When I joined academia, 17 years ago, I had an idea that it meant that you were contributing to the betterment of society in some way. Pushing forward the boundaries of knowledge, innovation, developing young minds…the kind of things universities put in their brochures and marketing materials. You might well think me naïve, and no doubt I was. Still, even if my initial naïve enthusiasm wore off after a few years, I still felt that working in a university, particularly a “world leading” institution like UCL, was a good thing to be doing. It’s true that the union was a hotbed of virulent antizionism, and that a few years ago, I decided I had just had enough, and left it. But still, I kind of felt, well it’s only a few on the hard left, most people I work with don’t really take any notice of them. Or at least that’s what I liked to tell myself, and I kind of managed to believe it. Yesterday that got harder.
Yesterday David Hirsh published a post documenting how the University and College Union (UCU) Goldsmiths (University of London) branch had issued a statement which essentially blamed the Jews in Israel for the pogrom they had experienced and which David rightly labelled as antisemitic. As David said this was far from unique and reflects the fact that antisemitism is an institutional and cultural problem across Higher Education. So, this prompted me to have a look at what the UCL UCU branch was saying. Now I already knew that UCL UCU spends a lot of its time posting about the conflict and about how awful Israel is. However, this time, from October 11th or so there was an incessant stream of posts on X about resistance, Israeli genocide, and promoting the march in central London on October 14th.
No condemnation of the Hamas atrocities although they re-posted a statement from B’Tselem which similarly to the UCU Goldsmiths statement effectively blamed Israel for what Hamas did. What they also did was repost a discussion from Sean Wallis (on the UCL UCU executive) about how “from the river to the sea”, because it does not in actual words say throw the Jews out of Israel so it is Judenrein, is fine, and could not possibly be antisemitic in any way. This is the same Sean Wallis, by the way, who was one of the signatories supporting David Miller. UCL UCU also reposted about how it must be false that Hamas would use civilians as human shields. Then there was a repost of a post by Mohammed El-Kurd, Palestine Correspondent at the Nation and Culture Editor of Mondoweiss, of a discussion with a CNN reporter about whether Israeli babies were beheaded, suggesting that this was an Israeli fabrication to give cover for ramping up what operations in Gaza (this had 12K likes on X). El-Kurd had also posted (not reposted by UCU), in response to someone posting an image of a bedroom of an Israeli child attacked by Hamas covered in blood, the words “Community Notes eating y’all up”. This was because in response to the original post of the image other readers had suggested in a “community note” that this was staged. El-Kurd’s post had over 32K likes. El-Kurd also posted, noting positive appreciation, this article in Mondoweiss titled “Operation Al Aqsa Flood was an act of decolonization” which praises the Hamas atrocities as “something profound”.
So just think about that. The UCL staff union thinks there is moral sense in arguing about how exactly Jewish babies were murdered. What normal person would do that. Only someone deranged beyond all notions decency and humanity could do that. The UCL staff union also thinks it’s fine to repost from someone who discusses whether images of blood on the floor of murdered children are staged. They even are happy to repost the views of someone who agrees that killing 260 young people at a music festival is something profound.
I saw that the UCL UCU X account has 5,635 followers. A significant number of them must be UCL academics. I am wondering if they realise that UCL UCU thinks it makes sense to dance on a pin on the heads of murdered babies. If they think that this is what universities are supposed to be about.
It is of course true that civilian deaths in Gaza are a terrible thing and it’s moral to recognize the loss of life and the pain and anguish that Palestinians in Gaza are experiencing. However, we also need to be really clear that this is the fault of the antisemitic death cult of Hamas. Not Israel. Not Jews. Their atrocities were not a decolonization project. It was a progrom aimed at killing Jews, which they did very effectively.
I am wondering now how many of my colleagues at UCL agree with UCU. How many at other universities that I work with. Perhaps they don’t, but if that’s true then I am equally wondering how can they stay silent. If they don’t agree why have they not said something? Perhaps they are not aware. I hope it’s that. Perhaps they don’t belong to the union and feel it is nothing to do with them. I guess in some ways perhaps it’s a lot to put on people that are mostly just trying to do their jobs and get through the week. Where though are the university leaders’ condemnation? Where is their condemnation to begin with of the Hamas atrocities and those who have expressed support for them and murdering Jews?
I am also wondering if there can be a place for Jews in UK universities. So often I hear about the need to decolonize the curriculum. I hear about EDI initiatives. Part of me is quite scared as to whether there is any elision between these calls and what I read in the Mondoweiss article, posted by someone that UCL’s union agrees with. I am wondering how I can get the thought out of my head – “who do I know that thinks that arguing about how murdered Jewish babies died make sense?” I am wondering whether the academy is a force for good, whether as currently constituted it truly has a positive role in the world? I hope I am wrong to worry. I really do, but I’m increasingly unsure.