Because the lawsuit brought against the University and College Union has involved so many people, so much history and has produced so much comment, this posting has these listed items. Inevitably there is some repetition about the tribunal case but each has been chosen because it adds to the history or significance of this episode.
1) Mike Cushman: It’s about the Palestinians stupid, April 03, 2013;
2) Cartoon Kippah: Legal Ruling Shines Unflattering Light on Anti-Zionism Equals Racism Campaign, April 05, 2013;
3) Brenna Bhandar: Debating BDS, April 04, 2013;
4) Simon Rocker: Anti-Israel union case was ‘act of epic folly’, April 04, 2013;
5) Asa Winstanley: UK lawsuit challenges college union’s right to boycott Israel, December 21, 2012;
6) Jewish Chronicle:University students quit after ‘toxic’ antisemitism in Edinburgh, December 06, 2012;
7) Jewish Chronicle:University and College Union is ‘institutionally racist’ , June 02, 2011;
8 – Arutz Sheva: When Will UK Universities Wise Up to Anti-Semitism?, January 02, 2013 (this is the right-wing settlers’ paper);
9) JPost: UK chief rabbi: Universities failing in anti-Semitism fight, December 15, 2010;
10) Ruth Dudley Edwards: British universities: seats of learning – and loathing, January 02, 2010;
11) Observer: Anthony Julius on Diana, Dina and the new antisemitism, February 07, 2010
Mike Cushman, Jews sans frontieres
April 03, 2013
To no one’s surprise a Zionist claque has swiftly assembled to denounce the findings of the Fraser vs UCU Employment Tribunal. It would appear that according to these voices the only business a the next meeting of UCU’s national executive will not be fighting the massive cuts in UK higher and further education but debating when and in what format to reissue The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Hysterical rubbish, of course but we have to explore why the reaction is so unbalanced. Fraser and his legal advisors chose the legal terrain and the scope of their action, not UCU. They chose their schedule of witnesses who declaimed and dissembled but failed to address the matters that Fraser wished the tribunal to consider.
Anthony White, counsel for UCU, demolished their testimony but was only able to do so with such effectiveness because they were such poor witnesses. Ever since the tribunal, Fraser’s self-proclaimed friends have been picking over 50 pages of closely argued legal findings trying to claim they are simultaneously technically narrow and the most wide-ranging antisemitic text of recent years.
Hirsh and Susskind et al fail to grasp at least two very basic points. They solipsistically believe it is all about the Jews; they cannot understand or believe that it is about the Palestinians.
For the vast majority of those active in support of Palestinian rights it was the oppression of Palestinians that led them to activity. They only started to consider Zionism as an ideology when they started to enquire why Israel was behaving so badly and so criminally. At that point they encountered the Zionist justification for occupation and oppression and took a stance of either deploring the degradation of a potentially positive movement or took a more radical stance of identifying Zionist ideology, in itself, at the heart of the problem.
The absence of the Palestinians even as objects, let alone actors, in the Zionist exclusionary Jewish narrative tells us all we need to know about why being anti-Zionist is radically different from being an anti-Semite. Anti-Zionism is a stance against a pernicious anti-Palestinian racism. Zionism is an ideology that allows Israel to behave as it does while simultaneously believing that Israel conforms to the norms of liberal, law-based democracy.
Secondly, they continually ask, ‘why only boycott Israel?’ The Palestinian call for BDS is the only extant call for boycott by a significant national liberation movement. Other movements and peoples call for different forms of support each of which must be considered on its merits.
Israel’s crimes are not measured on a Richter scale of oppression against those of China or Burma or Zimbabwe and only be the subject of campaigns when they reach the hotly contested pinnacle at the top of the Premiership of abuse. That the crimes are profound and continuing is a sufficient justification.
Other regimes are the subject of regular denunciation and sanction by western governments, Israel is singled out not by our opposition but by the condoning of its actions by the USA; its massive military and civil aid; and its systematic cover at the Security Council. Similarly the EU treats Israel, in defiance of geography, as a surrogate, if displaced, part of Europe and grants the privileges of association without requiring the fulfilment of Council of Europe human rights standards.
None of this is deny the possibility, and occasional reality, of support for Palestinian rights being motivated by malice towards Jews. We have a duty to criticise and condemn such behaviour when we see it and the Palestinian rights movement is, in general, self-aware and self critical on this. Fraser and his team were unable to discover any such motivation behind the actions of UCU officers and activists and are now reduced to asserting that its absence can only be the result of a wider collaboration to conceal it. Such concealment is beyond the limited ability of UCU, PSC, BRICUP, the Employment Tribunal Service or other presumed conspirators. Its absence is just that, an absence.
Mike Cushman is a member of BRICUP and is a UCU branch secretary and a regular speaker in favour of Palestinian rights at successive UCU congresses. His interventions were regularly referred to by Fraser and his witnesses.
By Adam Wagner, Cartoon Kippah
April 05, 2013
Sometimes we need an outsider’s perspective to bring into focus uncomfortable truths about ourselves. Just before the Passover festivities, the Employment Tribunal released a 45-page judgment full of Biblical fury which did just that.
The judgment was about a legal claim brought by a maths teacher, Ronnie Fraser, against his teaching union. He claimed that the Union had harassed him in breach of equality laws due to its handling of the Israel-Palestine debate.
The full judgment can be read here (PDF). If you have any interest in Jewish communal politics and in particular how the Israel-Palestine debate is handled, I highly recommend you read it. Perhaps set aside half an hour over a well-earned post-Passover sandwich – it’s worth it, I promise.
I won’t try to summarise Employment Judge Snelson’s findings here, but I would like to draw out a few points. The main one is that the Claimant, represented by solicitor Anthony Julius, lost in a big way. This was a total, unqualified demolition job. As an outcome, it really was ten plagues bad.
The language of the judgment is harsh and at times sarcastic. As a lawyer, you can take it from me that it doesn’t get much worse than this. This was a “sorry saga”, the Tribunal “greatly regret that the case was ever brought”, at its heart the case was “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means”. Perhaps worst of all, the claim showed a “worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression.”
Let’s just step back for a moment. Just because a judge rules on something doesn’t mean they are right. Judgments get appealed and overturned. Reading this one, and not having been in court for the weeks of evidence, there are at least two possibilities. First, that the Tribunal has taken an irrational or perverse dislike to the claimant, his lawyers and some of his witnesses – that is a real possibility, given how scathing the judgment is. The second is, however, is that the Tribunal has got it broadly right, having listened to the extensive evidence and nonetheless dismissed the case out of hand.
As I said, I wasn’t there – this is an evidence heavy case so you really have to have sat through it to reach a proper conclusion. But assuming for the purpose of this article that the Tribunal did get it right, there is a lot here to be worried about.
Let’s take just a single paragraph, number 148. Here the Judge is summarising his conclusions on the claimant’s witnesses who included British Jewish luminaries such as the author Howard Jacobson. Some gave “careful, thoughtful, courteous evidence”. Others however, “seemed more disposed to score points or play to the gallery rather than providing straightforward answers to the clear questions put to them.” Again, ouch.
Particular criticism was reserved for Jeremy Newmark, the Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, a committee of community grandees:
We regret to say that we 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. The opinions of witnesses were not, of course, our concern and in most instances they were in any event 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.
Wow. Here are some words you never want to hear in litigation: “untrue”, “false”, “preposterous”, “extraordinarily arrogant”, “disturbing”. To recap, this is the Chief Executive of an organisation which is arguably now the main ambassador of the Jewish Community to the wider British community. This may all be unfair and perverse, but if it is not then we should be worried about the implications.
