May 28, 2011

UK equalities chief responds to zionist lobby on working definition

The story so far is that the Fundamental Rights Agency (formerly known as the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia or EUMC) came up with a working definition of antisemitism that appeared to preclude most or all criticism of the State of Israel. Check out EUMC in the search bar. Well the Universities and Colleges Union has a motion to its congress on 30 May rejecting the working definition out of hand. The Jewish Leadership Council, a coalition of Jewish lobby groups, has written to the leader of the UK's Equalities and Human Rights Commission. On that, here is the Jewish Chronicle:
The Jewish Leadership Council has written to the equalities watchdog, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, to express its concern at moves within the Universities and Colleges Union to reject the widely-accepted definition of antisemitism.
Well Trevor Phillips has replied and David Hirsh of the Engage website has reported, kind of, on the reply thus:
He says that he is “surprised” that UCU had brought the motion on the definition of antisemitism “without consulting the EHRC” at all.
He expects UCU’s National Executive Committee to discuss the motion with the EHRC as Britain’s National Human Rights Institution, even if it passes
 EHRC stands by the MacPhearson Report, which requires organisations to start from the perception of the victim. Trevor Phillips says:
 ”..if the object of harrasment or attack regards her treatment as being anti-semitic, even if the perpetrator maintains that their action is politically motivated, the presumption is that the victim’s perception is what defines the incident”.
 On the issue of reporting incidents -  both for students on campus and academics inside UCU – he says: “Nothing should be able to prevent Jewish students (or any other group, for that matter) being able to complain of harrasment, racism or anti-semitism”
 He suggests that there could be legal problems under Human Rights and Equality law if the motion is fully enacted.
What Hirsh reports is almost all accurate in that Phillips did say most of those things, but let's have that last para again:
He suggests that there could be legal problems under Human Rights and Equality law if the motion is fully enacted.
Now the only thing that I could find in Phillips's letter that looked anything like that was this last paragraph:

Finally, in practice, the international human rights treaties like the UN's Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Human Rights Act and the UK's mew exemplar Equality Act 2010 give us the guidance we need on this matter, in particular in equality duties imposed on the latter. Nothing should prevent Jewish students (or any other group, for that matter) being able to complain of harrassment, racism, or anti-semitism.  Such complaints should be taken extremely seriously by every institution; and it would be hard to imagine any institution which did not provide appropriate remedies for students' complaints being able to comply with its legal duties under the 2010 Act.
Unless I am missing something, and taking the letter as a whole, Phillips appears to be saying that Jews can and should expect protection from racism regardless of the UCU motion.  And look at the bit that Hirsh doesn't mention at all:
neither we (EHRC) nor the EUMC has ever considered the EUMC's working definition to be wholly definitive; therefore its retention or abandonment should not be seen as an indication of what should be regarded as anti-racist [sic] or anti-semitic conduct.
Now Phillips could be saying anything about the working definition itself. He could think it contains too much or too little. He could think it is plain wrong or even right but he does not seem to be saying that its abandonment could cause "legal problems under Human Rights and Equality law if the motion is fully enacted."

Overall, whilst it would be nice to see Trevor Phillips distancing himself more from the working definition, his letter is hardly a ringing endorsement of it. Hopefully, if the JLC pushes harder the EHRC will have to openly dismiss the working definition just as, hopefully, the UCU is going to in just a couple of days.

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