Meeting Date – 03/06/2021
Motion 1 – IHRA Definition
The branch notes that the university is currently in consultation over whether to accept the recent definition of anti-Semitism formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
According to its own website “The IHRA is the only intergovernmental organization mandated to focus solely on Holocaust-related issues”. Its committee developed a new definition of anti-Semitism which it sought to use as “an example of responsible conduct for other international fora and [provide] an important tool with practical applicability for its Member Countries”.
The non-legally binding definition is the following:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
What arguably poses a threat to academic freedom are the examples which are forwarded as illustrations. The three which arguably pose a threat to academic freedom:
§ Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
§ Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
§ Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
This branch believes that this definition is a severe limitation on academic freedom and morally problematic in the context of recent events. They include inter alia the campaign to get Bristol University academic David Miller, including over 100 MPs and peers signing an all-party motion demanding that his university ‘take action’. The recent public attacks in Germany by the mainstream press, politicians and and some quarters of academia labelling the renowned post-colonial scholar Achilles Mbembe as an anti-Semite, reducing his life’s work to a few handpicked sentences taken from his foreword to the book Israel Apartheid. The Politics of an Analogy, and his book Necropolitics, in which he drew comparisons between the Apartheid regime in South Africa and the Holocaust.
It is the conflation of antisemitism with criticism of the state of Israel that is fermenting a climate of fear, fuelling censorship and no doubt self-censorship, as academics fear retribution for voicing their critical opinions. Even the original author of the IHRA definition Kenneth Stern, has spoken out against the way it is has been weaponized to delegitimise and even criminalise dissent.
The branch notes:
• that the UK government demands universities consult on the IHRA definition of antisemitism
• that the definition is extremely controversial because it equates antisemitism with criticism of Israel
• that the author of this definition is now campaigning for it not to be adopted in academia
• that it has had a chilling effect on discussion of a number of issues
• that there are better definitions including that of the Jerusalem Declaration, backed by Jewish scholars of antisemitism and the Holocaust
• that the IHRA definition does nothing to further the fight against antisemitism and may indeed weaken it
• that it may breach the Human Rights Act, the Education Act and the Equality Act
• that this definition suppresses academic freedom and will have chilling effect on academic debate
• to campaign against the IHRA definition