April 03, 2013

Crumbs from the UCU Tribunal table

There is just about nothing in the ruling in the Fraser v University and College Union case for zionists to draw comfort from.  But there was some criticism of the UCU's handling of a complaint about the appearance of Bongani Masuku at a conference on BDS and the fact that the complaint was handled by a BDS supporter, Tom Hickey.

Dr David Hirsh of BICOM and Engage and Sarah Annes Brown, of Harry's Place have both written about this, after a fashion, on the Engage website.

Here's Dr Hirsh in his "preliminary response" to the Tribunal:
The Tribunal also mentioned that it had been inappropriate to allow Tom Hickey to sit in judgment over formal claims of antisemitism.  Why?  It says (para 181) that the reason is that he is a “well-known pro-Palestinian activist”.  How insulting is it to “pro-Palestinian activists” to suggest that they are unqualified to judge what is antisemitic and what is not?  Being pro-Palestine should be one thing, being antisemitic should be quite another.  The Tribunal found itself unable to understand the distinction.  The reason why Hickey was an inappropriate judge, as the Tribunal was told, was because he was not good at making the distinction between antisemitism and criticism of Israel, not because he was ‘pro-Palestinian’.
Sarah Annes Brown picks up on the idea that
a pro-Palestinian activist was not the best person to adjudicate in a case of antisemitism.
And that
Some pro-Palestinian activists might bridle at being judged unfit to recognise racism. 
Actually I don't think most Palestine solidarity supporters even call themselves "pro-Palestinian" since being pro a whole people most of whom you can't possibly know seems a bit silly.  It reminds me of Hannah Arendt's response to Gershom Sholem's question about if she loves the Jewish people.

Anyway, let's have a look at what the Tribunal actually said about Tom Hickey.  He gets 8 mentions in the report:

100 Dr Robinson was informed that the institutional anti-Semitism allegation would be referred for consideration by the “appropriate bodies of the Union”.  When he chased the matter up, he was finally advised, on 8 August 2008, that the outstanding complaint would be considered by Mr Tom Hickey and Mr Waddup. Dr Robinson was not impressed. Mr Hickey, a member of the NEC, was also a well-known activist and campaigner on behalf of the Palestinian cause. He had proposed Motion 30 at the Congress of 2007 (see our findings under complaint (1) above). And, to state the obvious, Mr Waddup was the official responsible for the administration of the List. Dr Robinson did not feel confidence that the investigation, if in the hands of those two individuals, would be conducted impartially....
128 The second pleaded event took place on Friday 4 December 2009 at a meeting at which Mr Masuku was a speaker. Mr Jonathan Hoffman, Co-Vice Chair of the Zionist Federation, attempted to challenge Mr Masuku over the SAHRC ‘Finding’. The meeting was organised by BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine). It was not a UCU meeting. Mr Tom Hickey (to whom we have already referred) was, as we understand it, the chairman. There was no suggestion that he was acting for, or in the name of the Respondents. The Claimant was not present. Mr Hoffman’s intervention resulted in loud booing and Mr Hickey made it clear that further contributions on the subject which he had attempted to raise would not be welcome.......
129 The third matter relied on by the Claimant arose at a one-day conference held at Brighton on 18 January 2010 entitled, “The Legacy of Hope: Anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and Resistance, Yesterday and Today”. The event marked National Holocaust Day. The conference was chaired by Ms Hunt and speakers included pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian voices. Among them was Dr Hirsh (already mentioned). He departed from the subject which he had agreed to address, and spoke instead about what he perceived as anti-Semitism within the Respondents and their predecessors, making specific allegations against a number of individuals (members and non-members) who were not present to respond and had no warning of what was going to be said about them. He alleged that the union was not concerned about anti-Semitism and was “the most complacent public institution in Britain” in that regard. Mr Hickey responded to Mr Hirsh’s remarks. He denounced them as unwarranted and false.....
181 We hope that something of benefit can be salvaged from the wreckage of this litigation for the benefit of the Respondents and all their members, including the Claimant and those who share his views. The matters explored in relation to complaint (5) illustrate the need for decision-makers to be willing to react quickly to events in order to avoid the risk of attracting legitimate criticism. It was also regrettable that Dr Robinson’s complaint was referred to Mr Hickey, a well-known pro-Palestinian activist, and that it was never resolved. If an internal rule dictated the reference to Mr Hickey, it should be amended. Procedural rules should be the servants of organisations, not their masters. The obvious aim should be to devise a means of hearing and resolving complaints in which all interested parties, particularly the complainant, can feel confident. Dr Robinson was denied that comfort........

What is clear is that the Tribunal wasn't making a point about fitness to adjudicate on antisemitism nor on the fitness for anything based on support for the Palestinian cause.  The Tribunal was making the fair comment that it wasn't fair to refer a complaint about the behaviour of supporters of one side of an argument to a prominent supporter of that argument.  It was a straight case of conflict of interest and the UCU did fall down on the job there.

However, the Tribunal did not fall down on the job.

Zionists are also making much of the fact that the Tribunal refused to attempt a definition of antisemtism:

52.....We cannot escape the gloomy thought that a definition acceptable to all interested parties may never be achieved and count ourselves fortunate that it does not fall to us to attempt to devise one. 
Now I think it should have been easy enough for them to say that antisemitism is racism against Jews but of course there are many people who are trying to redefine the word to protect Jewish racism.  The Tribunal did, however, rule on what constitutes racism against Jews, or rather what does not.  Racism is all about offending against "protected characteristics" shared by members of a given community, usually an identity defined largely by descent.

Now let's remind ourselves of what the Tribunal said about the "protected characteristics" of Jews:

150 It seems to us that a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel or any similar sentiment cannot amount to a protected characteristic. It is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness and, even if it was, it could not be substituted for the pleaded characteristics, which are race and religion or belief. Accordingly, if and in so far as the Claimant seeks to base his claim on what might be termed a sub-characteristic (we are bound to say that we remain uncertain as to Mr Julius’s position on this point), we find that it is not open to him to do so.

 It all seems so clear. So in the case of Tom Hickey, the Tribunal did not say, as the zionists are saying, that his support for the Palestinian cause rendered him unfit to decide on matters regarding antisemitism.  It was his support for one side of an argument which made him inappropriate to decide on a complaint from the other side.  And if we define antisemitism as racism against Jews, the Tribunal certainly did rule on what does not constitute antisemitism.  Perhaps the self-styled anti-racist campaign against antisemitism should work out the definition by deduction.

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