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UK Government Minister calls for universities to adopt new anti-Semitism definition

Stand up to racism: The Government plans to enforce the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Source: Alisdare Hickson (via Wikimedia)

By Olly Davies

Earlier this week the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, spoke of the importance for universities and local councils to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, something which campaigners perceive to be vital for rooting out anti-Jewish racism within the higher education system, and allegedly threatened to withhold funding from universities who refuse to adopt the definition.

The Communities Secretary said: “The Government is committed to legislating to ban so-called Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) by public bodies…[because] its obsession with Israel is disturbing as anti-Zionism is merely the latest form of anti-Semitism.”

In a recent article for the Huffington Post, Jenrick wrote: “Over 115 councils” have already adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, however, overall there are 343 councils in England which means less than half have decided to adopt the definition.

Subsequently, it has been reported by the Times that Jenrick will name those bodies who explicitly refused to accept the IHRA definition in the coming weeks.

As well as publicising local authorities and universities who do not conform, the Minister has allegedly said: “Organisations like these should not expect to receive public money if they cannot demonstrate that they are fighting antisemitism.” However, he has also written “organisations should not accept public money, but decline the IHRA definition.” Thus, it is not quite clear how public funding will be withheld from these organisations.

This announcement comes as Jenrick unveiled that the Government plans to increase funding to help “educate university students and academics in the horrors of the Holocaust”. Apparently, a £500,000 fund will pay for 150 student leaders to travel to Auschwitz-Birkenau to hear from survivors and through seminars, the students will share their experiences of the trip. It is hoped that around 24,000 students will, therefore, gain a deeper understanding of anti-Semitism, both past and present.

The programme will be delivered by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) in partnership with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and is an expansion of a former scheme which identified 30 UK universities with reports of high levels of anti-Semitism or racism.

This issue has affected both Warwick and Bristol University. The Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University, Professor Stuart, has declined to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism because believes it does not give  “any added value” to understanding the issue. In a statement to the President of the Warwick’s Jewish Society, Stuart declared that the University will not “formally adopt individual definitions of specific forms of discriminatory behaviour” because “to adopt one would inevitably lead to the adoption of a whole series of such definitions.” This is a decision which has left those concerned “deeply disappointed” and they hope for an immediate reversal by the University.

At Bristol University, the 100 member Student Senate also removed specific examples of “Jew hate” from the IHRA definition. The issue seemed to focus on the rejection of “how attacks on Israel can cross into Jew-hate”. The amended definition was passed to the University’s Board of Trustees for adoption but left many students feeling ignored by the University. Bristol University’s Jsoc therefore protested the Senate meeting and even involved Daniel Kosky, a Union of Jewish Students Campaigns Officer. After mounting pressure and backlash, the University has subsequently accepted the full terms of the IHRA definition.

Will Cardiff University be adopting the definition? A spokesperson for the University has told Gair Rhydd: “Over the last 12 months the University has undergone consultation of the Religion and Belief Policy and this includes a discussion on the definition raised. The document is still under review through our governance structures. The University has not been informed that funding for the Higher Education sector is being reviewed based on adoption of the IHRA definition. We will continue to work with our regulating body, HEFCW, to ensure we meet their requirements.”

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