Then came the MPs. Not just any MPs, but Denis MacShane and John Mann, both well known to the Jewish community; Mr MacShane chaired the The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, Mann authored the Football Association Taskforce on Tackling Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Again, it’s bad:
We did not derive assistance from the two Members of Parliament who appeared before us. 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 Respondents 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.
As I said, wow. These are MPs who have been lionised by the Jewish community, and in particular the Jewish Chronicle (perhaps not incidentally, Anthony Julius chairs the JC board, a point highlighted by the Judge). ”And on the topic of that Parliamentary Committee”
157… The Respondents defended themselves courteously but robustly against treatment by the Parliamentary Committee the fairness of which was, to put it at its very lowest, open to question.
The sarcasm drips off that final sentence, doesn’t it? Ultimately, the Tribunal concluded that contrary to the claimant’s arguments, the Union’s meetings were “well-ordered and balanced” and that almost the entire case was “manifestly unmeritorious”. Most importantly, the Tribunal rejected out of hand the argument that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel or any similar sentiment” can amount to a protected characteristic.
Lessons not learned
Where does this leave us? It is tempting to see this “sorry saga” as no more than an unfortunate and hubristic litigation fail, or an “act of epic folly” as the Jewish Chronicle’s ‘Ask the QC’ QC Jonathan Goldberg commented. But I think there are wider lessons here which we would ignore at our peril.
Anyone who follows Jewish communal politics and reads the JC will recognise many in the cast of characters as well as the arguments. Anti-Zionist or pro-Palestinian campaigners are regularly branded as anti-Semites. Despite the good work of organisations like Yachad, this is still a regular and well-supported narrative at the centre of much of the Jewish communal response to criticism of Israel. But that approach – which really amounts to communal comfort food – has clearly failed. And yet it is still wheeled out: watch, for example, this stirring but flawed recent speech by the Chief Rabbi to AIPAC, an American pro-Israel lobby. They hate us, so they would say that. Etc.
Of course, some criticism of Israel is linked to or motivated by anti-Semitism, but isn’t it time to stop using vast resources to paint legitimate debate as racial hatred? As well as failing miserably as an pro-Israel argument, this approach also risks fatally undermining work against real anti-Semitism. Aren’t we just a little bit ashamed for major communal leaders and organisations to have backed a claim showing a “disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression”?
In a prediction of Michael Fish quality, the JC originally said of the case that unless UCU repented its “clear antisemitic behaviour”:
we could be set for this decade’s version of the Irving trial – a specific case which acts to crystallise broader themes and issues
It certainly did crystallise broader themes and issues. But not the ones the cheerleaders hoped for. As said above, it is possible that this Tribunal reached a perverse decision. No doubt some will say so once the recriminations begin to fly. I imagine some will even accuse the Judge of anti-Semitism. But assuming for a moment that he was right, we should, as a community, be embarrassed by this ruling. It involved not just the looney fringe but central figures in the community, who have been branded exaggerators, manipulators and arrogant liars. More importantly, the ‘anti-Zionism equals racism’ argument is plainly bankrupt and has no purchase in wider society. We should move on to something which might actually work. And that is the lesson of this sorry Passover saga.
Adam (@adamwagner1) is a barrister specialising in human rights & medical law. He is founding editor of UK Human Rights Blog….”
By Brenna Bhandar, Critical Legal Thinking
April 02, 2013
On March 22nd, 2013 the Employment Tribunal (UK-London) rendered judgment in the case of Fraser v University & College Union (UCU). Ruling in favour of UCU, the Tribunal’s judgment brought immense relief to UCU members, BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) activists, and others who were anxious about the potential repercussions that a negative outcome might have for freedom of political expression, particularly in the context of union activism, anti-racism and human rights.
The ruling is an interesting read in its effort to come to grips with the spirit and letter of the 2010 Equalities Act legislation. The case is also significant as one among many different attempts to contest BDS through the courts in a variety of jurisdictions including France and the UK. The causes of actions have been different, although they have all been focused on BDS supporters and activists. The as-of-yet unsuccessful prosecutions of BDS activists in France have variously attempted to criminalise activists who were calling for the boycott of Israeli goods on the basis that they were guilty of “inciting discrimination and racial hatred.” Fraser v UCU had the overarching objective of attempting to shut down debate of BDS. Despite their differences, the underlying rationale is a shared one: political criticism of the State of Israel and political action that supports BDS are viewed as anti-Semitic – either inherently so or in particular instances.
This is why the ruling, a wholesale dismissal of Mr. Fraser’s claims against the UCU, is incredibly important for those who have heeded the call from Palestinian civil society to engage in BDS.
To begin with, the discussion of the Equalities Act 2010 provisions is illuminating, particularly for those who are not aware of how the Act has altered legal conceptualisations of harassment. Mr. Fraser alleged that UCU was liable for harassment on the basis of his protected characteristics of race (Jewish) and religion or belief (Jewish). (The variegated discursive casting of Jews as a ‘race’, a ‘nation’ and a ‘peoples’ throughout 19th and 20th century legal judgments is in itself far from straightforward. See Didi Herman’s An Unfortunate Coincidence: Jews, Jewishness and English Law for a novel and rich analysis of this phenomenon.)
Significantly, the Employment Tribunal finds that Zionist political beliefs do not constitute a protected characteristic. While the claimant did not make any such claim, the Judge notes that Mr. Julius, counsel for the claimant, argued:
[Mr. Fraser] has a strong attachment to Israel. This attachment is a non-contingent and rationally intelligible aspect of his Jewish identity. It is an aspect, that is, of his race and/or religion or belief… The fact that not all Jewish people have the same views does not prevent it from being an aspect of the protected characteristic. A significant proportion of Jewish people have an attachment to Israel which is an aspect of their self-understanding as Jews, or Jewish identity. (para 18)
Counsel argued that the claimant’s identity as Jewish is inseparable from his attachment to Israel. The Judge notes however, that no authority was provided for or against the proposition that “statutory protection attaches not only to any protected characteristic per se but also to a particular affinity or sentiment not inherent in a protected characteristic but said to be commonly held by members of a protected group” (para 18). We get a glimmer here of the elision that is consistently made by supporters of Israeli policies who brandish accusations of anti-semitism against critics of Israel: because Mr. Fraser’s identity as a Jew is imbricated with a strong attachment to Israel, to criticise Israel is to criticise his Jewishness. This ruling is to be praised for dispassionately detaching Zionist political beliefs from Jewishness as a protected characteristic under human rights legislation. This is not to say, of course, that criticism of political Zionism or Israel never amounts to anti-Semitism. But in this particular case, each of the 10 discrete complaints that were made to prove the charge of harassment were dismissed.
A further point, not elaborated here but significant in my view, is the Tribunal’s rejection of Mr. Julius’ attempt to extend vicarious liability for harassment to unions, something which does not legally apply to unincorporated associations but to employers. This argument strikes me as deeply anti-union. While unions often seem, unfortunately, mired in their own baroque administrative mechanisms, arguing that unions whose practices are embedded in a history of collective action ought to be treated as a legal analogue to employers is in many ways, quite simply repugnant.
The Equalities Act 2010 imparts a very different approach to harassment than previous legislation (para 32).1 There is a shift from ground to atmosphere. (On a different but related note, see here for interesting new work on atmospherics and law). Whereas the pre-2010 Act “required that the treatment complained of should be ‘on grounds of’ the relevant protected characteristic” the 2010 Equalities Act instead posits a “related to” test; what is required is not a “causative nexus between the protected characteristic and the conduct” alleged to have constituted harassment, but instead, an “associative connection” (para 32). This associative connection is somewhat looser, and to establish harassment the court or tribunal will examine a range of acts that often fall outside traditional understandings of how discrimination and harassment occur.
