Anger as universities’ union rejects antisemitism definition

The government, the Labour party and the National Union of Students have all accepted the IHRA definition


The University and College Union (UCU) has voted to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, in a move described as a “pernicious affront to common decency”.

A motion, which was passed at UCU’s annual conference on Monday, called on the organisation to “disassociate itself from the IHRA definition”.

It claimed the definition “conflates antisemitism with criticism of the state of Israel and has been used to intimidate academics engaged in activities that are critical of the policies of the Israeli government but that are not antisemitic”.

It also noted that the government had adopted the IHRA definition, and cited what it called “government-inspired attempts to ban Palestine solidarity events”, such as Israel Apartheid Week.

Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies, condemned the union’s decision, calling it “retrograde and deeply disappointing.

“The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is endorsed by the Jewish community in the UK and across Europe”, Mr Arkush said.

“In the UK it is also supported by the government, the Labour Party and the National Union of Students - among many other bodies.

“It beggars belief that anyone in the UCU would want to dictate to Jews what constitutes antisemitic abuse against them.

He added: “This resolution seeks to deny victims of antisemitic abuse the right to call it out for what it is - particularly when it is dressed up as extremist and dangerous demonisation of Israel or when Jews are harassed or intimidated because of their connections with Israel.

“We urge the UCU to confront this pernicious affront to common decency, and stand with the victims of racist abuse, rather than the abusers.”

The UCU represents over 10,000 academics, postgraduates and staff in “universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK”.

A motion to accept the IHRA definition of antisemitism was passed at the National Union of Students’ conference in April, despite an attempt by anti-Zionists to block it.

The definition highlights that manifestations of antisemitism can include “the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity”. However, it also states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”.

UCU has been contacted for comment.

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