Lord Mann

The IHRA definition should not be used to ban free speech - and that includes Ken Loach

Lord Mann, the government's independent adviser on antisemitism, says IHRA is a vital tool but must not be abused in seeking to ban people with whom we disagree

February 10, 2021 16:02

The clue is in the title. It is the International Holocaust Alliance definition of antisemitism that has been agreed and adopted by democracies across the world. Understanding what it is and what it is not is therefore important.

For Jewish communities and for the country it is vitally important that Jewish students have confidence that their university life will be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience.  Any impingements on this should be regarded as wholly unacceptable by their university.   

 We have good statute in this country to deal with criminal transgressions, but most of the campus and university issues do not cross over the criminal threshold. For a Jewish student, being shunned and ostracised for being oneself can be a demoralising restriction on liberty and being fearful of expressing one’s own  identity, including one’s own Zionist identity, is a discrimination and discomfort that is too readily dismissed.  

 In this, IHRA adds value, to ensure that consideration is always given to the consequences of behaviour and action. IHRA complements our existing laws and university protocols and systems.   

The Jewish community has never been afraid of democratic debate, indeed the community seems to relish it. Students, including Jewish students, are entitled to be discomforted and challenged by different ideas and perspectives and this is an essential part of university life.  

The IHRA definition of antisemitism does not and should not be used to restrict academic freedom of speech or of research. I welcome universities being unequivocal in their protection of all academic freedoms to teach, to research, and to cooperate with other academics and institutions. Any barrier to this undermines the British concept of democracy and liberty.  An accurate use of IHRA complements this commitment to free speech.

Be it Ken Loach or JK Rowling speaking on campus, or attempts at academic boycotts, I support the principle of free speech and academic freedom. Much more importantly, so does IHRA and the IHRA definition of antisemitism.  Anyone looking to ban a speaker will need to look beyond IHRA and the IHRA definition to establish a reason and rationale for doing so. If in doubt then ask IHRA itself.

IHRA’s definition exists to ensure that students from the Jewish community enjoy the same freedoms and liberties as all other students and the effective and consistent use of the full IHRA definition of antisemitism   underpins these principles. 

This is what IHRA is about, a working tool which is already proving valuable in practice.   

The banning game cuts both ways. I have been involved when there have been attempts to stop the Israel Ambassador, former Israeli generals, Israeli elected politicians, from speaking in our universities. 

People have a democratic right to protest, but they have a right to be heard, just as academic freedom includes an unchallengeable right to work with and cooperate with Israeli academics and Israeli universities. As the Palestine Solidarity Campaign stated in January, there are no examples of IHRA having been used to actually ban anyone.

The future prosperity of our country, under every definition of the word, relies on healthy universities. They need to be welcoming of Jewish students and seen to be welcoming of Jewish students, being able to be themselves whilst being students.   

Every university must embrace IHRA. This is happening rapidly. In welcoming this we must be  unequivocal that the interpretation  and use of the working definition is not and cannot be a restriction on academic freedom of speech or  research.

IHRA properly and effectively being used gives Jewish students an equal status on campus. Academic boycotts and speaker bans have no place in our Universities, effective use of IHRA most certainly does. 



February 10, 2021 16:02

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