UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

Sheffield Hallam University adopts IHRA definition

Sheffield Hallam University, one of the largest in the UK, is the latest to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) announced on 3 February 2021 that it had adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Lesley Klaff, senior lecturer in law at the University, Editor of the Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism, and a member of UKLFI, worked hard to secure this result, with assistance from UKLFI Chief Executive Jonathan Turner, overcoming stiff opposition.

Opponents insisted that adoption of the definition would restrict freedom of speech. Lesley explained that the definition expressly recognises that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic; and that freedom of speech within the law at universities is secured by legislation.

It was suggested by some that the IHRA definition might be adopted with the qualifications recommended by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee in October 2016, namely

  • It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.

  • It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.

However, as Lesley pointed out, it is possible to be antisemitic without intending to be antisemitic. Following discussions, the university adopted the definition without these unhelpful qualifications.

In 2018/2019 SHU had over 24,000 undergraduate students, the 7th largest for a campus university in the UK.

SHU’s’s statement said:

 “Following extensive work by a multi-faith working group made up of students and staff representatives, Sheffield Hallam has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

 The University has a zero-tolerance policy of any form of discrimination or harassment and is committed to ensuring an inclusive culture for students and staff alike. 

 The definition is a useful tool for understanding what constitutes antisemitism and investigating allegations. Freedom of expression is an integral part of our values, therefore we are committed to promoting and protecting free speech. The ability to rigorously discuss and challenge ideas goes right to the heart of what it means to be a university.

 Adoption of this definition will not limit legitimate criticism and debate. The University will continue to uphold and protect the rights of students and staff to hold legitimate debates on issues related to Israel, Palestine and the Middle East.”