The Fair Play blog has been in correspondence with UCL UCU branch secretary Sean Wallis, and has published a section of an email in which he explains what he meant when he reportedly claimed that the campaign to boycott Israeli academics had been threatened by lawyers backed by those with “bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down.”
This is his explanation:
Your report suggests anti-semitic intent on my part in referring to the words “Lehmann Brothers”. I categorically deny this intent.
But this is simply not a plausible neutral interpretation of my remarks.
As you are aware, one of the biggest political events last year, and an issue that is occupying most of our minds as trade unionists was/is the “credit crunch”. In the case of the USA the collapse of the Lehmann Brothers loomed large in all reporting.
An unbiased observer would have clearly understood that my comments were made precisely in the context of the abilities of wealthy individuals having the means to pursue UCU for damages in the courts, and that any democrat worth the name should come to the aid of those who wished to see an unfettered debate in the union.
The Fair Play blog comments
In our original article, we claim you made remarks linking anti-boycott legal action to untraceable Lehman Brother accounts. We note that you accept making these remarks in your response.
We also state that it was not entirely clear what you meant by those remarks. You have now explained that you were referring to “wealthy individuals” who would no longer have the wherewithal to take action against UCU.
As someone who was present for the BRICUP fringe event, I do not find this explanation particularly convincing, especially as you were speaking specifically at that point about the threats the Union faced from legal action. Obviously, I have no way of knowing what you were thinking when you spoke, but we are comfortable with our original claim – that it was not, at the time, entirely obvious what you meant.
These are the only assertions about you in our report. We stand by our original report and are not inclined to withdraw it. We do not accept your claim that a failure to remove a true and accurate report would indicate complicity in a smear campaign.
Here are my four observations on this subject.
First, Sean Wallis accepts making the statement attributed to him.
Second, Sean Wallis claims that his concern is to ensure “an unfettered debate in the union” which he believes that legal action will prevent. It is unusual to see a member of the Socialist Workers Party – which operates a ‘no platform’ policy – suddenly to embrace “unfettered debate”.
However, what Sean Wallis means is that he opposes the ‘fettering’ of the SWP’s attempts to cajole the UCU into passing a boycott policy that the UCU’s own lawyers have advised would breach antidiscrimination law.
What is he saying here? That Unions should be allowed to discriminate illegally?
Thirdly, as Fair Play notes, if Sean Wallis really meant that the mysterious ‘wealthy individuals’ who are supposedly the true power behind the anti-boycott movement had lost all their money in Lehmans, then he would have said that the Union was no longer at risk of legal action. Instead, he talked about the ongoing threat of legal challenges to UCU for its breach of antidiscrimination law.
Moreover, he isn’t saying that there isn’t money available for legal challenges. Rather, he appears to be saying that money is available, and its source is “bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down.”
In particular, “tracked down” is an odd choice of words if what Sean Wallis meant was “lost”. “Tracked down” implies that somebody is searching for missing money, which has been hidden.
So, you can see why people made the connection with the antisemitic canard about Jews siphoning of $400 billion from Lehman Brothers.
However, perhaps Sean Wallis meant to say that the threat of legal action had now lifted because the “wealthy individuals” were now poor, and that UCU should go ahead with the boycott. Or perhaps he was saying that the threat is still there but, hurrah, at least rich people have lost some money.
Which brings me on to the final point.
Whatever the meaning that Sean Wallis had in mind, one thing is clear. Sean Wallis believes that, behind Jon Pike and David Hirsh and the many many UCU members who have – apparently – been leading the campaign against sanctions, is a group of unnamed, mysterious and wealthy “individuals”. He believes that it is these “wealthy individuals” who are the true movers of the anti-boycott campaign.
That is a remarkable thing to say about David Hirsh and Jon Pike, isn’t it? That they’re the front men for some undisclosed group of ‘wealthy individuals’?
Notably, Sean Wallis doesn’t tell you who these ‘wealthy individuals’ are.
He means, of course, millionaire Jews.