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  • March 29, 2013

    British justice denies Jewish self-determination

    How British Justice Failed Ronnie Fraser

    By Ben Cohen, Commentary

    On Monday night, as Jews around the world sat down for the first seder of the Passover holiday, anti-Zionists in the United Kingdom and elsewhere held a very different celebration to mark the comprehensive dismissal of a discrimination case brought by Ronnie Fraser, a Jewish math teacher, to an employment tribunal in London.

    As I reported back in November, Fraser’s courageous battle against anti-Semitism in the labor union to which he belongs, the University and College Union (UCU), propelled him into a courtroom showdown with the advocates of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education. Fraser’s argument rested on the contention that the union’s obsessive pursuit of a boycott negatively impacted its Jewish members. A series of ugly episodes–among them the posting of a claim, on a private listserv run by the UCU, that millions of dollars from the failed Lehman Brothers’ bank were transferred to Israel, as well as the address given by a leading South African anti-Semite, Bongani Masuku, to a UCU conference–convinced both Fraser and his lawyer, the prominent scholar of anti-Semitism Anthony Julius, that the union had become institutionally anti-Semitic and was therefore in violation of British laws protecting religious and ethnic minorities.

    The tribunal’s judges, however, didn’t agree, issuing what London’sJewish Chronicle described as a “blistering rejection” of the entire case. As the news spread, anti-Semites on the far left and extreme right crowed that the verdict was a “crushing defeat” for the “Israel lobby” (in the words of the Electronic Intifada) and the just deserts of a “whiny Jew” (in the inimitable phrase of the neo-Nazi bulletin board, Stormfront). The miniscule Jewish anti-Zionist organization Jews for Justice for Palestinians dutifully lined up behind this chorus, declaring that Fraser’s “mission” to prove himself a “victim” had failed.

    Why did the Fraser case collapse in such spectacular fashion? In part, the problems were technical and procedural; several passages in the verdict argued that the UCU’s officers were not themselves responsible for the specific instances of anti-Semitism Fraser’s complaints highlighted, while another lazily bemoaned the “gargantuan scale” of the case, asserting that it was wrong of Julius and Fraser to abuse the “limited resources” of the “hard-pressed public service” that is a British employment tribunal. The verdict also contained extraordinary personal attacks on the integrity of Fraser’s witnesses, among them Jewish communal leader Jeremy Newmark and Labor Party parliamentarian John Mann, and even insinuated that the plain-speaking Fraser was unwittingly being used as a vassal by the articulate and florid Julius!

    Ultimately, though, highly partisan political considerations decided the outcome. After dismissing all 10 of Fraser’s complaints as an “impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litiginous means,” the honorable judges then leveled some acutely politicized accusations of their own. Fraser and his supporters were accused of showing a “worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression.” Their broader conclusion, that it “would be very unfortunate if an exercise of this sort were ever repeated,” is clearly designed to discourage other potential plaintiffs from pursuing complaints against the UCU.

    Most disturbing of all is paragraph 150 of the verdict, which will doubtless become shorthand for one of the most insidious attempts to redefine anti-Semitism ever devised. After accepting that British law does protect “Jewishness” as a characteristic of individuals, the judges went on to say that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel … cannot amount to a protected characteristic.”

    This excerpt of the verdict should not be understood as protecting the rights of anti-Zionists to free speech. It is, rather, about protecting anti-Zionists from accusations of anti-Semitism by arguing that anti-Zionism is, by definition, not anti-Semitic.

    Of course, elsewhere in the verdict, opposition to Zionism is conflated with “criticism of Israel,” which has the neat effect of making Fraser and those who think like him–as Julius pointed out, a clear majority of Jews–appear radically intolerant. But when the core themes of anti-Zionism are unmasked–the denial, uniquely to the Jews, of the right of self-determination, the portrayal of Israel as a racist, and therefore illegitimate, state, the presentation of the Palestinians as victims of a second Holocaust, and the use of the term “Zionist” as a codeword for “Jew”–we move far beyond the domain of permissible policy criticism into open defamation.

    More fundamentally, the verdict denies Jews the right to determine those elements that comprise their identity and leaves the definition of what constitutes anti-Semitism to (often hostile) non-Jews. (As I argued in a February 2012 COMMENTARY essay, that has been the case ever since the term was first coined in the 1870s.) As Fraser himself noted in a statement emailed after the verdict was delivered, “[F]or the court to say that, as Jews, we do not have an attachment to Israel is disappointing, considering we have been yearning for Israel for 2000 years and it has been in our prayers all that time.” Fraser added that the verdict “highlighted the need for Anglo-Jewry to urgently adopt and publicize its own definition of antisemitism.”

