The legal debate as to whether the University College Union (UCU) has been anti-Semitic came to an end last Thursday on Seder Night. Ronnie Fraser, a Jewish maths teacher argued that he was the victim of “unlawful harassment” at the hands of the UCU. His case was swept aside by the tribunal who called the whole affair “a sorry saga”.
The case against the UCU was brought by Fraser originally at the end of last year after he argued that the environment within the union made it “intolerable to be a Jew”. Israel had been singled out various times for criticism within the Union which has also voted to boycott Israeli academics. Fraser argued that the UCU’s vote last year to reject the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s (EUMC) definition of anti Semitism was a breach of the 2010 Equality Act.
In doing so he let himself in for a world of hurt and brought the wider issue of whether the criticism of Israel within the UCU essentially amounted to anti-Semitism, the judges emphatically declared that it did not.
The specific legalese of the case is quite complex and consists of 20 separate complaints but in a nutshell Fraser felt that the well known anti Israel stance of the UCU had crossed a line into anti-Semitism and some big guns of the Jewish community came out to support him. Big guns such as John Mann Member of Parliament and head of the All-Party Group Against Anti-Semitism and Jeremy Newmark the head of the Jewish Leadership Council, both of whom were attacked by Judge Snelson who called Mann’s evidence “glib” and doubted Newmark’s sincerity.
Perhaps the most important and troubling ruling by the tribunal was their decision that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel … cannot amount to a protected characteristic.” Ben Cohen argues in his article in Commentary Magazine that;
“This excerpt of the verdict should not be understood as protecting the rights of anti-Zionists to free speech. It is, rather, about protecting anti-Zionists from accusations of anti-Semitism by arguing that anti-Zionism is, by definition, not anti-Semitic.”
Indeed I wonder what prayers for the well being of the State of Israel and her soldiers every week in synagogues across Britain amount to if not a direct overlap of Judaism and Zionism or, to put it another way, how would anyone explain this without conceding the point that Judaism and Zionism are integral to one another.
The judges dismissed the case saying that they “greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart, it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.”