As the Tribunal notes, legislation that protects from harassment is meant to “create an important jurisdiction” (para 38). The experiences and knowledge of the claimant matter in this jurisdiction: the subjective element of s. 40(2)(a) of the Equalities Act enables the claimant to speak (dicta) his perception and relay her experiences to the law (juris), as it were, and this must be taken into account by the Tribunal. This jurisdiction is also constituted by environment, which evokes something rather different than the tangible metaphor of grounds, the causal link that used to be required to get from A (actions of the respondent) to B (the harm suffered by the claimant). This seems an apt approach , for identifying and remedying the slippery, common sense, amorphous, yet systemic and brutalising nature of sexism, racism and anti-Semitism (in other jurisdictions, it involves adopting a contextualised approach to judgment, an approach developed by and advocated for by many feminist legal scholars over the past several decades).
This environment that the Tribunal attempts forensically to take into account is one in which utterances, attitudes, and acts that are often cast outside of the law’s jurisdiction make an appearance. The Tribunal takes note of the “emotional energy” which the conflict has generated (para 50); can find no evidence of an “atmosphere of intimidation” alleged by the claimant (para 132); acknowledges the whispers and half-heard comments that a microphone will not pick up at a meeting (para 133); and notes with disdain the witnesses who “played to the gallery” rather than keeping their comments and gaze focused on the concrete questions they were being asked by counsel (para 148). Perhaps in an unconscious adaptation of the Good Jew/Bad Jew issue raised by the Claimant, which, while not mentioned, echoes the dichotomy between Good Muslim/Bad Muslim (although with much less success or analytical clarity it would seem), the Tribunal distinguishes between Good Witness/Bad Witness, the latter category of persons (most of the witnesses for the Claimants, rather than the Respondent) “ventilating their opinions;” and taking up precious air/time and resources. (para 149)
This ruling is welcome at a time when proponents and supporters of BDS seem to come under fairly regular attack. Within Israel itself the Boycott Law has made support of BDS a potentially actionable civil wrong. Lawyers from Adalah challenged the Boycott Law that was passed by the Knesset in July 2011 in proceedings at the Israeli Supreme Court, this past December. The Boycott Law penalises individuals, companies and institutions who support the Palestinian call for BDS. The Law Preventing Harm to the State of Israel by Means of Boycott (the “Boycott Law”) defines a boycott against the State of Israel as “deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or body solely because of their affinity with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage.”
The law essentially makes the support of boycotts against the state of Israel a civil wrong, actionable in tort law. The use of law to criminalise BDS activities, or to hold individuals civilly liable for supporting BDS, or indeed, to claim that debate or discussion of BDS is a legal wrong, is not only a matter of freedom of expression, but constitutes, in the words of the Tribunal, an “impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.” While achieving political ends through the law is a strategy employed by many, these attempts to use law as a tactic of suppression (of political activism and debate) must be resisted in the strongest of terms.
Political expression and freedom
The Tribunal upholds the values of tolerance and pluralism in defining the contours of freedom of expression. This means that for freedom of expression to be meaningful, the right of people to voice views that will conflict with others must be protected. For critical legal scholars and others, the words “pluralism” and “tolerance” immediately bring to mind a rich field of critique that points to the ways in which these very values work to produce cultural and racial homogeneity (and thus exclusion) in nation-state forms, among others obstacles to full and robust democratic practices. In the specific context of union activities, however, perhaps these ‘basic minimums’ are to be welcomed; they are certainly absent when it comes to the protection of freedom of expression in the public contexts of political demonstrations. One need only think about the 78 protestors (a vast majority of them British Asian Muslims) who were prosecuted for violent disorder while exercising their freedom of political expression against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in 2008/2009. Many received prison sentences.
The criminalisation of those who take to the streets to express their political views diminishes the value of the right to freedom of expression, narrows the range of forms that expression may take, and arguably impoverishes the scope of political debate. At least in the context of union activism and debate, the Employment Tribunal has preserved the right of advocates and opponents of BDS to engage in full and robust debate over an increasingly powerful and widespread strategy to support Palestinian civil society in their struggle to end the Israeli occupation.
Dr Brenna Bhandar is Lecturer in Law, Queen Mary, University of London.
By Simon Rocker, Jewish Chronicle
April 4, 2013
A failed legal challenge to the anti-Israeli policies of Britain’s lecturers’ union has divided opinion as community activists try to grapple with the repercussions.
An employment tribunal last week dismissed a claim of harassment against the University College Union (UCU) by the director of the Academic Friends of Israel, Ronnie Fraser, who had accused the union of “institutional antisemitism”.
In his judgment, Judge Anthony Snelson, who presided over the three-person tribunal, attacked the claim as “a sorry saga”, which represented “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means”.
One lawyer active in Jewish affairs, Jonathan Goldberg QC, commented: “This enormous but legally flawed lawsuit was an act of epic folly by all concerned which will negatively impact our community for a long time to come. You only bring such showcase litigation if you are certain to win.”
Lawsuit will have negative impact on our community for a long time’
The chairman of UK Lawyers for Israel, Jonathan Turner, also questioned the wisdom of bringing the action. “I had deep misgivings and feared it would fail,” he said. But he called it “a reverse, not a disaster”, suggesting that lessons could be learned on “which cases to fight and how”.
Anthony Julius, of solicitors Mishcon de Reya, who had represented Mr Fraser, was unavailable for comment this week.
But communal organisations which had supported the lawsuit closed ranks. A spokesman for Fair Play, the anti-boycott campaign founded by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “Years of campaigning inside UCU had convinced us and many union members that the union was incapable of fairly tackling complaints of antisemitism by itself. Supporting Ronnie was the right thing to do.”
A number of JLC members are understood to have contributed to Mr Fraser’s fighting fund.
Board vice-president Jonathan Arkush,* who is a lawyer, said that “many aspects of this ruling surprised and disappointed me, not least the suggestion that the case was brought for a political end. A trade union member who feels that he is the victim of racial harassment or antisemitism is surely entitled to bring a claim without being labelled as politically motivated.”
The tribunal stated that a belief in Zionism or attachment to Israel was “not intrinsically a part of Jewishness” and was not an aspect that could be protected under equality law.
Eric Moonman, co-president of the Zionist Federation, said that this was a “wrong and worrying interpretation. It presents a very real issue for a different campaign to make sure there is an accepted definition of Jewishness which highlights the integral nature of Israel to Jews.”
Mr Fraser had argued that a succession of anti-Israel resolutions passed by the union’s annual congress, and the resulting incidents, had created an inhospitable climate for Jews.
But the tribunal said that while he may have found certain comments upsetting, they did not amount to harassment in the legal sense.
While the panel found him a “sincere” witness, it contrasted his “down-to-earth style” with the “magnificent prose” in which his lawyers had couched his case.
Although some of Mr Fraser’s witnesses were “impressive”, the tribunal was highly critical of others, saying they were “more disposed to score points or play to the gallery”.
Evidence that Jewish speakers were jeered and harassed at union congresses was found to be “false”, while JLC chief executive Jeremy Newmark’s cited reason for his exclusion from a UCU meeting was “untrue”.
The tribunal panel was also unimpressed with the “glib evidence” of MP John Mann and former MP Denis MacShane, key figures in the All-Party Parliamentary Campaign against Antisemitism.
The panel said it was troubled by a “worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression” underlying the claim. It was also critical of its “gargantuan scale”, with 23 bundles and 29 oral witnesses for Mr Fraser plus four written testimonies — compared to five witnesses and two written testimonies for the defence.
