winning novelist, John Mann MP, the former MP Denis MacShane and numerous leading Jewish academics.

However, in its judgment, which was published on 25 March, Mr Fraser’s claim is strongly criticised by the tribunal members.

The action is branded by tribunal panel members as “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means” and a case which showed a “worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression”.

Mr Fraser, the child of refugees who fled Nazi Germany, is viewed as a “sincere witness”, but the tribunal notes his “political experience” and are not impressed by his claim that the tone of several debates at the UCU’s annual congress “violated his dignity”, thereby constituting harassment.

“No doubt some of the things said in the course of debates were upsetting, but to say they violated his dignity…is to overstate his case hugely,” the judgment says.

“The claimant [Mr Fraser] is a campaigner,” it adds.

“He chooses to engage in the politics of the union in support of Israel and in opposition to activists to the Palestinian cause.

“When a rugby player takes the field he must accept his fair share of minor injuries. Similarly, a political activist accepts the risk of being offended or hurt on occasions by things said or done by his opponents (who themselves take on a corresponding risk).”

Scorn is also invoked for Mr Julius’s decision to pursue certain points, with complaints variously dismissed as “palpably groundless”, “obviously hopeless” and “devoid of any merit”.

The “sorry saga” had also acquired a “gargantuan scale” that required a 20-day hearing and a 23 volumes of evidence which was “manifestly excessive and disproportionate”, the tribunal adds.

“Our analysis to date has despatched almost the entire case as manifestly unmeritorious,” it concludes.

Several complaints were also made with reference to the wrong act of Parliament, while some were also “out of time” as the incident has occurred too long ago to bring to the tribunal.

The judgment also says public resources had been “squandered” conducting such a long case, while “nor should the [UCU] have been put to the trouble and expense of defending proceedings of this order”.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “This has been an extremely difficult period for the UCU staff and members involved in defending the union’s position and I am especially pleased therefore that the tribunal found our witnesses to be careful and accurate.

“The claimant, while unsuccessful, of course had the right to challenge the union in the courts and will be treated with respect within the union as will his views on this question.

“Now that a decision has been made I hope in turn that he, and others who share his views, will play an active part in the union and its debates rather than seek recourse to the law.”

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Reader's comments (12)

I'd like to know a little more about the makeup of the Tribunal.
It's too bad that I wasn't called as a witness -- I could have testified to the blatant and open victimization by NATFHE/UCU when I openly opposed the academic boycott and they then cited this as the reason for denying legal assistance. When I then threatened to sue for discrimination, they backtracked and changed their official reason for the denial.
A reminder of the anti-Semitic nature of the boycott movement:
This is a good outcome. I don't support the boycott (despite being a fervent supporter of the rights of Palestinians), but the legal action was woefully misguided. As for other commenters here -- one in particular is irrelevant, having departed the UK in disgrace. Perhaps if that person's writing efforts were directed elsewhere, more productively...
@Qorny -- There was no disgrace in my departing following an anti-Semitic assault against my wife accompanied by death threats in which the assailant said, "Jewish lives are worth nothing to us [Hizb ut Tahrir]." It was because the UK refused to provide protection to us that we were forced to flee for our lives. Perhaps you should do some research into the witness statements and police correspondence surrounding what happened before you make comments such as what you have made. As far as my knowledge of the Fraser case is concerned, I've been kept in the loop about its developments since before the case was even filed, so I think I do know a bit more that you give me credit for knowing. Let me leave it at that.
Yisrael is precisely correct. In fact the Torah itself is filled with references to Jerusalem. Indeed, the Jewish Passover Seder and Yom Kippur service both conclude with the reciting of the words, "Next year in Jerusalem." Moreover, Jews have inhabited the land continuously, even during periods when many were driven into exile. A judge who does not recognize or understand the intrinsic connection between Judaism and Zionism is not qualified to sit in judgment of such a case.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I offer the following biographical note about Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, a pro-boycott "activist" who posts above in disparagement of Mr Fraser and his witnesses: Professor Jonathan Rosenhead is chair of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) which is the main organisation in the UK supporting the academic and cultural boycotts of Israel, it parallels PACBI in Palestine. Professor Rosenhead is also an activist, taking part in the flotilla, sailing to Gaza to break the Israeli seige. Source:
@John Bibby -- Yes, it was the Tribunal that directly disparaged Mr Fraser et al, however, it is plain and evident that Prof Rosenhead's position is that he agrees with and supports the judgment, which disparaged certain individuals. Your suspicions about Mr Fraser having been "put up to" making a claim by "his QC or others" reeks of classic anti-Semitic troping (i.e. via his implied suggestion of conspiracy). What evidence do you have for your suspicion? Could it not be that he approached his QC or other individuals to ask for support in funding the matter via a Tribunal claim?
Again, in the spirit of full disclosure, John Bibby is the author of the blog, "York2Gaza" -- The positions espoused on this blog appear to suggest where he stands vis a vis the UCU Israel boycott issue.
Apostrophe abuse!! Let's try to maintain some degree of literacy, shall we? As for "full disclosure" -- I too am Jewish, and I reject the idea that Zionism is "intrinsic" to Judaism. Certainly not a form of Zionism that attempts to dominate another people. I too have been annoyed by UCU obsession with Israel -- but let's not pretend there is no merit in some of the concerns. As for repeated claims of "anti-Semitism" -- there's a Monty Python sketch forming here...
Yisrael Midad wrote above: "Para. 150 of the decision… states that Zionism is not an intrinsic part of Judaism." No it doesn't. It says that "a belief in the Zionist project or any similar sentiment… is not an intrinsic part of Jewishness…"
Jonathan Rosenhead provides a quote concerning support by Israel for UK court actions. Unfortunately, there is nothing in this quote or linked materials that indicates that Ronnie Fraser was the beneficiary of such support. But even if he was, it does not mean that he was approached by Israel to file a claim with a promise of support. It is still not clear whether or not he simply decided to pursue the matter and sought support from a variety of possible sources of direct funding or other forms of assistance in order to make it possible for him to pursue such a claim. Rather than merely suggesting that this claim emanated from individuals or organizations other than Mr Fraser himself, perhaps it would be better to also address the sources of funding for Palestinian international propaganda and judicial campaigns.