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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

British scientists resign from "anti-semitic" union

From the Washington Post education blog:

Denis Noble is an Oxford University biologist with a global reputation in the scientific community. He resigned from England’s University and College Union, saying the organization was either anti-Semitic or tolerated it.

Noble held the Burdon Sanderson Chair of Cardiovascular Physiology at Oxford University from 1984-2004 and is now professor emeritus and co-director of Computational Physiology. He is one of the pioneers of Systems Biology and developed the first viable mathematical model of the working heart in 1960. Here is Noble’s open resignation letter, addressed to Sally Hunt, general secretary of the union, and published in the Oxford magazine:

Dear Sally

I joined the AUT nearly 50 years ago as a young assistant lecturer at University College London. When I retired from my Oxford professorship in 2004 I chose to retain my membership – although I no longer stood to gain from the union’s negotiating any improvements in salary or conditions of service – because I believe in trade unions and thought that by remaining a member I would, in some small measure, help colleagues. But the behaviour of UCU over the past several years has made it impossible for me to continue, and I now resign my membership.

In a letter I wrote to you over a year ago, which has remained unanswered and unacknowledged, I said that UCU’s repeated conference decisions to discriminate against certain colleagues (Israelis) on the grounds of their nationality were unacceptable. Such discrimination is contrary to the universally recognised norms of academic practice, as set out (for example) in the Statutes of the International Council of Science (ICSU). I also sent a letter as President of IUPS, which adheres to ICSU. Nobody in the world of learning can take seriously a professional organisation that purports to represent academic staff but which entertains proposals to discriminate whether it be on grounds of sex, race, national origin or other characteristics that are irrelevant to academic excellence. Nonetheless our union has voted repeatedly in favour of such discrimination, and those who have been discriminated against are always Israelis. The wording of the discriminatory resolutions has sometimes been contorted for legal reasons, but the intention has been transparent: to hold Israeli colleagues responsible for, and punish them for, the actions of their government via a type of reasoning (guilt by association) that is never applied to the academics of any other country. Of course, I accept that the Israeli government is guilty of human-rights violations, and I accept that the union is entitled to criticise it. But many other governments in the world are also guilty of human-rights violations, often far more egregious than those committed by Israel, and yet Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) have never been endorsed by the Annual Congress of UCU against any other country.

It is instructive to compare the motion about China adopted by Congress at its 2010 meeting with one of those about Israel. (I choose these examples because both countries have been in occupation of the territories of a different ethnic group for many years and both have encouraged their citizens to settle in the territories thus occupied). The motion on China, while asserting that UCU “will continue to condemn abuses of human rights of trade unionists and others”, recognised “the need to encourage collegial dialogue” with Chinese institutions. By contrast, a motion on Israel approved in the same session of Congress reaffirmed its support for BDS, sought to establish an annual international conference on BDS and a BDS website, and severed all relations with the Histadrut, the Israeli counterpart to the TUC. There are many countries in the world whose governments are guilty of atrocities: there is no other country in the world whose national trade union organisation is boycotted by UCU.

I find it impossible not to ask myself why UCU exhibits this obsession with Israel. The obvious explanation – that the union is institutionally anti-semitic – is so unpleasant that I have till recently been unwilling to accept it, but I changed my mind after witnessing the fate at the 2010 Congress of the motion of my local branch (University of Oxford) about Bongani Masuku. As you know, Masuku was invited to a meeting on BDS hosted by the union in London last December. Some months earlier, he had made a speech during a rally at the University of the Witwatersrand. This speech has been described by the South African Human Rights Commission (the body set up by the Constitution to promote inter-racial harmony after the end of apartheid) as including “numerous anti-semitic remarks which were seen to have incited violence and hatred”. The Oxford motion debated at Congress did not allege that the union invited Masuku despite knowing his views; instead it merely invited Congress to dissociate itself from Masuku’s views. This was the minimum that UCU could be expected to do to reassure members like me that we still belong. That this motion was rejected by a large majority makes it clear to me that the union either regards anti-semitic views as acceptable or, at least, has no objection to their being expressed in public by the national official of a fraternal trade union organisation. I do not wish to remain a member of such a union.

Yours sincerely

Denis Noble CBE, FRS


Michael Yudkin and David Smith, also Oxford scientists with global reputations, have joined their colleague in resignation, with a letter in the Oxford magazine:

Sir – Like Denis Noble, we have been a member of UCU and its predecessor AUT, for more than 40 years. Like him, we remained a member after retiring a few years ago from our University posts.

The facts set out in Denis’s letter to Sally Hunt show beyond dispute that UCU is now institutionally anti-semitic. We too have resigned our membership of the union.

Yours Sincerely
Michael Yudkin, Kellogg College
David Smith, Department of Pharmacology

Another earlier speech to the UCU, by David Hirsh, spells out in great detail many, many examples of institutional anti-Israel and anti-semitic actions and words by the UCU as well as excerpts from others who have resigned because of its policies.

(h/t Callie)