Having just finished reading the lengthy judgment in the case of Ronnie Fraser v The University andCollege Union, I want to comment briefly on the Employment Tribunal’s response to the allegation of anti-Semitism in the UCU; and to the claim that Israel is a non-contingent aspect of Jewish identity.
Anti-Semitism was the crux of Fraser’s case. His complaint against the UCU was that the union had created a hostile environment for him as a Jewish member (‘Jewish’ being a “protected characteristic” under s. 26 Equality Act 2010) by engaging in unwanted anti-Semitic conduct. He complained that the unwanted anti-Semitic conduct, which included not only speech but also acts and omissions, was due to a prevailing culture and attitude in the union that was informed by contemporary anti-Semitism. His written complaint, drafted by Anthony Julius who is renowned for his scholarly knowledge and innate understanding of anti-Semitism, went to great lengths to explain how and why forms of hostility to Israel and Zionism amount to contemporary anti-Semitism. The written complaint also explained that there have always been anti-Semitic Jews, as well as Jews who are ready to make common cause with anti-Semites, so that Jewish support for irrational hostility to Israel does not make it any the less anti-Semitic.
In addition, a significant number of UCU members and former members, both Jewish and non-Jewish, provided witness statements supporting Fraser’s complaint of anti-Semitism in the UCU. Almost all were called to give evidence. They told the Tribunal about their own experiences and perceptions of contemporary anti-Semitism in the union, and the union’s indifference to it. Some of those who were former members of the union told the Tribunal that they had resigned from the union because of, and citing, anti-Semitism in the union. Their evidence served to demonstrate the extent of the anti-Semitism within the UCU, and also served to show that Fraser’s subjective perception of anti-Semitic hostile environment harassment was a “reasonable” one, as required by the law, s. 26 Equality Act.
But the Employment Tribunal decided that it was not required to rule on the meaning or definition of anti-Semitism, including the EUMC Working Definition put forward by Fraser in his complaint and disavowed by the UCU. Noting that some members of the UCU did not like the EUMC Definition on the grounds that it brands attacks on Zionism as anti-Semitic and precludes criticism of Israel, while others, such as Fraser himself, do like it, the Tribunal concluded that there were legitimately held differences of view on what constitutes anti-Semitism and on where the line should be drawn in relation to when criticism of Israel becomes anti-Semitic, and that, moreover, this is nothing more than “the stuff of political debate.” In fact, the Tribunal chose to view the allegations of anti-Semitism as an attempt to silence free political debate in the union, and went on to denounce Fraser’s case as “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.” Thus the Tribunal itself invoked the “bad faith” charge that Jews cry anti-Semitism in order to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel. This is itself anti-Semitic. Further, by not recognising that the UCU’s disavowal of the EUMC Definition was consistent with a course of anti-Semitic conduct, the Tribunal has given the union carte blanche to continue to single out Israel for academic boycott and to deny legitimacy to the Jewish state by equating Zionism with Apartheid. This will cause Jews and other supporters of Israel within the UCU to continue to experience a hostile environment, and will also prevent the UCU from acknowledging the reality of contemporary anti-Semitism. It has also left the perpetrators of anti-Semitism with the power to define it.
Further, although the Tribunal was not willing to rule on the meaning or definition of anti-Semitism, it waswilling to rule on the issue of Israel, Zionism, and Jewish identity. In paragraph 150 of its judgment, the Tribunal said “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….” This was an explicit rejection of paragraph 8 of Fraser’s Grounds of Complaint, which stated:
“A certain affinity with the State of Israel and the Zionist project is an aspect of the identity of the majority of British Jews. These Jews assume a certain obligation to support Israel, and to ensure its survival as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. This does not equate, for the generality of these Jews, to unconditional or unstinting support for the government of Israel or its policies. Rather, it amounts to a sense of connection with and affiliation to Israel, and a sense of the importance, in the context of Jewish history, and particularly the persecution of the Jewish people, of a Jewish state.”
It was also an explicit rejection of the evidence of Fraser himself, the evidence of his witnesses, and Anthony Julius’s articulate and thorough explanation in his closing speech of why attachment to Israel is a non-contingent aspect of contemporary Anglo-Jewish identity, and that this includes those Jews who are antagonistic to Israel and the Zionist project as an aspect of their contemporary Jewish identity. Further, it was a rejection of the 1995 IJPR survey, cited in the PCAA Report, and accepted by Sally Hunt in cross-examination, that over 80% of Anglo-Jewry has a strong/positive/mild attachment to Israel.
It seems that the Employment Tribunal’s decision that a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness is the result of a failure to understand the nature of Jewish identity. Given their ignorance or naivety in relation to this point, one would have thought that the three member Tribunal panel would have had the humility to take advice on the issue from the Jewish claimant, his Jewish lawyer, and his Jewish witnesses, but the fact is that this Employment Tribunal was not prepared to concede anything in relation to Fraser’s claim. Complaining about the gargantuan scale of the litigation, and noting that the Employment Tribunal is a hard-pressed public service, the Tribunal expressed regret that the case was ever brought.