UCL Students' Union votes down motion to adopt IHRA definition of antisemitism

Infringement of freedom of speech on Israel cited by students opposed to the motion, which was defeated by 212 votes to 78


The president of the UCL J-Soc has said he feels “isolated” after a motion to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism was comfortably defeated by the university’s students’ union.

The meeting at which the motion was tabled attracted 299 students – 212 of whom voted against the adoption of the code, with 78 votes for and nine abstentions.

Max Traegar, a history and politics student and Debate Society vice president, spoke in favour of the motion, arguing that “antisemitism can only be forcefully and effectively addressed once the problem has been clearly defined in a comprehensive and universal fashion”.

According to student-run Pi Media site, he said: “I am aware that there are parts of the resolution, especially parts to do with Israel, that people find problematic, but Jewish people like me [are] not asking you to love the Israeli government, we’re not asking you to stop criticising it, because we’re not going to stop doing that either. We’re asking you to accept something that we self-define as prejudice against ourselves.

“Without a definition, hateful acts against Jews are relegated to a murky corner where antisemitism remains open to interpretation with potentially tragic effects."

Speaking against the motion, one second-year medic argued that the IHRA definition infringes on students’ freedom of speech in relation to Israel.

She said: “Voting for this motion unfortunately may remove the platform that we provide for certain speakers to raise awareness for human rights issues, and block our valid and internationally-acclaimed criticism of the State of Israel.”

Oliver Kingsley, the J-Soc president, told the JC that Jewish students were “incredibly disappointed and saddened” by the result, saying that antisemitism “shouldn’t be defined by non-Jewish students”.

Mr Kingsley, a second-year politics student, added: “To pass it we required a large Jewish and non-Jewish turnout to support it.

“The Islamic Society and the Friends of Palestine Societies got a massive turnout so it was inevitable from the start we were going to lose. But we put up a good fight and we spoke well in support of it.

“The IHRA definition very clearly protects Jewish students from antisemitism. The argument from the other side was that, because it links antisemitism to Israel, it would stop them speaking out against Israel.

“But it doesn’t do that. It stops people from inviting speakers who say Zionists are Nazis. And my right to feel safe on campus shouldn’t be subordinate to others’ right to speak out against Israel.

“I am proud to go to UCL, and we have a thriving J-Soc. We will continue the fight, and oppose antisemitism as well as all forms of racism and intolerance on campus.”

The UCL Islamic Society and the Friends of Palestine Society did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for the students’ union said: “Students debated the examples listed in the definition and discussed the risk that adoption of this definition with examples has the potential hinder freedom of expression.

“There was consensus in the debate on the need to define antisemitism and ensure no student is subjected to racism.

“After speakers for and against the motion made their case, a vote took place in the room and the motion did not pass. However, there was a desire to bring a new definition back to a General Assembly for adoption.”

Elsewhere, the Principal of King’s College London (KCL) has said declared that he “abhors” Israeli Apartheid Week – now in its 15th year.

Professor Ed Byrne has also pledged to “overhaul” the protocol for hosting pro-Israel speakers on campus, with “greatly improved oversight, greatly improved risk mitigation, with the whole aim of ensuring respectful free speech”.

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