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'It's No Longer Tenable to be Jew' in Academics, Says Professor

A math teacher at largest trade union of higher education in UK: "[I]t is no longer tenable to be a Jew in UCU".
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 11/12/2012, 11:42 PM

Protesters shout anti-Israel slogans
Protesters shout anti-Israel slogans
Reuters

A math teacher at the University and College Union (UCU) -- the largest trade union and professional association of higher education for professors, academics, lecturers and researchers in the United Kingdom -- says the institution has repeatedly singled out Israel for condemnation at its annual conferences and created an intolerant environment in which "it is no longer tenable to be a Jew in UCU", The Telegraph reported.

Ronnie Fraser, who is suing the union for race and religious discrimination, had opposed a controversial motion passed by the union in 2007 calling for a ban on all Israeli academics working in the UK. The motion was put forward as part of the union's campaign against the so-called “Israeli occupation of Palestine”.

He, along with any others seeking to oppose the ban, were consistently subjected to abuse, a "freezing out" by fellow trade union members and dismissed as "Zionists", he told the tribunal hearing his case, which has not yet been settled. 

"I felt this was not in keeping with the union's stance on equality. This was one of the many occasions where I felt my freedom of speech was stifled," he said in a statement.

Jane Ashworth, another academic at the institution, told the tribunal she was accused of being a member of the Israeli Mossad when she distributed leaflets opposing the boycottat the UCU national conference.

"At this time the atmosphere was very bad,” she said, according to the Telegraph. “Jewish UCU members felt their rights had been undermined as Jews and the union had adopted policies and ways of working that cut out the possibility of them being heard.”

"The word boycott had a terrible cultural reference for Jews,” she added. “It has a profound and deep cutting effect because it resonated with Stalin's Russia. The implication was that for Jews to be acceptable in society they must denounce other Jews."

Fraser, a modern Orthodox Jew, also claims he was targeted by fellow members who left anti Semitic comments on the union's own online discussion forum, but that his complaints were repeatedly ignored by the union, The Telegraph reported.

He said this is when he came to the "awful realization that my union was a place where overt anti-Semitism could not only be tolerated but admired and respected".

The "tipping point", however, came last year when UCU voted to reject the internationally recognized definition of anti-Semitism, he said.

Fraser said he was left "shaking" and "almost in tears" as a result of the abuse he was forced to endure after opposing the move, the newspaper reported.

In a statement the UCU's barrister, Anthony White QC, said the union "stands firmly against anti Semitism" but is within its rights to debate motions on contentious topics such as the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"I'm not a person who gets easily upset but I did feel very upset by the way this had been handled - and how my view had been marginalized and ignored,” Fraser said in a statement.

"Their rejection [of this definition of anti Semitism] was not accompanied by the adoption of any other definition, nor even the promise of one. To me, as a Jewish member of the UCU, this felt like a muzzle.”

"What more curtailment of my freedom of speech could there be than the denial of the language to give voice to my most fundamental and personal fears? It is shocking that any group should be intimidated out of the union, discriminated against by officials, or have its concerns left unaddressed," he added.