Mr Fraser said that, while naturally “disappointed” at the outcome, he would continue to campaign as a member of the Board of Deputies “to accept a definition of Jewishness which includes a connection with Israel”.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said that Mr Fraser would “be treated with respect within the union as will his views on this question. Not that a decision has been made. I hope in turn that he, and others who share his views, will play an active part in the union and its debates rather than seek recourse to the law.”
In a statement released by the British Committee for Universities for Palestine, UCU executive member Tom Hickey welcomed “a landmark judgment. The accusation of antisemitism against UCU because it supports a boycott is absurd.”
Human rights lawyer Adam Wagner said that the argument that attachment to Israel was not an intrinsic part of Jewishness could be an issue to raise in appeal.
“Discrimination law is unpredictable,” he said, “as shown by the recent European Court of Rights judgments on religious discrimination.
“However, even if an appeal was successful on the legal points, it would still be difficult to overcome the very significant factual findings — the claimant needs to show that there was harassment in his case.
“Perhaps even more problematic would be persuading an appeal court to wade into the vexed and arguable political — that is, not legal — question of whether anti-Zionism can plausibly amount to racism.
Given the court’s comments about this ‘sorry saga’, this may be the last we hear of that argument for some time.”
By Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada
December 21, 2012
In October and November, a London court heard a case with potential consequences for the Palestine solidarity movement and for trade unions’ gradual adoption of the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
The director of Academic Friends of Israel is suing his own union in an employment tribunal. Ronnie Fraser accuses the 120,000-member-strong University and College Union of “institutional anti-Semitism” after its congress passed motions calling for members to discuss the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli universities.
But according to one court document seen by The Electronic Intifada, Fraser follows a definition of anti-Semitism that seems to include any criticism of Israel. It says he considers “anti-Semitism” to include comments “targeting specifically the State of Israel which was conceived as a Jewish state.”
The suit is part of a “lawfare” strategy that anti-Palestinian groups are resorting to, having effectively lost the debate around Israel boycott measures in the unions several years ago.
Sue Blackwell, a University and College Union activist and former national executive member who has been vocal in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, said Fraser would lose because “there is not a shred of evidence” to support his claims. Even so, “he will have caused UCU a huge headache in terms of money and resources,” she said.
A judgment is not expected until March or April 2013, but The Electronic Intifada was in court in November to watch four days of the three-week hearing.
The University and College Union was formed by a merger of two smaller unions in 2006. The two were the first unions in the UK to discuss a boycott of Israeli universities. So it’s no surprise to find anti-Palestinian groups attempting to fight the union with the usual tactics of bogus accusations of anti-Semitism.
Leading figures from pro-Israel groups testified in support of Fraser. They included Denis MacShane (a Labour Friends of Israel stalwart recently forced out of parliament over an expenses scandal), Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Leadership Council, and several activists from Engage, a group created to combat boycotts of Israel from an ostensibly left-wing position.
Fraser’s team was led by Anthony Julius, a lawyer from high-flying firm Mishcon de Reya. In the 1990s he negotiated Princess Diana’s £17-million (then around $22.5 million) divorce settlement.
Julius’s strategy seemed to be a scatter-shot approach involving multiple allegations.
In court on 6 November, this writer was permitted to view the “amended grounds of defense” document submitted to the court by Antony White, the head of the union’s legal team.
Despite requests in person, on the phone and over email, Julius and his team failed to provide the “grounds of complaint” document, or any other material, to The Electronic Intifada.
However, the general grounds of the lawsuit were set out in a letter from Julius to the union’s secretary-general, and made available on Fraser’s website (Letter sent to UCU on behalf of Ronnie Fraser, 1 July 2011, Academic Friends of Israel website [PDF]).
The letter complained that “UCU is not a place that is hospitable to Jews” and that its “year-on-year anti-Israel boycott resolutions” offered proof of such hostility.
Long struggle over boycott
The issue of potential academic boycott of Israel has been ongoing in the union for years.
Several University and College Union motions have been passed that “encourage members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions” and to circulate to members the text of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel’s 2004 call to boycott Israeli academic institutions (see Motion 30: Composite: Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, UCU Congress 2007).
However, mainly because of a backlash engineered by pro-Israel pressure groups, the union has never taken solid practical measures to implement such a boycott.
Fraser’s suit claimed he had been “booed, jeered and harassed” while speaking at congress in 2007 when a motion to boycott Israel was introduced. Newmark of the Jewish Leadership Council claimed to have witnessed this, stating in court: “[it was] above and beyond the usual kind of rough-and-tumble debate.”
But Fraser, according to White, had not in fact spoken. He had tried to intervene, but was rebuffed by the chairperson. White said this was one of “a series of false allegations” in Newmark’s witness statement, and submitted an audio recording he said proved the chairperson was “scrupulously fair,” and that there was no booing.
Newmark said the microphones might not have picked up the booing, but insisted there was “an atmosphere” in the room.
On the final day in court, Julius argued that given how Fraser had decided to remain in the University and College Union he was “not quite the Last of the Mohicans,” but suffered fear, distress and “a certain panic” as a result of Israel boycott advocacy in the union.
Defending free speech
Congress 2011’s rejection of a discredited “working definition of anti-Semitism” is considered by Newmark to have been the “tipping point” that led to this suit.
However, the union’s legal team, led by lawyers and full-time union officers, not by boycott, divestment and sanctions activists (none of whom were called as witnesses), asserts that this is a free speech case.
The union’s grounds of defense document quotes a 2010 Scottish ruling that a 2008 protest against the Jerusalem String Quartet in Edinburgh was not racist. The ruling emphasizes that protesters criticizing the state of Israel had been within their legal rights. Any other ruling would have violated free speech, the ruling argued: “Presumably, their placards would have to read, ‘Genocide in an unspecified part of the Middle East’; ‘Boycott an unspecified state in the Middle East.’”
The document states that the union has never implemented a boycott of Israel, but argues that European law “protects even the right actually to campaign for a boycott of Israel” as upheld by the Scottish ruling.
The defense argues that the union’s differences with Fraser have been over his pro-Israel stance, as he was a “spokesperson” for the anti-boycott campaign, and have nothing to do with his religious identity.
Pattern of exaggeration
The union’s legal team head Antony White accused Fraser and some of his witnesses of false testimony. In his final submissions, he said they failed to engage with the facts. They showed a “consistent pattern of either exaggeration or misleading evidence,” said White, giving several examples.
One witnesses was David Hirsh, founder of the anti-boycott group Engage.
On 5 November, White put it to Hirsh that the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council “has been funding Engage to the tune of £50,000 [$81,335]” over three years. The Fair Play Campaign Group was used to channel this funding, according to Fraser’s evidence.
Hirsh denied this, as did Jane Ashworth, also with Engage, during cross-examination later the same day. Both said Fraser must have been mistaken. The following day, the Jewish Leadership Council’s Newmark also denied it.
Similar claims emerged in March, when a pro-Israel blogger complained the scheme was “deeply dishonest” and that Engage’s “credibility as a radical left group opposing the boycotters … would have been shot to shreds” if the Board of Deputies funding had been publicly known.
When The Electronic Intifada contributor Ben White discovered this in April, he put it to Newmark, who replied the blogger was “a bit ‘confused,’” but didn’t deny the substance.
Not “mainstream Jewish members”
Hirsh’s testimony involved a lot of long-winded speeches, causing Employment Judge A. M. Snelson, the tribunal’s chair, to prompt him more than once to keep his answers as short as possible.
