Bongani Masuku, hate speech and the University and College Union

8 Dec 2009 by CST

A statement from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council

As British Jewish community organisations, we believe that racism in all its forms must be confronted. We have a history of working together with allies throughout British civil society, to foster an atmosphere of tolerance and respect where racists are unable to succeed.

We are appalled that the University and College Union (UCU) brought Bongani Masuku to Britain. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) recently found that Mr. Masuku’s statements amounted to hate speech against Jews and Israelis. Furthermore, the SAHRC found that he "surely intended to incite violence and hatred”.

UCU hosted Mr Masuku, the International Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, as a participant in a ‘private’ conference on boycotting Israel. During his visit to the UK for this conference, Mr Masuku is also touring the country to promote a boycott of Israel on university campuses.

As the largest Union in Further and Higher Education and a self-proclaimed campaigner against racism, it is irresponsible and grossly offensive of UCU to bring Bongani Masuku to the UK, given his track record.

UCU has chosen to connect its boycott activities to antisemitism by hosting a man who was found to have engaged in hate speech against Jews. It was unacceptable for UCU to ignore Mr Masuku’s well-publicised remarks before choosing to invite him.  The scornful dismissal by UCU of Jewish concerns over the presence of Masuku on British campuses is simply not good enough.

Every year since it was founded, UCU’s Congress has voted to boycott Israeli academics. As well as harming both Israelis and Palestinians and putting up unnecessary barriers to peace, such a boycott effectively discriminates against Jews, both in Israel and in the UK. UCU’s own legal advice says that a boycott of Israeli academics “run[s] a serious risk of infringing discrimination legislation” and “would be unlawful and cannot be implemented”.

Given this, UCU’s decision to organise and fund an Israeli boycott conference is bizarre in the extreme.  A UCU invitation to Mr Masuku, presumably to share his experience and expertise on the boycott is especially troubling as, in addition to the recent SAHRC finding, he has called for the targeting of “any business owned by Israel supporters” in South Africa – a term that includes most Jewish-owned businesses.

UCU’s hosting of Masuku and their refusal to engage with the concerns of the Jewish community follows a pattern: the Union refused to address the resignations of large numbers of Jewish academics from UCU in recent years, and summarily rejected members’ complaints of antisemitism. UCU has allowed its politics on Israel to override the concerns of its Jewish members and students. It appears that UCU simply does not care about the anti-Jewish impact of its activities.

It is now hard to see how UCU can continue to play a constructive role in the Government Group on Antisemitism and Higher Education when its latest actions are likely to encourage antisemitism. The Government should review UCU’s membership of this group as it has failed to oppose antisemitism inside its own structures. UCU cannot credibly be a part of the solution to antisemitism while its activities are encouraging the problem.


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