Some academics at University College London (UCL) are pushing to retract the University’s adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. A vote of the advisory Academic Board, which was to take place on 16 December, has been rescheduled for January “to allow proper debate”.
The Academic Board previously set up a working group to report on the issue, chaired by Dr Seth Anziska, Associate Professor of Jewish-Muslim Relations. Its report recommends that UCL’s Council “retract the [IHRA] definition of antisemitism and offer a clarification of existing legal duties with relation to antisemitism”.
Demonstrators at Hen Mazzig lecture at UCL
Prof Prince Saprai, representing UCL’s Law Faculty on the working group, dissented. He stated: “I am unable to support the recommendations relating to the retraction of the IHRA. I do not believe the arguments contained in the Report justify so drastic a measure which is highly likely to cause significant distress and concern to many members of the Jewish community at UCL and beyond.”
The working group’s report relies heavily on two complaints which it claims demonstrate the threat posed by the IHRA to freedom of speech. The first was about an exhibition under the name “Moving Objects” which presented a particular narrative about Palestinian refugees. The second was about an invitation to Jackie Walker to speak at the launch of a book of the proceedings of a conference at UCL marking the 50th anniversary of Noam Chomsky’s essay “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”.
Both of those complaints were rejected. There was in fact no restriction on freedom to make misleading statements about Israel or Jews, and the IHRA definition does not even appear to have been invoked in the complaints. By contrast the report ignores the violent disruption of UCL’s Israel Society’s meeting with Israeli speaker, Hen Mazzig, and its impact. It does not even acknowledge the very real problem of antisemitic hostility and the threat this poses to freedom of speech for speakers who are supportive of or sympathetic to Israel.
UCU member, Harry Goldstein, has written an excellent article about the report.
UKLFI Charitable Trust is assisting efforts to ensure that the IHRA definition of antisemitism is retained by UCL.