I first met Ronnie Fraser, an unassuming lecturer in mathematics at one of London's further education colleges, in 2002. Sitting at a table in a small central London cafe, Ronnie barely sipped the cappuccino in front of him as he laid out for me, in urgent tones, the growing support among British academics for a boycott of their Israeli colleagues, along with the vicious strain of anti-Semitism underlying their campaign.
I can admit, now, that a large part of me wanted to believe that Ronnie was exaggerating. The boycott was certainly wrong and definitely misguided, but could one really argue that British academics, six decades after the Holocaust, were trafficking in the kinds of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that would not have been out of place in the pages of Der Sturmer?
The answer, in short, was yes. As it turned out, Ronnie's prognosis was entirely correct; not only did the academic boycott of Israelis become the most pressing concern inside the leftist-dominated University and College Union (UCU), it did so in ways that led many of its Jewish members to conclude that they themselves were its principal target. And so, from 2005 onwards, a motion to implement, extend and refine a boycott of Israel's academic sector became a fixture at the annual conferences of the UCU, which were transformed into festivals of anti-Semitic bombast. To give one example, as pro-Israel academics mused over the prospect of a legal challenge to the boycott, one boycott advocate, a faculty member at London University's prestigious University College, declared that any legal action would be financed by those with "bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can't be tracked down." A neo-Nazi couldn't have put it more venomously.
Nonetheless, Ronnie Fraser never shied away from confronting this toxicity head-on. This week, he brought his case to an employment tribunal, charging that the boycott amounted to a breach of Britain's anti-discrimination legislation. The Jewish Chronicle today reports:
A Jewish academic repeatedly broke down in tears as he told an employment tribunal that he had suffered a decade of harassment while opposing a boycott of Israel.
Maths lecturer Ronnie Fraser, whose parents escaped Nazi Germany, said he felt a special responsibility to challenge the University and College Union after it rejected a widely-accepted definition of antisemitism.
The grandfather-of-nine wept as he took the oath at London's Central Employment Tribunal on Wednesday. He said he had felt threatened by the union's anti-Israel policies and a catalogue of events that had left him "hurt, upset and insulted".
"This case is not about Israel-Palestine. It's not about me. It's about fellow Jews. We have been forced out. We have been humiliated. It has been horrendous and relentless against us," he said.
Later the tribunal was briefly halted when Mr Fraser again wept while explaining how he believed his grandparents had been killed at Auschwitz.
"They died as a result of antisemitism and this is my way of saying 'never again'. I don't want my four children and grandchildren having to suffer what they did," he said.
The significance of Ronnie Fraser's action is simply explained. For more than a decade, anti-Semitic hate speech has cowered behind the imperative, as boycott advocates would have it, of engaging in "solidarity" with the Palestinians. By raising his complaint within a legal forum, Ronnie's aim is to expose the true nature of this sordid rhetoric.
Win or lose, Ronnie Fraser is truly deserving of the designation of a hero. With little more than a modest lecturer's salary to support him, he has flung himself into the frontline battle against anti-Semitism, thereby achieving more than all the established Jewish communal organizations, particularly here in America, combined. As "Engage," another brave organization fighting the boycott, noted in its report of Ronnie's remarkable speech to the UCU last year, his remarks to an audience filled with boycott advocates were met with "stony silence." If any notion of justice still prevails in the United Kingdom, the employment tribunal cannot afford to react similarly.