Wednesday, 5 September 2018

pressure on trade unionists to adopt the IHRA definition and examples

Dear colleague,

I am writing to ask for your support for the open letter below. As UCU president-elect I’m deeply concerned by the mounting pressure on trade unionists to adopt the IHRA definition and examples and feel it is crucial that there is a broad response to this from across the labour movement. In UCU we are particularly concerned about the threat that the IHRA definition and examples poses to academic freedoms, but I feel this is a much bigger issue which concerns the whole of the trade union movement.

We have a proud tradition in the UK trade unions of both fighting for Palestinian rights and standing firm against racism. In the current context where the far right is now becoming a real threat once again, this letter appeals for unity and solidarity rather than the division and confusion which will result if the IHRA definition is widely adopted.

The aim of this open letter is to circulate with initial signatories as soon as possible, preferably in advance of the outcome of Labour’s NEC meeting tomorrow (or as soon as possible afterwards), but then to broader layers of union members to sign via an online form which I’m going to set up later today.

I’d really appreciate your support for this initiative and would be grateful if you could let me know your thoughts as soon as possible,

Best wishes,
Nita Sanghera, UCU vice-president and president-elect.

Open letter from trade unionists on the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism and examples

We are deeply concerned by the accelerating pressure on the labour movement to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and the associated examples and urge our fellow trade unionists to stand firm in opposition to this divisive move.

Trade unions and the Labour Party must be at the heart of building a movement against racism and fascism, and there is no place for antisemitism, Islamophobia or any other kind of racism in our ranks. In an era when the far-right is growing in confidence it is more important than ever to stand against Holocaust denial, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and any other forms of antisemitic prejudice and hatred.
However, the examples which accompany the IHRA definition systematically conflate opposition to Israel with antisemitism, threatening to undermine many years of practical solidarity with the Palestinian people in the face of decades of dispossession and occupation. We believe it is vitally important that trade unionists can speak out to challenge Israel’s history of racism towards the Palestinians without being labelled as antisemitic.

The IHRA definition and its examples also pose a serious threat to academic freedom. Specifically, there is a wide body of scholarly research and teaching that locates the origins of the state of Israel within the framework of a European colonial settler project. This draws on historical evidence of widely-held racist ideas about the ‘indigenous population’ among Israel’s founders and acts of ethnic cleansing and exclusion in building the new state. Historical interpretations are of course subject to challenge, but the very principles of scholarly research will be under threat if legitimate interpretations of Israel’s founding as “a racist endeavour” are falsely conflated with antisemitism.

We note that the general secretaries of several major trade unions urged Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party to adopt the IHRA definition in full. We do not share their view that compromising over this issue is necessary in order to boost Labour’s chances at the polls.

We pledge to continue the campaign against the adoption of the IHRA definition and examples within our own trade unions, and urge others to do the same in their institutions. What we need is to build unity across the labour movement in the face of the growing threat from the far-right, while remaining uncompromising in our opposition to all forms of racism, and steadfast in our solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Nita Sanghera - UCU Vice president and president-elect
Jane Doolan - Unison NEC (PC)*
Mike Calvert - Unison - Deputy Branch Secretary Islington (PC)
Diana James - Assistant Branch Secretary - Islington (Unison) (PC)
Ian Allinson, Former EC member, Branch chair and NISC member, Unite the union
Sean Vernell - UCU NEC
Carlo Morelli - UCU NEC
Rhiannon Lockley - UCU NEC  -Dudley South CLP
Mandy Brown - UCU NEC - London Regional Secretary - Lambeth College
Chris Jones - UCU NEC
Christina Paine - UCU NEC
Sean Wallis - UCU NEC
Elane Heffernan - UCU NEC
Mark Abel - UCU NEC
Dave Muritu - UCU NEC
Julia Roberts - UCU NEC
John Sullivan - UCU NEC

*Personal capacity

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