Hirsh came very close to accusing Antony White himself of anti-Semitism during the hearing, saying of his line of questioning that “I think that’s a real problem” and claiming he represents an anti-Semitic union.
Engage’s Jane Ashworth has never been a member of the union, but claimed to have witnessed an anti-Semitic incident at the union’s 2008 congress.
She too came close to accusing White of anti-Semitism, saying she was concerned White was talking about “well-funded” groups. “Engage had no money from the FPCG [Fair Play Campaign Group]. Period,” she claimed.
White put it to her that Engage had promised the pro-Israel Board of Deputies to “engage with the left to get a successful result at congress.” In other words, to defeat moves for discussion of the Palestinian call for academic boycott.
White put to Ashworth another of the central points of his case: that Jewish union members had debated at congresses on both the pro- and anti-boycott sides. Differences with Fraser were political, not related to his ethnicity or religion.
Ashworth claimed that Jews who supported a boycott were not “mainstream Jewish members” of the union.
“You’ve just made that up”
The incident Ashworth claimed to have witnessed was intensely disputed.
Ashworth and Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Leadership Council were at the 2008 union congress and had vendors’ passes, but were not delegates (or even members). So they were not supposed to be on the congress floor where debates and voting took place. She must have “sneaked in,” White put it to her.
“It’s common practice,” Ashworth claimed.
She said Newmark, wearing a kippah (skull cap), was barred by union official Matt Waddup because he was identifiable as a Jew. She also claimed Waddup shoved her.
“You’ve just made that up,” White countered. Ashworth insisted she was telling the truth but, being inconsequential, she had not mentioned it before.
“Jeremy was Jew-baited,” claimed Ashworth.
What really happened was quite different, White said. Newmark had tried to push his way in and, lacking the right credentials, Waddup had refused him entry.
Newmark from the Jewish Leadership Council took the witness chair on 6 November. “It’s very easy to resort to the stereotype of the pushy Jew, trying to push their way in” to the congress hall, he said, implying White was an anti-Semite.
Verdict expected spring 2013
Outside court, Antony White said he could not speak to journalists.
The judges are scheduled to meet in January to work on a draft verdict. They will meet again in February or early March, and the final judgment will be handed down 28 days later.
The verdict will be closely read by activists in Britain and beyond. The case is about an attempt to stifle freedom of expression and roll back the progress of boycott, divestment and sanctions in the unions.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist from London who has lived and worked in occupied Palestine.
‘Toxic’ atmosphere over middle-east leads students to curtail their degrees
By Marcus Dysch, Jewish Chronicle
December 06, 2012
Anti-Israel incidents at Scottish universities have contributed to Jewish students quitting their courses in despair, it was claimed this week.
Attacks have created a “toxic atmosphere” in which Jewish students no longer feel comfortable, a delegation of community representatives told senior Edinburgh University officials.
Among those who felt the need to leave was a former Edinburgh Jewish Society chair who dropped out of his course to study abroad, partly because of the fall-out from an incident in which Ishmael Khaldi, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s most senior Muslim diplomat, was mobbed as he spoke at the university in February last year.
That incident also allegedly affected a Jewish postgraduate student so severely that she was forced to seek an extension for her dissertation before cancelling an option to continue studying in Scotland. She also left for a different course elsewhere in Europe.
In the most recent incident at Edinburgh, in October, an address by Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub was disrupted by chanting students waving Palestinian flags.
The JC understands that the stress of responding to anti-Israel attacks and campaigns has divided the university’s JSoc, with some members so apprehensive about the issue that a separate group has now been formed solely to handle matters relating to Israel.
One source said JSoc had been “decimated by these events” with Jewish students left “arguing with each other” and “scared” to defend Israel on campus.
The claims emerged after representatives of the Jewish community met university officers last week to discuss their concerns.
Members of Scottish Jewish Student Chaplaincy and the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities told the university bosses that Jewish students had felt it necessary to “hide their Jewish identity due to the hostile atmosphere at Edinburgh” and were now seeking “secure and safe” space on campus.
SCoJeC also reported a rise in the number of enquiries from parents and potential students in the US and Europe about the safety of Jewish students at Scottish universities. In the past three years, the number of queries about campus antisemitism had risen five-fold, SCoJeC said.
The delegation claimed the university was “failing in its duty of care” to Jewish students and had given “free licence” for disruptive groups to “repeat their abusive behaviour”.
While other academic institutions had taken on board the community’s concerns, Edinburgh had shown no urgency to tackle the problem, the group claimed.
“The university needs to be aware of the international damage that is being done not only to Edinburgh’s reputation, but also to that of other Scottish universities and to the wider nation,” a community spokesman said.
An Edinburgh University spokesman said: “We welcomed the opportunity to meet those who had raised concerns about this matter. We work closely and collaboratively with students to foster good relations and we want all of our students to feel safe and supported.”
Following the Khaldi incident last year, the university attempted to restore calm by inviting JSoc members to a discussion with members of the Students for Justice in Palestine group, which operates on the campus.
Students at University College London’s students’ union are due to vote from today in a referendum on whether to “condemn the inhumane situation in Gaza”. The proposed motion calls on the university to ban products from Israeli settlements and to avoid “complicity in any way with the occupation of Palestine”.
Birmingham University’s Guild of Students confirmed it is investigating a complaint received after an anti-Israel demonstration by students last week. It is claimed a number of Guild officers took part in the rally, possibly breaching the organisation’s own rules on officer impartiality.
By Martin Bright, Jewish Chronicle
June 02, 2011
The leaders of the Jewish community have recorded their outrage at the University and College Union, which has voted to distance itself from the European Union’s working definition of antisemitism, at its annual congress in Harrogate.
Delegates overwhelmingly supported the move on the part of the union’s executive, which believes the 2005 European definition prevents the full and open discussion of Israel and Palestine on campus.
UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt responded that the union remained opposed to antisemitism and asked for a meeting with Jewish leaders to help write an “acceptable” definition of anti-Jewish prejudice.
But Jeremy Newmark, [above] chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “After this weekend’s events, I believe the UCU is institutionally racist.”
Representatives of the JLC, the Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust have now appealed to government ministers David Willetts and Eric Pickles to support a formal Equality and Human Rights Commission investigation into the decision.
Their calls were echoed by John Mann MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.
“These claims have been made and should be investigated independently, ideally by the EHRC,” he said.
Before last week’s vote the UCU was urged to adopt the definition of racism contained in the MacPherson report on the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
This defines a racist incident as one which is viewed as such by the victim or a third party.
Trevor Phillips, chair of the EHRC, said he was “surprised” at the failure of the UCU to introduce its motion on the definition of antisemitism “without consulting the EHRC” at all.
The Board’s president, Vivian Wineman, also wrote to university vice chancellors asking them to consider whether maintaining a normal relationship with UCU could still be compatible with their requirement to “eliminate discrimination and foster good relations” with minorities.
“Business as usual should not be an option with an institutionally racist organisation,” he said.
He added that vice chancellors should put in place procedures to ensure that UCU’s institutional racism and perverse definitions were not allowed to “pollute your own processes for handling reports of antisemitism on campus”.
Mr Wineman said that if the UCU refused to address the issue, “we would ask that you reconsider whether formal union recognition of UCU is appropriate at all”.
The UCU resolution has been condemned across the Jewish community. Tanya Stern, Europe director of the grassroots pro-Israel group, StandWithUs, said: ” By passing this motion, the union has confirmed that it neither has an understanding of antisemitism nor the desire to protect people who suffer from it.”
Paul Usiskin, chairman of Peace Now UK, said: “This is the UCU’s heinous attempt to justify antisemitism as part of its criticisms of Israeli government policy.”
