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* Judgment says that complainant was trying to use the law for political purposes

* Employment Tribunal result hailed as important victory by pro-Palestinian groups 

BRICUP today welcomed the outcome of the Employment Tribunal (ET) case brought by Ronnie Fraser against his union, the University and College Union (UCU).  The former college teacher’s claim of institutional antisemitism on the part of the union was thrown out comprehensively.

“Fraser vs. UCU” was viewed by activists as a test case for all UK unions’ right to advocate boycott of Israeli universities and products, and firms that operate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  It also has important implications for free speech on Palestine and Israel on university campuses.

In the two-week hearing at Kingsway ET last November, Fraser had alleged that he was treated unfairly and with hostility during union debates about academic boycott, and about the decision not to use a contentious ‘working definition of antisemitism’ that conflated antisemitism with criticism of Israel.

Fraser’s case was argued by Anthony Julius, the lawyer who handled Princess Diana’s divorce, and author of a recent book on antisemitism.  His numerous witnesses included the disgraced former MP Denis MacShane.

Summing up for Fraser, Mr. Julius argued that the ‘attachment to Israel’ of many Jews in the UK constitutes a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act 2010. If the Tribunal had agreed with him, open discussion of Israeli policies – whether in the unions or in the media – would have become almost impossible.

Fraser agreed that he had been able to speak in UCU’s boycott debates but claimed that his speeches at UCU’s Annual Congress were not applauded because of antisemitism on the part of fellow delegates. But UCU’s Counsel, Antony White QC, showed that other Jewish speakers, both for and against the boycott motions, had been applauded.

All ten of Fraser’s claims were thrown out by the ET.  The judgment says “we greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means”.

The tribunal received a letter signed by 58 Jewish members of UCU who said that they held differing views about academic boycott, but all agreed that their union was not antisemitic.

Fraser is the founder and director of the pressure group Academic Friends of Israel and a member of the Board of Deputies (BoD) of British Jews.  The hearing revealed the extent to which pro-Israel lobby groups had attempted to interfere with UCU’s policies and decision-making.  In his evidence Fraser admitted that “the Friends of the various Israeli University groups” had donated £70,000 to the Fair Play Campaign Group, set up by the BoD and the Jewish Leadership Council to coordinate activity against boycotts of Israel.  Fraser further alleged that the Fair Play Campaign Group in turn had given £50,000 to Engage, an organisation campaigning against academic boycott.  Fraser and his witnesses admitted under cross-examination that in 2007 he withdrew a Congress motion on antisemitism after pressure from the BoD, the Jewish Leadership Council and Engage.

Tom Hickey, a senior member of UCU’s National Executive Committee, said: “This is a landmark judgment. The accusation of antisemitism against UCU because it supports a boycott of Israel is absurd. Its record in fighting racism, including antisemitism, is second to none in the trade union movement. Had this vacuous charge been upheld, unions and universities would have been silenced on the key moral issue of the century”.

According to Professor Jonathan Rosenhead of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) “The Fraser case against UCU has now been shown up clearly for what it was, an attempt to shut down legitimate debate about Israel. The Israelis have a word for it – ‘lawfare’. It isn’t working.”

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Notes for editors

  1.  UCU, the University and College Union, represents approximately 120,000 academic and academic-related staff in Further and Higher Education in the UK.  UCU was formed in June 2006 by the amalgamation of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE).
  2. Please note that while the people quoted above are members of UCU, they do not claim to speak for UCU, only for BRICUP.  UCU’s own press release can be found at: http://www.ucu.org.uk/6562
  3. “Fraser further alleged that the Fair Play Campaign Group in turn had given £50,000 to Engage” – it should be noted that some of Fraser’s witnesses contradicted him on this point.
  4. Please note: BRICUP has not yet had sight of the full Judgment from the ET so all comments are based on what is already in the public domain.