A lengthy legal battle between the University and College Union (UCU) and Ronnie Fraser, a college lecturer and 50 percent of pro-Israel pressure couple Academic Friends of Israel, has ended with a complete victory for UCU. Fraser, represented by lawyer and prominent Engage-nik Anthony Julius, had accused the union of antisemitic harassment, connected with its record of pro-Palestinian activism and advocacy. An employment tribunal dismissed the claim.
The tribunal's judgement is detailed, considered, and hilarious. The highlights:
Anthony Julius is rubbish
• I do not think that law means what you think it means: '[Anthony Julius] referred in support of his argument to a concept unfamiliar to us and not, so far as we are aware, known to our law' (p. 7)
• '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 and, even if it was, it could not be substituted for the pleaded characteristics, which are race and religion or belief. Accordingly, if and in so far as the Claimant [i.e. Ronnie Fraser] seeks to base his claim on what might be termed a sub-characteristics (we are bound to say that we remain uncertain as to Mr Julius's position on this point), we find that it is not open to him to do so.' (p. 37)
• Prior to legal action, Anthony Julius wrote a letter to the UCU demanding 'the abrogation of Motion 70 of 2011 [which rejected the EUMC Working Definition of antisemitism - cf. p. 22], an open an[d] unqualified acknowledgement that the union had been guilty of institutional anti-Semitism coupled with a public apology, a commitment to abide by a code of conduct in respect of its Jewish members to be drawn up by a body comprising individuals approved by the claimant and a further commitment to sponsor a programme (for a minimum of 10 years and conducted by that same body) educating academics about the dangers of anti-Semitism, "with special reference to the relationship between anti-Semitism and what now passes for 'anti-Zionism'".' (pp. 33-34) Will that be all, sir?
The UCU is alright
• [In general, our judgement is that UCU Congress] proceedings were well-ordered and balanced... They were managed in an even-handed fashion with speakers selected in turn to speak for and against the motions... The debates were conducted with courtesy. Speakers on both sides received applause. Despite strength of feeling, they lightened the occasion with humour from time to time. We were quite unable to detect the atmosphere of intimidation which the written case on the Claim's behalf attempted to convey.' (p. 32)
Academic Friend of Israel
• The Claimant does much of his campaigning through the 'Academic Friends of Israel' ('AFI'), an impressively-presented organisation with a PO Box Address, a mission statement and a letterhead showing its patron as the Chief Rabbi and its advisory board as comprising a list of dignitaries including the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Despite appearances, as the Claimant engagingly told us, AFI consists of him, his wife and a computer. Like any experienced political activist, he is alive to the PR benefits of disseminating his own views in such a way as to seem to be speaking for a significant number of others.' (p. 19)
• On Ronnie Fraser (who comes off quite well in the judgement): 'He believes passionately in the campaign which he has waged for so long, and appears to regard this litigation as an important engagement within it. Although his sincerity is not in question, his political experience showed at a number of points. He veered away from awkward questions. We were also struck by the contrast between his simple, down-to-earth style and the magnificent prose in which his written case was couched. We do not believe that it would ever occur to him to think that as a member of the respondents [i.e. UCU] he inhabits an environment of "thickening toxicity"'. (p. 36)
The Bozo Brothers
• Of John Mann MP and former MP Denis MacShane, who appeared before the tribunal:
'Both gave glib evidence, appearing supremely confident of the rightness of their positions. For Dr MacShane, it seemed that all answers lay in the MacPherson Report (the effect of which he appeared to misunderstand). Mr Mann could manage without even that assistance. He told us that the leaders of the Repsondents were at fault for the way in which they conducted debates but did not enlighten us as to what they were doing wrong or what they should be doing differently. He did not claim ever to have witnessed any Congress or other UCU meeting. And when it came to anti-Semitism in the context of debate about the Middle East, he announced, "It's clear to me where the line is..." but unfortunately eschewed the opportunity to locate it for us. Both parliamentarians clearly enjoyed making speeches. Neither seemed at ease with the idea of being required to answer a question not to his liking.' (p. 36)
• The tribunal describes a 13 Dec 2006 meeting, requested by UCU officials Sally Hunt and Paul Mackney with Mann and MacShane, concerning the 2006 All-Party Inquiry into Antisemitism:
'The meeting was not a particularly productive one. Ms Hunt and Mr Mackney referred to parts of the report which had described Jewish students feeling threatened on campus and explained that they wished for further information because that matter called for investigation. The parliamentarians did not provide any detail and did not genuinely respond to that inquiry at all. Mr Mann led for them and the more conciliatory tone of Dr MacShane gave way to a somewhat hostile display in which Mr Mann made no bones about his view that the union was operating in an anti-Semitic way and that those at its head must address the problem. He did not explain what the anti-Semitic behaviour was supposed to have consisted of besides referring to the boycott debate and characterising any boycott of Israel or Israeli institutions as itself anti-Semitic.' (p. 24)
• On the All-Party Inquiry into Antisemitism, commissioned by Mann and chaired by MacShane, the tribunal comments: '[its] fairness... was, to put it at its very lowest, open to question.' (p. 38)
Jeremy Newmark is an antisemitic stereotype
• 'There was a conflict of evidence regarding an event at the Respondents' [i.e. UCU's] Congress in 2008... A closed debate was to be held, for which permits were required. Ms Jane Ashworth, a member of Engage... managed (as she put it) to "sneak in" without the necessary permit. Mr Jeremy Newmark, now and perhaps then Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council... attempted to do likewise but was stopped by stewards. He then tried to push his way in, but was not allowed to do so. Mr Waddup [of the UCU]... spoke to Mr Newmark and told him that he would not be allowed in. We reject the allegation that Mr Waddup said, "You're not wanted here". We also reject as utterly unfounded the emotive allegation of Ms Ashworth that Mr Newmark was "Jew-baited". He was not baited at all... [W]e have rejected as untrue the evidence of Ms Ashworth and Mr Newmark concerning the incident at the 2008 Congress...
'Evidence given to us about booing, jeering and harassing of Jewish speakers at Congress debates was also false, as truthful witnesses on the Claimant's side accepted. One painfully ill-judged example of playing to the gallery was Mr Newmark's preposterous claim, in answer to the suggestion in cross-examination that he had attempted to push his way into the 2008 meeting, that a "pushy Jew" stereotype was being applied to him.' (pp. 32, 36) Ah, the 'preposterous Jew' trope. Typical.
• The opinions of witnesses were [mostly]... unremarkable and certainly not unreasonable. One exception was a remark of Mr Newmark in the context of the academic boycott controversy in 2007 that the union was "no longer a fit arena for free speech", a comment which we found not only extraordinarily arrogant but also disturbing.' (p. 36)
• The tribunal's summary judgements of Fraser's and Julius's ten complaints, respectively: 'without substance'; 'devoid of any merit'; '[t]here is nothing in [it]'; 'palpably groundless'; 'arguable'; 'obviously untenable'; 'fares no better'; '[t]here is nothing in [it]'; 'fails to make out any arguable complaint'; 'obviously hopeless'. (pp. 37-41)
• 'Lessons should be learned from this sorry saga. We greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart, it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means. It would be very unfortunate if an exercise of this sort were ever repeated... We are also troubled by the implications of the claim. Underlying it we sense a worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression'. (p. 43; my emph)