As a Brit, I am ashamed of what is happening in my country.
By Richard Mather, View from UK, Arutz Sheva, Op-Ed
January 02, 2013
How long before British universities do something about the safety of their Jewish students? A new survey reveals that Jewish students at one of Britain’s top institutions face a “toxic atmosphere” in which they are forced to hide their identity. According to the Scottish Jewish Student Chaplaincy and the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, the University of Edinburgh is not a safe place to be Jewish.
Edinburgh is widely regarded as one of the world’s best universities and is the third most popular university in the UK. It is closely linked with important institutions in North America and is a member of the prestigious League of European Research Universities. Historically, the university played a vital role in Britain’s intellectual, scientific and literary development. Naturalist Charles Darwin, philosopher David Hume, physicist James Clerk Maxwell, and writers Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott all studied at the university.
The university has high-ranking royal connections, too. Prince Philip was chancellor from 1953 to 2010, with Princess Anne taking over in March 2011.
So it is a real shame to discover that the institution is failing to ensure the security of Jewish students who are apparently quitting courses “in despair” following recent anti-Israel demonstrations. Jewish leaders accuse the university of a lack of urgency in tackling the problem of anti-Semitism. A leading spokesman for the Jewish community commented that the university “needs to be aware of the international damage that is being done not only to Edinburgh’s reputation, but also to that of other Scottish universities and to the wider nation.”
In response, Edinburgh University said it wants “all of our students to feel safe and supported.” Fine words, but how is the university going to ensure the safety of Jewish students? And will it do anything to curb the antics of pro-Palestinian activists who are making Jewish students’ lives a misery?
These questions actually pertain to all campuses in the UK. Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has spoken of the intimidation of Jewish students in Britain as “part of a long, slow, insidious process intended to undermine academic freedom and it must not be tolerated.”
He’s right, of course, but part of the problem is the attitude of lecturers and other academics, many of whom are incredibly hostile toward the State of Israel.
Take the University and College Union (UCU) for example. The UCU has repeatedly (and obsessively) called for a boycott of Israeli academics. And in May 2011, UCU members voted to disassociate itself from the EU working definition of anti-Semitism. In disgust, four leading Jewish academics in Scotland quit the UCU and the British government called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate the union. At the same time, the UCU was given notice of the intent of a Jewish UCU member to sue for breach of the UK Equality Act (2010).
So if the UCU is politically biased against Israeli academics and does not even recognize the EU definition of anti-Semitism, what hope is there for Jewish students who complain of anti-Semitic and/or Israelophobic harassment? Perhaps Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, when he takes over from Rabbi Sacks in September 2013, will impress upon the UCU and individual universities the importance of cracking down on anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities. But I doubt they will listen.
No, I fear that Britain is undergoing a profound but dangerous cultural transformation, in which sympathy for Israel (and the Jewish people) will continue to recede, leaving the country wide open to an influx of anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian ideas and discourses.
As a Brit, I am ashamed of what is happening in my country. It is alarming that some Jewish students feel they can no longer study at a UK university. The complicity of British academics and the cowardice of university leaders is largely to blame for this situation. I would like to see Jewish community leaders and Jewish organizations in the UK get a lot tougher with institutions that fail to curb anti-Semitism on campuses. I would like them to speak out robustly and regularly.
At the same time, I think we need to show students that supporting Israel is progressive. After all, Israel has a free press, a trade union movement and several co-operatives. It is a world leader in innovating green technology. Women are guaranteed gender equality, homosexuals enjoy full civil rights and Israeli Arabs have the vote. These values – which are in short supply in the Middle East – are exactly the kind of values which progressive liberals and students usually champion.
Indeed, the Left in Britain and Europe is failing to champion the progressive values it pretends to espouse and has aligned itself with the massive reactionary power bloc that is Islam. Because of this alliance, the Left has abandoned women and other minorities in the Middle East and refuses to lift a finger for the people of Syria, preferring instead to focus its energies on supporting Hamas. And there is nothing progressive about Hamas, which is a neo-fascist organization that publicly executes its enemies and advocates the murder of millions of Jews.
At the same time, Israel advocates must continue to protest against the presence of anti-Semitic guest speakers at university events, and challenge the NGOS, churches and charities that set up their stalls during Freshers’ week and demonize the State of Israel. We must explain to students that it was Islam, not Zionism, that colonized the land of Israel and built a mosque on the Temple Mount. We must explain to them that the Palestinians and the Arab states collaborated with the Nazis and then rejected the UN partition plan because they didn’t want to share the land with Jews (and still don’t).
So, yes, Jewish leaders must do all they can to pressure universities into ensuring the security of Jewish students. But a more sustained campaign is needed – a campaign which highlights the progressive nature of Zionism and exposes the reactionary intolerance of those who wish to dismantle the most forward-thinking country in the entire Middle East.
The writer, a Noahide (ben Noach) [A gentile; Mather describes himself as a former Christian], is a freelance journalist based in Manchester. ”
Arutz Sheva is regarded as “the voice of the Israeli settlement movement.”
By Jonny Paul, JPost
December 15, 2010
Jonathan Sacks says school authorities “turning a blind eye and a deaf ear” to increasing inflammatory campus speeches.
LONDON – Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks accused university authorities on Tuesday of “turning a blind eye and a deaf ear” to the increasing number of inflammatory speeches taking place on campuses across the country.
Speaking at the Department for Communities and Local Government ahead of a report being launched on anti-Semitism in the UK, the chief rabbi accused the universities of not doing enough to combat anti-Semitism on campus, in sharp contrast to the political leadership of all parties who take “an unequivocal and a firm stand against anti-Semitism.”
He warned that there was an increasing number of events held at UK universities where Jewish students were suffering abuse.
The chief rabbi alluded to an event that took place last week at the London School of Economics, where Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the Arabic daily Al-Quds al-Arabi, delivered a talk titled “How Much Influence Does the Zionist Lobby Exert on US/UK Foreign Policy?”
“If this were an isolated event, I would say no more, but it isn’t,” he said. “It’s part of a process that has been going on now for almost a decade. There has been incident after incident in which Jewish students have been intimidated, and verbally and physically abused.”
Berating the university authorities, Sacks said that “if they have acted at all, have done too little, too late.” He stated that if similar actions had been directed at any other group or ethnic minority, action on the grounds of incitement would have been initiated.
“Let me be blunt. I believe that the inflammatory public speeches being allowed to take place on university campuses would, in any other context and directed against any other group, be prosecuted under the law forbidding incitement to racial and possibly religious hatred,” he said.
He urged university authorities to “take decisive and unequivocal action to prevent the intimidation of any students – Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, gay or any other group at risk – so that academic freedom can return to universities and students can express their views without abuse and without fear.”
Sacks said his concern had led him to conduct a tour of campuses.
“So concerned am I that a few weeks ago I did a national tour of university campuses speaking to Jewish students, because over these last few years they have become despondent and demoralized at the failure of university authorities to take firm and decisive action.”
The chief rabbi – who, it has been revealed, is retiring in 2013 – also thanked Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove for the £2 million in funding he is providing for the security of Jewish schools, announced last week.
President of the United Synagogue Simon Hochauser announced on Tuesday that the chief rabbi would step down after 22 years in the role.
Many British universities are breeding grounds for Muslim extremism. Islamic specialist Ruth Dudley Edwards explains why financial need and government interference have rendered academics oblivious to this threat to democratic society
By Ruth Dudley Edwards, Daily Telegraph
January 02, 2010
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab “never gave his tutors any cause for concern, and was a well-mannered, quietly spoken, polite and able young man”, explained University College London, as it busily seemed to wash its hands of any responsibility for fostering a suicide bomber who attempted to down a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day. While of course, said Provost Malcolm Grant, the authorities would be reflecting very carefully, students were admitted on merit and there could be no vetting “of their political, racial or religious background or beliefs”.
