Kate Green

By adopting IHRA, universities would show leadership on tackling antisemitism

Higher education has a unique role to play in the fight against anti-Jewish racism

December 04, 2020 17:33

Universities are leaders in their local communities. At some universities, 50 per cent of the student body comes from the local area. They are large employers and contribute through civic engagement, with over 50 institutions having signed the Civic University Agreement. Academically, socially and morally, years spent at university help shape students’ values and outlooks.

In taking steps to reject antisemitism and antisemitic views in society, universities have a clear role to play. The Union of Jewish Students reported earlier this year that just a fifth of UK universities had adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Seventeen planned to discuss adoption at a formal meeting – and some have since adopted the definition – but a further 80 reported no plans to take action. This needs to change.

Universities gave several reasons for not adopting the definition, the most frequently discussed being protection of academic free speech. I understand the importance of freedom of speech and thought in our universities.  However, freedom of expression does not mean freedom to abuse. Any university with concerns should look to their peers, world-leading institutions which have adopted the definition, recognising it is not a barrier to free speech but a framework in which to recognise and react promptly to antisemitism, in any form, whenever it may occur.

I am pleased to say that this is a cross-party issue. The Office for Students – the regulatory body for UK universities – has announced that it will explore what practical steps can be taken to ensure wider adoption of the IHRA definition across universities. This includes the possibility of placing further conditions on funding. I sincerely hope such unwelcome action is not needed, and that universities recognise that failing to adopt the definition is letting down their students, staff and the wider communities that they serve.

Adopting the IHRA definition and all of its examples is a first step, but universities should also review practices to ensure that all students are able to participate fully. Teaching or lecturing on Saturdays and hosting of university events on Friday nights creates unnecessary barriers to participation for Jewish students. 

Labour is committed to widening access to all aspects of university life for any student who wants and can benefit from it. This means ensuring that all students feel safe on campus, can engage in academic and student societies, and enjoy the world-class experience that our universities have to offer. Reports of Jewish students having to pay security costs for events, receiving verbal abuse or worse on campus run counter to our vision for education and the society the next Labour government wants to build.

Under Keir Starmer’s leadership, the Labour Party is working to eradicate antisemitism within our movement. We can only do this by listening to and engaging with the Jewish community. I urge universities to take this opportunity to show their commitment to tackling antisemitism throughout society and adopting the IHRA definition and examples as a first step on this path.

Kate Green MP is Shadow Secretary of State for Education


December 04, 2020 17:33

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