TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION -- 27 MARCH 2013 | BY JACK GROVE
A Jewish academic who claimed the University and College Union’s policy on Palestine constituted harassment has been rebuked by an employment tribunal for misusing the legal process.
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.”