What Abdulmutallab’s parents must be wondering is what happened to the college’s duty of care towards their son. Did no tutor talk to him about his life outside engineering? Did it concern no one that this lonely boy had taken to wearing Islamic dress? Wasn’t anyone worried about the radicalism of the “War on Terror Week” Abdulmutallab organised as president? Did anyone know he had asked a “hate-preacher” to address the society? Or did UCL think their job was simply to teach the boy engineering in exchange for his father’s large cheques?
As a writer on Irish terrorism, who knew how easily idealistic teenagers could be transformed into ruthless terrorists, I became fascinated by what was happening on a much larger scale in Islamist circles. Years of studying the religion and politics of Islam have given me an insight into young people like Abdulmutallab which his tutors seem to have lacked.
It’s not that universities haven’t had enough warnings. Sheikh Musa Admani, an imam at London Metropolitan University, pleaded with both the Home Office and academic leaders to supervise and control Islamic societies. He spoke eloquently of vulnerable, friendless first-year students, confused about the conflict between Islam and hedonistic secular values, who are natural prey for Islamist evangelists offering companionship, brotherly love and a clear sense of identity.
Admani’s common-sense advice – for instance, that prayer rooms should be open to all, not just Muslims, and that speakers should be vetted – were seemingly ignored by most academics and officials. So what he had observed continued: university after university provided Muslim prayer rooms that were all too often taken over by extremists who changed the locks, showed innocent freshers heavy-duty propaganda films of Muslim suffering at the hands of wicked Jews, Americans and Brits, and brought to the campus inspirational speakers who encouraged the young to sacrifice themselves for Allah.
By Rachel Cooke, Observer
February 07, 2010
He is the eminent lawyer who handled Princess Diana’s divorce, fought off a libel suit from Holocaust denier David Irving and wrote an influential book on TS Eliot’s hostility to Jews. Now he has liberal intellectuals in his sights in an explosive new history of antisemitism
Although I end up rather liking Anthony Julius, to begin with he annoys me intensely. In the lobby of the Holborn offices of his law firm, Mishcon de Reya – modern art, leather chairs, various (I’m guessing) prospective lady divorcees fiddling nervously with their pearls – he finds me reading a novel. “Ah!” he says. “That shows great confidence, not to be reading my book.” I look at his pale, bespectacled face. What does he mean? Does he think that he’s going to be interviewing me? Because the news is that, today, I get to play chief prosecutor, not him. “I finished yours yesterday,” I tell him, in a calm and not-at-all-indignant voice. “But in any case, what with it being 700 pages long, it’s not exactly the kind of thing one can slip easily into one’s bag.”
He opens a door for me.
“Well,” he says. “That sounds like a very good excuse to buy another handbag.”
Oh dear. Women, eh? They’re only interested in handbags. Unlike men, especially men like Julius, whose bedside tables groan with the weight of all the books they’re reading (at present his bedside table features – off the top of his head – Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters by Louis Begley, Julian by Gore Vidal, Why Poetry Matters by Jay Parini, Capitalism and the Jews by Jerry Z Muller, The Rule of Law by Tom Bingham and something by Elie Wiesel). Not that he makes too big a deal of his reputedly giant brain. He tries to wear his learning lightly, though how much of this is polite false-modesty I can’t say. Later, when I ask how he combines his hugely successful legal career with his writing life (his new book, Trials of the Diaspora, a history of antisemitism in England, is not only long, it is extensively researched) he says: “I’m a quick reader, and I follow my enthusiasms. I don’t act for clients unless I’m really committed to their cases. I don’t write boo ks unless I’m passionate about the subject. So it [doing both] doesn’t feel like an achievement. It feels like a huge treat.”
We sit first in the Mischon boardroom and then, when we’re chucked out of that, in a horrible basement with no windows and migraine-inducing lights. At first things go badly, or at least stiffly. Julius the lawyer cannot resist picking apart the terms of my questions, deliberately misunderstanding them at times. But slowly he warms up, and I see the charm that supposedly seduced his most famous client, Diana, Princess of Wales, for whom he acted in her divorce. His manner is lofty and he raps the table in time to his words when he is trying to make a point; he can be dismissive. But he is also principled, measured, kindly, ironic.
His new book is going to cause quite a stir. Thanks to its introduction, in which he describes Diana as “under-educated” and reveals that she once told him she should “never have married into a German family”, it already has in some quarters. Roughly speaking, it can be divided into four parts. The first is a short memoir in which Julius describes his own experiences. As a boy, travelling on a train with his father, a successful menswear retailer, one of his father’s business contacts praised a Jewish girl, a friend of his daughter’s, for her manners. “I had a sense of the temperature in the compartment rising, but nothing else was said on the subject,” writes Julius. “It was not a failure in courage on his [my father’s] part, for certain… It had instead to do with an unwillingness to condescend to being offended, a refusal to acknowledge the hurt caused by the insult implicit in Arthur’s remark – that it is always noteworthy when Jews behave well.”
From this he learned a little, early on, about the things that remain unsaid between Jews and non-Jews. Later Julius was subject to formal and informal “quotas”: his public school, the City of London school for boys, had a limited number of places available for Jewish children, and when he applied to law firms he was quietly advised that some larger companies simply did not take Jews. At Cambridge in the late 70s a pamphlet was delivered to his rooms which warned, among other things, that with Passover on the horizon, Gentiles should guard their children; the Jews needed Gentile blood to make their matzos, the unleavened Passover bread. Finally he describes the public reaction to his representation of Diana. The Daily Telegraph was forced to run an apology after it said that, being a Jew, he would be less likely to be constrained by ideas of “fair play”. He received antisemitic mail. He was attacked in a pamphlet later revealed to have been written by Nick Griffin, now leader of the BNP.
But the book’s controversies do not lie here. Nor are they to be found in its long central section, a fascinating and appalling history of antisemitism in England from medieval times to the present. No, it’s when Julius reaches what he calls “contemporary secular anti-Zionisms” that hackles are likely to rise, at least among leftist intellectuals. For it is his contention that, if not actually antisemitic themselves, many prominent anti-Zionists are, at best, confused and, at worst, “a species of fellow traveller”. By “fellow traveller” he means that they are untroubled by the company that they keep; such people are so keen to support the anti-Zionist cause that they are prepared to ignore the viciousness, say, that daily spews from the mouths of the leaders of Hamas. Among those whom he attacks in this section are Tony Judt, the distinguished historian, and Jacqueline Rose, Professor of English at Queen Mary, University of London (both of whom are, of course, Jewish themselves).
Julius says that he wavers between “terror that it [the book] will be ignored and terror that it will be noticed”. It wasn’t a particularly enjoyable book to write, and when his agent first suggested the idea he was reluctant. “It’s not an inherently interesting subject. There are people who are benighted enough to hate Jews, that’s it. I didn’t enjoy much of the writing. I feel like I’ve been swimming, long-distance, through a sewer.” Did working on it lead him to change his mind about anything? “No. I expected my reading to produce a mixture of gratitude that I live here, and not most other places, and also a sense of wariness and slight anxiety about the future, and that’s where I am.”
