UCL academic board calls on university to 'replace' IHRA

Jewish students respond that 'deeply flawed' decision is only a recommendation 'and does not change the status of the IHRA definition at UCL'


The academic board at University College London has rejected the use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, which the university had adopted.

The vote by UCL’s academic board called on the university to “replace IHRA working definition with a more precise definition of antisemitism”. The university’s governing body will now review its position.

In a report published in December, a group of UCL academics argued that the IHRA definition conflated anti-Jewish prejudice with political debate over Israel and Palestine, resulting in “potentially deleterious effects on free speech, such as instigating a culture of fear or self-silencing on teaching or research or classroom discussion of contentious topics”.

The group claimed the working definition was not “fit for purpose within a university setting” and that there was “disturbing evidence” that antisemitic incidents had continued on campus.

In a joint statement, the UCL J-Soc  and the Union of Jewish Students declared that “Jewish student voices will not be silenced, nor dictated to, by a small group of academics, who are more interested in theoretical discussion of antisemitism than practically supporting their students.

“Whilst this decision is deeply flawed, we want to reassure students that at this point this is only a recommendation and does not change the status of the IHRA definition at UCL. Jewish students have consistently demonstrated that this is the definition that should be used in order to protect them best."

In October, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warned university heads that he would take “robust measures” against universities which did not adopt IHRA – adding that the number which had adopted the definition was “shamefully low”. In a letter to university vice-chancellors, Mr Williamson wrote that the number of higher educational institutions which had adopted the IHRA definition remained “shamefully low”.

Those which had not were “letting down all their staff and students, and, shamefully, their Jewish students in particular”.

UCL said in a statement: "The decision to adopt the IHRA was passed by an overwhelming majority of UCL’s Council – the university’s governing body – as part of its commitment to drive race equality and tackle discrimination along with other action to raise awareness and understanding of different forms of racism. By adopting the IHRA, UCL has sent a strong message that we take antisemitism seriously and are committed to tackling it.

"Following a thoughtful debate this week which universally reaffirmed this commitment to tackling anti-semitism, a meeting of UCL’s Academic Board voted to make an advisory recommendation to Council to find an alternative definition to the IHRA. Council will now consider this recommendation and will continue to consult and listen to the views of the entire UCL community on this and other issues."


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