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London university board urges it to drop IHRA definition of anti-Semitism

February 12, 2021 at 1:11 pm

Protest against the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in London, UK on 4 September 2018 [Jack Taylor/Getty Images]

UCL’s Academic Board has today voted in favour of urging the university council to retract its adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism as it “is not for purpose within a university setting and has no legal basis for enforcement.”

The vote came following a detailed study of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. The Working Group tasked with this released its findings in December, saying it is their “considered judgement that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism is not fit for purpose in a university setting, and that UCL’s symbolic adoption of this confusing and ambiguous document will be of little help in addressing the serious problem of antisemitism in our community; indeed, it may in some ways complicate and undermine it.”

UCL had adopted the definition in 2019, but the Working Group warned: “In terms of its educational value, the growing body of scholarly evidence suggests that the IHRA working definition obfuscates rather than clarifies the meaning of antisemitism, and may in fact make it harder to identify and understand how antisemitism works.”

Adding: “As we have examined in detail, the working definition potentially conflates statements critical of the State of Israel with antisemitism. By blurring these boundaries, the IHRA working definition risks undermining academic freedom at UCL.”

In a statement following the vote, UCL said: “The decision to adopt the IHRA was passed by an overwhelming majority of UCL’s Council – the university’s governing body – as part of its commitment to drive race equality and tackle discrimination along with other action to raise awareness and understanding of different forms of racism.”

“A meeting of UCL’s Academic Board voted to make an advisory recommendation to Council to find an alternative definition to the IHRA. Council 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.” Stressing that “IHRA remains in place” during this time.

UCL’s Working Group is the latest to speak out against the IHRA document, after British lawyers and judges warned against adopting the definition earlier this year. Groups and institutions who have also opposed it include the Institute of Race Relations; eminent lawyers including ex-Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley; civil rights organisation Liberty; leading academic experts on anti-Semitism Antony Lerman and Brian Klug; 40 global Jewish social justice organisations; and more than 80 UK-based BAME groups. Moreover, Kenneth Stern, an author of the IHRA definition, has expressed deep concern at its use to suppress criticism of Israel on university campuses.

READ: British academics reject UK government’s ‘working definition of antisemitism’