Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said he is “extremely disappointed” universities have ignored his request to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism after a survey by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) revealed that almost 80 per cent had failed to adopt it.
Just 29 of the UK’s 133 higher education institutions confirmed they had adopted IHRA, which includes the examples of holding Jews responsible for the actions of Israel and comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
Eighty universities responded to a Freedom of Information request by the Union of Jewish Students to say they had no plans to adopt the IHRA definition, while 17 said officials intended to discuss it the coming months.
Both Oxford and Cambridge are among the universities that have refused.
Some universities cited academic freedom of speech as a reason not to use it, while others said there was no need for a specific definition to be adopted in university policy.
Mr Jenrick, who has threatened universities with funding cuts if they did not adopt the definition, said: “I’m extremely disappointed by these findings. Education is one of the most powerful tools we can use to combat anti-Semitism and adopting and actively using the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism sends a clear signal that Universities are serious about tackling antisemitism on campuses.
“Some progress has been made since I urged all universities and the Higher Education Institutions adopt the IHRA definition, but I urge others to do so without delay. It is simply unacceptable that universities accept public money, but refuse to take this step.
“I am frankly appalled by some of the examples of antisemitic abuse I continue to hear of on campus.”
The UJS has called for “a culture change” after accusing more than 100 educational institutions of “defying” the government’s repeated call to adopt the definition.
“Nine months on from the Secretary of State’s intervention, and following our extensive lobbying of universities, freedom of information requests have shown that only 29 out of the 133 higher education institutions in the UK have adopted the IHRA definition,” the UJS said in a statement.
“Whilst pleased that that almost 30 institutions have taken steps to protect the Jewish students by adopting this definition, we continue to be frustrated and dissatisfied that universities have failed to sufficiently protect their Jewish students from anti-Jewish racism, the oldest form of racial hatred.”
Robert Halfon MP, who chairs Parliament’s Education Select Committee, said: “It is both shocking and disappointing that, yet again, antisemitism is swept under the carpet by some of our major higher education institutions in our country.
“It seems strange that they are prepared to virtue signal on so many PC issues but when it comes to Jewish people, they are ignored. The Minister must make it absolutely clear that IHRA is adopted – no excuse or delay. It just must happen.”
The UJS contacted universities on July 6th and have subsequently told that 17 higher education institutions are to discuss the definition as part of a formal meeting in the coming months.
Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said while was “welcome that a number of universities have adopted the IHRA definition or are considering it” the survey proved “many more are yet to act, and must do so.”
She added: “Freedom of speech and thought are important but can never be an excuse for antisemitism. Labour urges those universities which are yet to adopt the definition to do so as soon as possible.”
UJS campaigns organiser Bradley Langer called for universities to “step up and demonstrate their support for Jewish students and staff”.
He said: “The only way to achieve the mass adoption and implementation is for Jewish students to take the lead creating grassroots campaigns on campuses and forcing university to staff to see the need.
“It is now time for there to be a culture shift where the adoption of the IHRA definition is seen as an example of ‘good practice’ and not a controversial step.”