By Jonathan Goldberg, GoldbergQC.com, Jewish Chronicle
April 22, 2013
Rebecca from Finchley writes: I was furious to read your comment last week that bringing the Ronnie Fraser harassment case against the University College Union was “an act of epic folly”. Surely it was high time the Anglo-Jewish community stood up for its rights, win or lose?
V Rebecca, I am unrepentant in my view that bringing the Ronnie Fraser litigation was a legal and public relations disaster. All those concerned should first have reminded themselves of the rabbinical saying that “All Israel is accountable one for the other.”
It was misconceived in law, wasted a fortune in legal costs (rumoured in legal circles to be over £500,000) but worst of all showed no Jewish seichel or streetsmarts whatsoever.
You only litigate such hotly contentious matters if you are being dragged to court as the defendant and thus have no choice, or if, as claimant, you are sure to win. This case sent out the worst possible message to our many hate-filled enemies, namely that rich Jews threw huge resources at a failed attempt to stifle free speech. The result was entirely predictable and had been anticipated by several wise legal heads.
Those who now react to this defeat with sour grapes should more carefully study the judgment, which even an old warhorse like me had to read three times for all the nuances. [See link below].
From a lawyer’s point of view, it is impeccably written and all too compelling. I cannot see any viable appeal arising from it and I would predict further damage and ignominious failure if such were attempted.
I do not accept that the court was antisemitic, as Dr David Hirsh and others have insinuated. Should Jews now be whiners who cannot admit we fought the wrong battle and miscalculated badly?
Do those who so rashly suggest on such shaky foundations that an English court was antisemitic have any conception of the damage they are doing to our community thereby?
Of the 10 factual complaints brought by Mr Fraser against the union, all but one were found to be unmeritorious after an exhaustive 20-day evidential investigation, with detailed reasons being given as to why the court rejected them. And even that one was brought out of time.
A main premise underpinning the claim — that the union was responsible in law for anti-Israel views promulgated by individual members in its annual congresses and in-house internet chatroom — was held wrong in law. Nor was that by any means the only error of law.
The underlying notion that a commitment to Zionism should be a “protected characteristic” in English employment law was in my view almost as fanciful as suggesting that supporting Tottenham Hotspur should be a protected characteristic, because so many Jews do so.
Who is qualified to say, unless they sat through the 20 days of evidence, that the particular criticisms made of the evidence of Jeremy Newmark and two MPs were not reasonable. And just as important, why did Mr Newmark and the others ever voluntarily place themselves in a position to be so criticised in support of a claim brought on such dubious legal foundations?
And why should the court be criticised, as so many have done in this newspaper, for saying “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.”
The critics have chosen to take five words out of context from this much longer passage in order to condemn the court for allegedly not recognising the attachment between the Jewish religion and Israel.
In context, the court was saying no more than that an attachment to the modern State of Israel (“modern” is important here) is not intrinsic to Jewishness. And that is surely correct.
I yield to nobody in my love for Israel and my support for Zionism. But who can ignore the stark fact that many fellow Jews, including, for example, certain Israeli academics and at least one sect of ultra-Orthodox Jews, are among Israel’s most rabid detractors, whereas many gentiles are fervent Zionists (Lord bless them).
Why was not a fraction of these legal resources used instead to bring a private prosecution against those activists who disrupted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra or the Batsheva Dance Company?
Such cases would almost certainly have succeeded. Having recently attended the stellar AIPAC conference in Washington, Rebecca, I have to say this debacle would never have happened in America.
Unlike in the UK, communal organisations there are not constantly jockeying with one another for power and prestige — and the left hand actually does know what the right is doing.
UCU man reveals anguish over tribunal
By Marcus Dysch, Jewish Chronicle
April 18, 2013
The teacher who lost a case against his union over accusations of harassment and antisemitism has spoken for the first time of the “devastating” impact of the case.
Ronnie Fraser said he felt a “duty” to stand up for British Jews, but had found the experience of giving evidence “terrifying”.
At the tribunal last October, Mr Fraser repeatedly broke down in tears. It was, he said, the result of years of tension.
When the result came, just hours before Pesach, he went into shock.
According to his wife, the impact was dramatic: “It did not come out in an emotional way. It came out physically. Ronnie was bent over, he couldn’t walk. Daily life stopped.”
She said the case had become “part of Hitler’s legacy”.
Mr Fraser said: “I got a phone call at 4.10pm on Seder night to say we lost. Initially it didn’t hit me. We always knew we could lose. When I read the judgment it sunk in.
“My lawyers advised me that we could win and we put a case together. I find the judgment unreal. This was all about antisemitism and yet the judges wouldn’t rule on that aspect.”
Mr Fraser, a grandfather of nine, said his 93-year-old mother, a Holocaust survivor, had wanted to be present at the tribunal and “stare down” representatives of the University and College Union.
Mr Fraser’s wife, Lola, said: “His mum was a brave girl in Nazi Germany in the 30s and she wanted to sit through every day of the tribunal. We wouldn’t let her.”
Mr Fraser responded to criticisms that the case was “legally flawed”, and the assertion of one Jewish lawyer who said it had been “an act of epic folly”.
“People have implied that Anglo-Jewry was running this case. They were not.This case was for me and for the other activists who stood up at union meetings and were vilified. There is a point where you have to say ‘enough’.”
“The Jewish Leadership Council and Jeremy Newmark came forward and volunteered to help,” said Mr Fraser.
Southend-born Mr Fraser spent 30 years working in mechanical engineering and ran his own business repairing hydraulic equipment. After ill-health forced him to quit he qualified as a maths lecturer and began teaching sixth form students at Barnet College more than 10 years ago.
“I was an ordinary, normal bloke. I had not even been to Israel before 1990. I was never a political person. The only times when I’ve really been upset in my life relate to when things cross the line into antisemitism,” he said.
The Frasers, of Kenton, north-west London, said they had considered leaving Britain because they felt the threat of antisemitism was so severe.
“We probably wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for my parents and our kids and grandkids,” said Mr Fraser.
“I won’t look back and be bitter. I cannot resign from the union. I decided I was not going to sit back and do nothing. I think my kids have been proud of me.
“Does the community still have faith in the law? I don’t know.”
The support of his family, friends and community members at Belmont United Synagogue has convinced him to continue his campaign, although he has not yet decided whether to appeal against the tribunal result.
“You come back into the community and you feel enveloped in a supportive, comforting place,” said Mr Fraser.
“Unless you have been out there on the frontline you don’t know what you are up against. It is easy to sit at home and criticise [our case]. You have to remember what happened in Germany before the war. Lots of Jews, including my grandfather, said ‘it won’t get worse’. We have to stand up and be counted.”
Employment tribunal judgment:Mr.R Fraser v. University and College Union
Point of no return: supporting Palestinian rights is not antisemitic Incudes links to many other articles