And what about these fellow travellers? According to his terms of reference, I’m in danger of being one of them. If someone from, say, Hamas happens to agree with aspects of my position on Israel, it doesn’t mean I also agree with him; nor can I avoid his approval, except by falling silent. He shifts in his chair. “Look, people who characterise the conflict in the Middle East as purely a matter of a predatory, aggressive state making war on a defenceless population are just being a bit shallow, to put it in an understated, British way. People who then go on to treat the endemic antisemitism in that part of the world as of no significance, people who are not interested in the fact that Hamas is essentially exterminist in its attitude to the Jewish state, they are guilty of a moral culpability that makes them indifferent to antisemitism. I don’t say they are antisemites themselves, but they are fellow travellers. Jacqueline Rose [who has called for academic boycotts of Israel] just hasn’t thought carefully enough. Tony Judt [who has complained of the power of the Israel lobby over American foreign policy] is a remarkable historian but I think he got sick about Israel. Jews can become overwhelmed with the experience of being Jews in the 21st century, and if you brood and brood it can produce all kinds of problems in one’s thinking. There’s a fundamental quality of unseriousness in what’s said about Israel and Jews from people who are otherwise quite serious.”
In his book, Julius insists that claims in the media that Islamophobia is on the rise are exaggerated. But is this right? I wouldn’t like to be, say, a hijab-wearing woman right now. “I’m not aware of any recent incidents of women in hijabs being assaulted or injured in any way. If they were it would be appalling, obviously. This is not a competition to find who’s most downtrodden and persecuted. But I’m struck by the fact that every single Jewish institution has security outside it. When I go to my synagogue there are guards outside. There are guards outside my children’s Jewish schools. It’s pretty shocking, and it’s not Jewish alarmism. It’s understood by the police to be necessary.”
But Martin Amis, to take one example, feels free to say things about Muslims that he would perhaps not say about Jews. Julius thinks this is unfair, that Amis “interrogated” his own reaction to the rage he felt at those who hoped to blow up airliners over the Atlantic in 2006. “What he said was not programmatic. George Galloway says: I glorify Hezbollah! He has a radio show. Against which you have a misinterpreted remark by a marginal literary novelist whose name would probably not be recognised by 98% of people. This is not to say that George Galloway is making antisemitic remarks. But in terms of purchase on the public imagination, I don’t think you can make claims of Islamophobia based on remarks by Martin Amis.”
What is his own relationship with Israel? “I don’t think there should be a liquidation of the diaspora, I don’t think Zionism is the only way for Jews to live, but I also admire much of what Israel has achieved. Mine has always been the classic leftist position: the two-state solution. I still think that is the only one that makes sense.” What about the settlements? Should they stop? “In a Palestinian state, I don’t think Jews should be expelled; they should be offered citizenship. In that context, I don’t think settlements make much of a difference, though I can see, from a Palestinian point of view, it must be intensely frustrating to find your opportunities for state-building to be constantly eroded by settlement building.”
Julius’s eldest son has emigrated to Israel, where he did military service on the Lebanese border. Was this controversial? “No, not at all. I’m proud of him. I was sorry to see him go, of course; I would like all my children to be living next door.” He must have been worried. “Yes, I was worried. But on his gap year, my son went to the Kashmir border, utterly oblivious. That was more worrying. I don’t want to make light of what he’s done but it wasn’t politically controversial at all.” His voice softens. “On the contrary, I only honour him for it.”
Julius grew up in Southgate, north London, and I believe he still lives in the vicinity, in the only house he could find big enough to accommodate his rather large family. His great-grandparents were late 19th century immigrants from Russia; his grandparents and parents were born here. His childhood was, he says, “utterly traditional” in Anglo-Jewish terms. “At a certain level, observance was maintained. But it was free-thinking; it wasn’t intellectually inhibiting, or cramped.” He attended a secular school, but his own children have been educated in Jewish state schools and, at home, the family keeps a kosher kitchen. Is this a case of faith or of identity? Because doing so can be – how to put this? – a faff. He smiles. “It doesn’t feel tremendously restrictive, or heroic, in terms of self-denial. I suppose that maintaining a kosher home is part of the way that Jewish continuity can be ensured. But having a kosher home is part of who I am. Abandoning it would feel like a departure from oneself.” There is a pause, and then he says: “As you were talking, what came into my mind was… love. How can you explain love? You can’t say why you love your children. It’s like that. It’s a given. It’s just a part of who you are.”
At school he was in the B stream. Nevertheless he won a place at Cambridge to read English; he was the first in his family to go to university. “I felt daunted and excited. When we drove up on that first day, I thought: I will never be equal to this place. But I was thrilled, too. I found studying there to be an elevated experience.” His “passion” was English but, convinced he was not going to get a good enough degree to do a Phd (though this was wrong: he got a first), he went to a careers officer for advice. “He suggested I be a lawyer. OK, I said. I was so full of self-disgust at the abandonment of my vocation I’d have said yes to anything.” Still, being a lawyer turned out to be exciting. “Speaking up for someone else under incredibly complicated technical conditions..… being an advocate is what I most enjoy. I still enjoy it. Very much.”
And he likes to win? A wide smile. Julius’s legal career, in the public mind, is marked by two cases. There was Diana, of course: his first divorce (“mine, too” she told him, or words to that effect). But before that there was his defence of Deborah Lipstadt, author of Denying the Holocaust. In her book she accused David Irving, the writer, of being a Holocaust denier. Irving took exception to this and sued both Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin, for defamation. Julius won. Irving was bankrupted.
His reputation as a lawyer is for toughness and impatience. He is supposed to have replied to a verbose letter from another solicitor thus: “Dear Sir, thank you for your letter of yesterday, which I have only finished reading today. The answer is no.” He earns tons of money: £300,000 a year, says the Daily Mail.
Meanwhile, though, there was the rest of life. Julius kept up his academic work, eventually producing his (mostly) acclaimed study, TS Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form. At about this time he told someone that the secret of his productivity was a contented home life; he’d been married to his wife, Judith, for two decades, and the couple had four children. Shortly after this, though, he fell in love with the journalist Dina Rabinovitch; she, too, was married, with three children. They left their respective partners, married, and had a son together, Elon. But in 2007 Rabinovitch died after a horrible battle with breast cancer: an illness she wrote about with great spirit and humour in the Guardian. I mention these columns to Julius, and he goes completely white: finally, I understand what the expression “visibly blanched” means. He looks, actually, as though he might be sick. Was he uncomfortable with these pieces? “Yes, yes. But it was the way she dealt with her illness, it wasn’t for me to…” He does not finish the sentence. Would he have preferred it if she had not written them? “Confessional writing doesn’t really appeal to me. I prefer more austere forms of discourse.” Did he read the pieces? “No.”
In 2009 Julius married again, a woman called Katarina, about whom he is reluctant to tell me anything, even what she does for a living (though he will reveal that she has two children). How did they meet? “Through friends.” Were they fixed up? Silence. You remarried quite quickly, I say. You must be a man who likes to be married. “I knew that I wanted to be married to her. I wasn’t looking to be married but I like being married to Katarina. But I don’t really want to say anything about her. Why should she be written about just because I’ve written a book?”
But that book happens to be dedicated to her. “Yes.” It’s a bit peculiar to have a book about antisemitism dedicated to one. “I agree! But it was the only one that was available!”
So is he happy? “Yes, I’m happy… I’m happy.” He sounds tentative but I’m sure he is right – and, if this is at all a sign, he is now at work on not one but two new books. The first will be about Abraham and the binding of Isaac, the second, the Lady Chatterley trial. “A sacred book and a profane book,” he says, with a replete kind of a grin. He throws his arms behind his head. The ordeal, for both of us, is over. All rise.
Trials of the Diaspora by Anthony Julius is published by Oxford University Press, £25, February 2010