Definition of anti-semitism
The University College London’s (UCL) Academic Board has recommending to the university’s governing body, the Council, that it cease using the IHRA’s (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-semitism.
Palestinian critics of the IHRA definition have previously argued that the “anti-Palestinian” definition “shields Israel’s far-right regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid from effective measures of accountability in accordance to international law.”
The Board’s claim focused on the definition’s stifling of academic freedom. It was adopted by the Council in 2019.
A statement from UCL’s University and College Union (UCU) trade union branch says that “UCL’s decision [to adopt the IHRA definition] comes against a background where the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, has placed ‘illegitimate pressure’ on universities to adopt the working definition, with threats of withdrawing funding should they refuse.”
“Significant sections of the Jewish community globally such as the largest Jewish denomination in the US, the Jewish Reform movement have said that enforcing this definition in law is not acceptable”, said the UCU branch’s statement, “as has the author of the definition, Kenneth Stern, and the new chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and a group of Israeli academics in UK universities who criticise the adoption for restricting their rights to criticise their own state”, it continued.
UCL is one the world’s leading universities. UCL’s Academic Board consists of over1500 members.
The Board’s decision follows the recent release of a report that it commissioned, ‘to provide expert advice to Academic Board on the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism’.
The report found that “by pursuing adoption of the IHRA working definition UCL as an institution may have absolved itself from its responsibility to enforce existing policies and procedures for combatting racism and prejudice, while simultaneously failing to safeguard academic freedom.”
“The vote is unambiguous”, said UCU’s statement, “ranking ‘Retract-and-replace’ as number 1 preference, ‘Retract altogether’ as number 2, ‘Amend’ as number 3, and ‘Retain’ as 4.”
UCL’s governing Council has said that it “will now consider this recommendation and will continue to consult and listen to the views of the entire UCL community on this and other issues.” The Palestine Solidarity Campaign welcomed UCL’s Academic Board’s recommendation.