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Tribunal slams academic for bringing anti-Semitism case

A Jewish academic who claimed the UCU’s policy on Palestine constituted harassment has been rebuked by an employment tribunal for misusing the legal process

Judge's mallet and legal paperwork

Ronnie Fraser, a further education lecturer and founding director of Academic Friends of Israel, argued that the UCU was institutionally anti-Semitic owing to motions passed in favour of a boycott of Israel.

Despite enlisting the services of Anthony Julius, best known as Diana, Princess of Wales’ divorce lawyer and a partner at Mishcon de Reya, all of his 10 claims of harassment have been “dismissed in their totality”.

During the 20-day hearing in December, Mr Fraser called several witnesses to give evidence, including Howard Jacobson, the Booker Prize winning novelist, John Mann MP, the former MP Denis MacShane and numerous leading Jewish academics.

However, in its judgment, which was published on 25 March, Mr Fraser’s claim is strongly criticised by the tribunal members.

The action is branded by tribunal panel members as “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means” and a case which showed a “worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression”.

Mr Fraser, the child of refugees who fled Nazi Germany, is viewed as a “sincere witness”, but the tribunal notes his “political experience” and are not impressed by his claim that the tone of several debates at the UCU’s annual congress “violated his dignity”, thereby constituting harassment.

“No doubt some of the things said in the course of debates were upsetting, but to say they violated his dignity…is to overstate his case hugely,” the judgment says.

“The claimant [Mr Fraser] is a campaigner,” it adds.

“He chooses to engage in the politics of the union in support of Israel and in opposition to activists to the Palestinian cause.

“When a rugby player takes the field he must accept his fair share of minor injuries. Similarly, a political activist accepts the risk of being offended or hurt on occasions by things said or done by his opponents (who themselves take on a corresponding risk).”

Scorn is also invoked for Mr Julius’s decision to pursue certain points, with complaints variously dismissed as “palpably groundless”, “obviously hopeless” and “devoid of any merit”.

The “sorry saga” had also acquired a “gargantuan scale” that required a 20-day hearing and a 23 volumes of evidence which was “manifestly excessive and disproportionate”, the tribunal adds.

“Our analysis to date has despatched almost the entire case as manifestly unmeritorious,” it concludes.

Several complaints were also made with reference to the wrong act of Parliament, while some were also “out of time” as the incident has occurred too long ago to bring to the tribunal.

The judgment also says public resources had been “squandered” conducting such a long case, while “nor should the [UCU] have been put to the trouble and expense of defending proceedings of this order”.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “This has been an extremely difficult period for the UCU staff and members involved in defending the union’s position and I am especially pleased therefore that the tribunal found our witnesses to be careful and accurate.

“The claimant, while unsuccessful, of course had the right to challenge the union in the courts and will be treated with respect within the union as will his views on this question.

“Now 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.”

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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Readers' comments (20)

  • I'd like to know a little more about the makeup of the Tribunal.

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  • It's too bad that I wasn't called as a witness -- I could have testified to the blatant and open victimization by NATFHE/UCU when I openly opposed the academic boycott and they then cited this as the reason for denying legal assistance. When I then threatened to sue for discrimination, they backtracked and changed their official reason for the denial.

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  • A reminder of the anti-Semitic nature of the boycott movement:
    http://www.thejc.com/news/israel-news/103596/bds-vehicle-destroy-israel-says-new-study

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  • Howard Fredrics seems to know better than the judge, although he wasn’t there. The judge sat through 20 days mostly taken up with a parade of 29 witnesses called by Ronnie Fraser, including MPs Dennis MacShane and John Mann (described as ‘glib’ and ‘arrogant’ by the judge). Jeremy Newmark CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council was found to have given untrue evidence. And so on. UCU’s 5 witnesses on the other hand were noted in the ruling as having given factual, careful and accurate evidence. What it comes down to is that those who see anti-Semitism wherever Israel’s policies are criticised have had their day in court – and lost.

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  • This is a good outcome. I don't support the boycott (despite being a fervent supporter of the rights of Palestinians), but the legal action was woefully misguided.

    As for other commenters here -- one in particular is irrelevant, having departed the UK in disgrace. Perhaps if that person's writing efforts were directed elsewhere, more productively...

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  • @Qorny -- There was no disgrace in my departing following an anti-Semitic assault against my wife accompanied by death threats in which the assailant said, "Jewish lives are worth nothing to us [Hizb ut Tahrir]." It was because the UK refused to provide protection to us that we were forced to flee for our lives. Perhaps you should do some research into the witness statements and police correspondence surrounding what happened before you make comments such as what you have made.

    As far as my knowledge of the Fraser case is concerned, I've been kept in the loop about its developments since before the case was even filed, so I think I do know a bit more that you give me credit for knowing. Let me leave it at that.

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  • Para. 150 of the decision is not in anyway a legal element of judgment. It states that Zionism is not an intrinsic part of Judaism. To state that is not only factually wrong (the links between the people of Israel and its homeland was fashioned from the outset) but historically incorrect (the Jewish people always sought - and succeeded - in returning to its land. Zionism is the modern expression of a 3000 year old religious tenet.

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  • I found the following attack in the judgement on Ronnie Fraser quite bizarre.

    “The claimant [Mr Fraser] is a campaigner,”

    “He chooses to engage in the politics of the union in support of Israel and in opposition to activists to the Palestinian cause.

    “When a rugby player takes the field he must accept his fair share of minor injuries. Similarly, a political activist accepts the risk of being offended or hurt on occasions by things said or done by his opponents (who themselves take on a corresponding risk).”

    This is a very perverse claim - that because Ronnie Fraser pursued his case, he was a "campaigner" who didnt have any grounds for complaint if he suffered abuse. It's effectively saying that a Jew who complains about abuse deserves abuse.

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  • Yisrael is precisely correct. In fact the Torah itself is filled with references to Jerusalem. Indeed, the Jewish Passover Seder and Yom Kippur service both conclude with the reciting of the words, "Next year in Jerusalem." Moreover, Jews have inhabited the land continuously, even during periods when many were driven into exile.

    A judge who does not recognize or understand the intrinsic connection between Judaism and Zionism is not qualified to sit in judgment of such a case.

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  • In the spirit of full disclosure, I offer the following biographical note about Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, a pro-boycott "activist" who posts above in disparagement of Mr Fraser and his witnesses:

    Professor Jonathan Rosenhead is chair of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) which is the main organisation in the UK supporting the academic and cultural boycotts of Israel, it parallels PACBI in Palestine. Professor Rosenhead is also an activist, taking part in the flotilla, sailing to Gaza to break the Israeli seige.

    Source: http://www.inminds.com/article.php?id=10526

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