Pears Centre associates rebuke its director over IHRA definition

Prof Philip Spencer and Dave Rich launch scathing attack on Pears Centre director


Two leading scholars of antisemitism have rebuked Prof David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, at Birkbeck, University of London for having "provide(d) encouragement to those who have systematically denigrated Jews in this country." 

In article for the JC, Dave Rich and Prof Philip Spencer, respectively Associate Research Fellow and Associate of the Pears Institute, criticised an article by Prof Feldman 

opposing the use by universities of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. 

They write: "The idea that it will have a 'chilling effect' on students, academic and professional staff in British Universities is to turn things entirely on their head. It is antisemitic speech which has a chilling effect on Jewish students, academic and professional staff, while nobody, surely, would want to protect the free speech of antisemites on campus. There are of course several laws which already restrict speech on campus in order to protect minorities, which David Feldman acknowledges, but laws protecting students from antisemitic harassment are of little value if universities do not know what antisemitic speech sounds like." 

Prof Feldman, they say, "comes dangerously close to a classic antisemitic trope in which Jews are seen to be seeking to promote their own interests at the expense of others. This impression is reinforced by the suggestion that adopting the IHRA definition somehow “privileges” Jews, since another antisemitic trope is to argue that Jews always seek to exaggerate their suffering in order to obtain special treatment." 

It is, they conclude, "a matter of considerable regret to us that his Guardian article rejecting the IHRA definition appears to be the first significant public intervention by the Director of the Pears Institute on the question of campus antisemitism, undertaken not to highlight the extent of antisemitism in British universities but to attack efforts to do something about it.

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