Senate Discussion: IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

We’d like to give you an update on an issue that we think is becoming very critical in recent months: the IHRA definition of antisemitism. We’re sure all of you know how complicated this issue is and we know that many of you have different opinions and concerns as to these complexities, the long held debates (both within and beyond the university), the legitimate and illegitimate arguments on both sides, etc.

We also understand that a consultative survey has been circulated to gain feedback from staff and students before this issue is taken back to Council. This is great news! For context, in lieu of the possible financial penalisation accrued from the government, university management initially decided to funnel this definition through as a ‘governance issue’. Meaning that it was only subject to a discussion concerning its manner of implementation into university structures, and not to any critical debate as to the viability of the definition itself for staff and students. It is only due to the great work carried out by the members of Senate that it this critical discussion has now been given space to occur.

As a committee, we have significant concerns over the adoption of any IHRA definition in any of its forms (with or without the more recent modifications made by the Home Affairs Select Committee). This is due to, 

  • Concern that it will restrict the capacity for carrying out nuanced and necessary research into racism, antisemitism, the Israel/Palestine conflict, etc, as well as inhibit academic autonomy in a larger sense. 
  • Concern that the definition is vague in language and lacking in content, mischaracterises antisemitism, conflates antisemitism with valid criticism of Israel. All of which makes the definition virtually unusable.
  • Concern that it doesn’t have the unified support of Jewish communities. 

We, like Senate, are keen to explore alternative definitions. We feel that the JDA definition, in particular, contains a far more balanced, concrete and usable set of guidelines for effectively dealing with cases antisemitism within our institution.

We also would like to make the point that, if these conversations concerning definitions are being raised in correlation to an ingrained systemic problem within institutional structures (as we’re sure they are), then this would be a great opportunity for management to reflect on the university’s provisions and approach to harassment and discrimination in the more general sense. Regardless of any definition adopted, harassment and discrimination provision needs to be better. Staff and students need to feel safe in their workspaces and know that, when they raise harassment and discrimination allegations, they will be taken seriously and in ways that meaningfully resolve the situation.

This IHRA definition has been tagged for a discussion at a JSNCC meeting this Wednesday and so we are keen to hear from members. Please email any feedback to the committee. 

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