April 12, 2013

The UCU and the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism

Once more to the FUCU case.  This time it's about the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism, which, hopefully, will have been discredited by the FUCU Tribunal judgment.

Here's what a key player on the F side of the case, Dr David Hirsh of Engage, had to say following the judgment:
The Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism reported that the boycott debates were likely to cause difficulties for Jewish academics and students, to exclude Jews from academic life and to have a detrimental effect on Jewish Studies.  UCU responded that these allegations were made to stop people from criticizing Israel.  76 members of the UCU published acritique of the union’s response, but the union took no notice.  John Mann MP told the Tribunal that UCU had been unique among those criticized by the inquiry in its refusal to listen.
This has been cross-posted to the Shiraz Socialist blog where critical comments have been allowed.
Here's what the judgment says about the complaint about how the University and College Union handled dealings with the inquiry:
Complaint (2): The Respondents’ response to the report of the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism

77 The Inquiry was commissioned by Mr John Mann MP, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism, and a witness before us. A cross-party committee of MPs (‘the Committee’) chaired by the Rt Hon Dr Denis MacShane, also a witness before us, was appointed and began work in 2005. It
reported in September 2006.

78 The report runs to over 50 pages plus appendices. We ... note certain features.  ....the Committee found that anti-Semitism was on the rise. The new trend appeared to be largely associated with the politics of .... the Arab/Israeli conflict. The report concluded that the correlation between conflict in the Middle East and attacks on members of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom must be better understood and that academic research in that area would be welcomed (para 110). The Committee appeared to accept that criticism of Israel or Zionism was not “necessarily” anti-Semitic but added that the converse was also true: “… it is never acceptable to mask hurtful racial generalisations by claiming the right to legitimate political discourse.

79 Dealing with....anti-Semitism in the academic sphere, the Committee found: ...that Jewish students feel... threatened in British universities as a result of anti-Semitic activities which vary from campus to campus. Attacks on Jewish students and their halls of residence, and a lack of respect shown for observant Jewish students and their calendar requirements amount to a form of campus anti-Semitism which Vice-Chancellors should tackle vigorously. While criticism of Israel – often hard-hitting in the rough and tumble of student politics – is legitimate, the language of some speakers crosses the line into generalised attacks on Jews.

80 At paras 206-213, the Committee addressed the question of academic boycotts....The Committee perceived, and criticised, the “singling out” of Israel for boycotting purposes. Evidence given by Dr Jon Pike (also a witness for the Claimant before us) was quoted with apparent approval. Dr Pike was a leading member of ‘Engage’ an anti-boycott organisation. This section of the report ended as follows (para 213): We conclude that calls to boycott contact with academics working in Israel are an assault on academic freedom and intellectual exchange. We recommend that lecturers in the New University and College Lecturers Union (sic) are given every support to combat such collective boycotts that are anti-Jewish in practice. We would urge the new union’s executive and leadership to oppose the boycott. 

81 The Committee heard oral evidence over four days in February and March 2006.......

82 NATFHE supplied written evidence to the Inquiry. AUT did not....

83 The Respondents had come into existence by the date of publication of the Committee’s findings. They decided to respond to the report. Before doing so, they requested a meeting with the parliamentarians and as a result an appointment was fixed for 13 December 2006. Those present were Mr Mann, Dr MacShane, Ms Hunt and Mr Mackney, formerly General Secretary of NATFHE and by then joint General Secretary of the Respondents (a position which he continued to share with Ms Hunt until May 2007).

84 The meeting was not particularly a productive one. Ms Hunt and Mr Mackney referred to parts of the report which had described Jewish students feeling threatened on campus and explained that they wished for further information because that matter called for investigation. The parliamentarians did not provide any detail and did not genuinely respond to that inquiry at all. Mr Mann led for them and the more conciliatory tone of Dr MacShane gave way to a somewhat hostile display in which Mr Mann made no bones about his view that the union was operating in an anti-Semitic way and that those at its head must address the problem. He did not explain what the anti-Semitic behaviour was supposed to have consisted of besides referring to the boycott debate and characterising any boycott of Israel or Israeli institutions as itself anti-Semitic.

85 Following the meeting Mr Mackney drafted the Respondents’ written answer to the Committee’s report. He affirmed the Respondents’ opposition to anti-Semitism. He was critical of what he characterised as a lack of balance in the report and questioned whether it was appropriate to take anti-Semitism as a topic in isolation, pointing out that Islamaphobia was also on the increase and suggesting that the two problems would benefit from a balanced joint approach. He referred to the evidence which had been submitted by NATFHE and observed that it would have been courteous and helpful to invite the Respondents to give oral evidence. Mr Mackney acknowledged that some groups might make criticism of Israel an excuse for anti-Semitic activity but contended that criticism of the Israeli government was not in itself anti-Semitic and argued that defenders of Israel had used the charge of anti-Semitism as a tactic to smother democratic debate and legitimate censure, citing research by Israeli journalists published in the Guardian in June 2006 to that effect. Mr Mackney reserved his most direct strictures for the recommendation concerning the boycott issue remarking: We find this recommendation highly improper, constituting an interference in the democratic processes of our union. The UCU and its predecessors are and were democratic organisations … the report itself struggles and fails to satisfactorily resolve the issue of whether a policy which is critical of the actions of the Israeli government is anti-Jewish in practice and this is likely to remain a highly subjective issue.

86 In January 2007 the Times Higher Education Supplement published a letter from 76 members of the Respondents, including the Claimant, attacking Mr Mackney’s response to the Parliamentary Inquiry report as “evasive, disingenuous and complacent”.
Notice how it doesn't quite tally with Dr Hirsh's account.

Now see what the judges decided about this:
157 Complaint (2) is ... devoid of any merit. The Respondents defended themselves courteously but robustly against treatment by the Parliamentary Committee the fairness of which was, to put it at its very lowest, open to question. Their response was sincere and had substance. On any view, it was open to them to do as they did. Their action cannot properly be seen as ‘unwanted’: it was perfectly proper and unobjectionable. No legal claim can arise from it. Our reasoning on the meaning of ‘unwanted’ under complaint (1) is repeated.
Now I'm not sure if they are saying that the fairness of the Parliamentary Committee was open to question or the fairness of the way they treated the UCU.  Does it matter?  Whatever they did, they are utterly discredited now.

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