Middle East Monitor / March 30, 2021
UCL’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has welcomed the London university’s Academic Board’s rejection of the highly controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. In February, the board concluded that the IHRA working definition was not fit for purpose and urged the UCL Council for it to be retracted and replaced with a definition that protects Jewish students without compromising the safety and rights of UCL’s Palestinian students.
“This is an encouraging step in the right direction to create policy for all, rather than divide our community and suppress free speech, as the IHRA definition does,” SJP said in a statement.
“UCL was founded upon principles of acceptance and tolerance, academic autonomy, and freedom of speech. As a university that prides itself in being the home of disruptive thinking, the Academic Board’s decision shows its continuous commitment to tackling discrimination & carving a new, innovative path,” the statement continued. “We are keen to move away from the polarising political climate we live in by working with all groups committed to tackling antisemitism whilst upholding academic freedom and protecting the safety of UCL’s Palestinian students.”
The students urged the council to act “in accordance with the voices of the Academic Board and Palestinian rights advocates and replaces the IHRA definition with better policy. We are confident that our new Provost, Dr Michael Spence, will make the correct decision in replacing the IHRA definition, marking a new chapter at UCL where all students matter and where academic freedom of speech is protected.”
UCL’s decision comes as opposition to the IHRA continues to grow. Students at City University voted to reject the working definition in a campus-wide referendum. Some 671 students voted to reject the definition on Friday compared to 260 opposed, despite campaigns from Jewish groups for universities to adopt the IHRA definition.
Amid growing concern over the weaponising of anti-Semitism by staunch advocates of the state of Israel, Jewish faculty members in Canadian universities also opposed the adoption of the IHRA. The Jewish faculty members joined a growing number of groups and institutions around the world, including the original drafter of the definition, Kenneth Stern, to warn against the IHRA. Last week, over 200 Jewish academics and experts issued a new anti-Semitism definition in what they said was an attempt to deal with many of the serious concerns about the IHRA draft.