UCU, lies and institutional racism

This is a cross-post from the CST

Today’s Jewish Chronicle carries another report of the sad phenomenon whereby Jews are accused of lying when they have the temerity to mention the word antisemitism in the context of anything connected to Israel.

Three days ago, CST blog noted a series of seminars on antisemitism and the Holocaust, held by University and College Union (UCU) and featuring David Hirsh and Robert Fine amongst others. UCU is, of course, the trade union that has come to symbolise all that is worst about the attitude of many people on the British left towards Israel and the vast majority of Jews. Nevertheless, the invitations to Hirsh and Fine – two serious and highly capable critics of UCU – led me to contemplate the possibility that the seminars might be more than the cynical “fig-leafs” that I had initially feared they would be.

Unfortunately, the Jewish Chronicle report of the first seminar does not instill confidence that anything will change at UCU. It describes the reaction of leading UCU anti-Israel campaigner Tom Hickey to David Hirsh’s presentation as

a traducement of the truth and it’s a straightforward lie and the author knows it. There has been no intimidation — the union and the chief executive would not allow it.

On the Engage website, David Hirsh says of Hickey’s response

Tom Hickey’s point was telling.   Leon Symons is right to report that he accused me, and everybody else who raises the issue of antisemitism in the union of doing so dishonestly – of being liars for Israel.  I responded that by doing so Hickey demonstrates the precise nature of the intimidation.  People who raise the issue of antisemitism in the union are not related to as people with whom the boycotters disagree – there is no debate, presentation of evidence, or arguement – instead they are related as people who are liars for Israel – and denounced as such.  So if you raise a question about antisemitism in the union, somebody will intimidate you by accusing you of being part of a conspiracy to lie in order to try to de-legitimize criticism of Israeli human rights abuses.  People who raise the issue of antisemitism are denounced as liars.  No evidence is ever offered to show that we do not mean what we say.  Ever.

Many people have noted Tom Hickey’s role as an activist for the Socialist Workers Party.

For decades, the SWP has been in the forefront of the British revolutionary left’s ideological assault against Israel and anybody or anything deemed by them to be Zionist. Anti-racism has long been an important cause for the SWP; and certainly a cause that they believe is far too important to be left to ethnic and religious minorities to analyse and decide upon for themselves.

Nevertheless, the SWP and the UCU are supposed to be two (very) different things. There is a very real difference between the SWP having an ideologically influenced interpretation of antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-black racism, homophobia etc, and the UCU branding people as liars for expressing their opinion on what they, as victims, perceive to be racism or bias.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the Police were held to behave in a very similar manner. The name given to it was “institutional racism”.

The Trades Union Congress website carries a useful explanation of what is meant by “institutional racism”

The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin which can be seen or detected in processes; attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people.