    The lesson of the Fraser debacle is simply this: a single employment tribunal in the United Kingdom has created a precedent which will be invoked by every Jew-baiter around the globe; namely, that when Jews raise the question of anti-Semitism in the context of visceral hostility toward Israel, they do so in bad faith. That such a bigoted principle can be established in a democracy famed for its enlightened judicial methods is, perhaps, the most shocking realization of all.

    So, yes, Ronnie Fraser was defeated. But so too was British justice and fair play.

    Posted by Ted Belman @ 6:17 am | 5 Comments »
  • 5 Comments to British justice denies Jewish self-determination

    1. Bernard Ross says:

      Fraser’s argument rested on the contention that the union’s obsessive pursuit of a boycott negatively impacted its Jewish members.

      it would have been nice if the author had elaborated on how they attempted to prove their case from a legal point of view. One can’t tell if they presented a poor case,or whether the case was weak in law by its nature, or….? I am unclear as to what legal issues were breached.

    2. The lesson of the Fraser debacle is simply this: a single employment tribunal in the United Kingdom has created a precedent which will be invoked by every Jew-baiter around the globe; namely, that when Jews raise the question of anti-Semitism in the context of visceral hostility toward Israel, they do so in bad faith. That such a bigoted principle can be established in a democracy famed for its enlightened judicial methods is, perhaps, the most shocking realization of all.

      Tribunals don’t tend to set precedents.

      It would be helpful if the author went into some detail about how the case was conducted and linked to a copy of the judgement.
      From the sound of it, the Tribunal may have erred at Law and can thus be Judicially reviewed.

      If that was successful, that could set an important precedent.

    3. Bill says:

      How is it that the E.U. definition of anti-Semitism, which includes specific clauses involving the State of Israel, was not invoked?

    4. Leon Kushner says:

      One can argue that the British invented anti-Semitism. Either way, many Englishmen, especially those in power, certainly had a deep hatred for the Jewish people. That hatred may have gone underground in recent years but it never went away. From time to time it rears its ugly head. This is just one more such time. The fact that Arab and Muslim immigrants have moved to England en mass certainly helps to legitimize this long standing hatred of Jews and Israel. Of course anyone hating Israel is also an anti-Semite! It would be like saying I hate the Koran but I have nothing against Muslims. Or rather more correctly, I hate the Koran, so I therefore hate anyone who believes in it, but I have nothing against Muslims.
      Trying to separate Israel from Judaism is ridiculous. Criticizing some of Israel’s policies is quite legitimate as long as its in line with criticism of equal proportion with other states. In other words if one only criticizes Israel’s policies and is mute about all other states, that my friends is clearly anti-Semitism.

      My heart goes out to Mr. Fraser. I myself and some of my friends right here in Toronto have had similar battles and for the most part, we have lost! Sadly, most of these battles are not reported. As I write this note, one of Toronto’s universities, York University just passed a referendum by the student union to confirm that Israel is an apartheid state and that the university should comply with the BDS movement. The fact that its president is a Muslim, might have something to do with it.

      I’m afraid that this verdict will enforce the already scared Jewish minority in England to become more introverted. I would suggest that this small minority run, not walk, away from England. It, like it’s immigrants has become morally bankrupt and their problems will only get worse over time.

    5. Bernard Ross says:

      I would like to see billboards in england stating :

      Anti semitism is increasing in the UK and Europe to dangerous levels,
      this will not improve as the demographics indicate that todays anti semites willl increase in numbers.
      The govt is doing little to mitigate these dangers, they finance organizations who aid anti semitism and the killing of jews,
      they designate an organization’s military wing as terrorist but allow that organization’s political wing to collect funds which goes to killing Jews.
      British cultural institutions are becoming increasingly anti semitic under the guise of the code word anti zionsim.
      Make aliyah to Israel and end the millenia of danger to Jews in europe and the UK!
      There is a better final solution than that which is repeatedly offered in Europe

      The state of Israel cannot do such a thing as it would be deemed meddling in internal affairs. However, an independent jewish organization can do this. the europeans should clearly see how their actioons are seen by jews outside.

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