On the University and College Union linking to racists

I haven’t looked at the UCU Activist List for weeks. You have to be in a resolute state of mind, and hey I’ve been on holiday. There’s the normal day-to-day stuff about terms, conditions, pay, game plans, helping international trade unionists in trouble and so on – and then there’s the ongoing highly aggressive argument that the boycotters keep stoked up on the subject of how utterly condemnable and contemptible Israel is, evidenced by polemic. (UCU isn’t the only organisation which suffers from this disfigurement incidentally – the Greens are another and there are plenty more.)

So I missed an activist linking to an article by 9/11 conspiracy theorist Joe Quinn (insinuates that Israelis were responsible and cites David Irving) on the site of the ultra racist David Duke and then, along with others, trying to make excuses for it – as if it were a simple isolated mistake which had caused an inexplicable over-reaction. As if there hadn’t been a sustained campaign against only Israel carried out in ways which have been worrying and provoking Jews in and beyond the union for years. As if the complaints to the union about antisemitism had not been treated as insignificant by the UCU. Kind of as if, if you liked reading stuff posted by David Duke without quite twigging that David Duke is racist, then your conscience was clear and you didn’t have any work to do on yourself.

Modernity questions whether it is really all that difficult to avoid linking to far right sources and has produced some sound and comprehensive guidelines of his own. I think they should be recommended reading for people who want to criticise Israel towards some end or other, because so much of what passes for, and claims to be, criticism stumbles into Duke-like essentialising demonisation phrased in civil language.

That Mod’s pieces of advice should not be old news to this bunch of self-righteous boycott enthusiast educators and trade unionists is another sign that UCU has a hollow core where its heart should be. But they aren’t old news and self-evident as they seem to me, they will raise questions with the offending activists and their sympathisers. Don’t forget, this boycott campaign has always depended on essentialisation.

By way of an aside, I left a comment on Mod’s post wondering how important it is to check the credentials of an author – or rather, I was wondering if it might be more important to check the site you’re linking to for precisely the kind of poison that’s on David Duke’s site (so the UCU Activist who linked to David Duke without any commentary was seriously irresponsible). For example, I link now and again to the sayings of people like Koestler or Jabotinsky, people who for good reason are violently contested. I acknowledge this but I don’t want to throw out their good opinions with their bad ones, and I don’t think their bad opinions contaminate their good ones. I don’t think people are curates eggs – only as good as their bad bits. Some – most? – people are unemulsified oil-and-water mixtures. I also think that, the Web being the Web, we write smaller, more discrete pieces, often responsove, and not intended as a cohesive body of work. They are often found via a keyword rather than author search. This suggests that we should write pieces which stand alone in representing us, and that we should take each piece, article, or sequence of comments – on their own merit.

So, applying this principle to the UCU Activist’s List, we should recognise a post which condemns Israel unequivocally for its role in its conflict with the Palestinians but which doesn’t touch on, or otherwise refer the reader to material on, the role of Israel’s adversaries, as biased. Ditto the opposite (though this is extremely rare on the list).

I think Modernity’s point though related to the fact that there are some writers whose sole project is racist, or who are notoriously biased, and that it is alright to reject their contribution on sight. I think he is right – life is too short to give the benefit of the doubt to these people.

See also David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Ben Cohen and David T. These people have mentioned in other pieces that they are Jewish. One question – if again and again it falls overwhelmingly to Jews to raise the alarm about this kind of corrosion at the centre of an organisation which claims to be anti-racist is it any wonder that Israel is seen by so many non-Israeli Jews as a bolt-hole – a place of refuge if the struggle against antisemitism is lost?

When UCU, in the knowledge that many Jews feel victimised by their own trade union, fails to act on something like this it becomes regrettable but appropriate to shine some light on it. None of the complaints members have made about antisemitism have been upheld. What else is there to do? To continue as normal is to tolerate and normalise racism.

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