UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

UCL’s Academic Board recommends retention of IHRA definition while alternatives are explored

UCL’s Academic Board has voted to facilitate an alternative definition of antisemitism for consideration by UCL’s Council and to retain the IHRA working definition in the interim with further qualifications.

The resolution is a non-binding recommendation to UCL’s Council, which will take the decision on any change to UCL’s adoption of the IHRA definition.

The resolution actually passed at the Academic Board’s meeting on 10 February is not quite as suggested in some reports or as sought by some opponents of the IHRA definition. It reads:

Replace: AB recommends that a newly constituted committee of AB should be charged to help facilitate an alternative definition for Council’s consideration, undertaking to supply one that is more fit for purpose in a university context in coordination with the Provost and Council. This could include alternative definitions mentioned in the report (i.e. the Helen Fein definition; the Jerusalem Declaration, the Community Security Trust; mentioned on pp.56-58) or other definitions suggested by members of AB. In the interim, Council’s adoption of the IHRA will be amended to reflect option b (Retain and amend), underscoring Council’s adoption of the IHRA working definition has no legal force and does not supersede existing law and policy at UCL, nor will it be used in complaint and disciplinary processes

The report to which the resolution refers is the report of the working group established by the Academic Board.

The establishment of a new committee might suggest some concern about the working group that produced this report. In arguing that the adoption of the IHRA definition restricted freedom of speech, the working group had relied heavily on two complaints about events at UCL, neither of which invoked the IHRA definition or was upheld. At the same time the working group ignored the very real restrictions on speech resulting from the disruption and threat of disruption of meetings with Israeli speakers and the intimidation of supporters of Israel.

While there are certainly different ways of describing or defining antisemitism, it is not obvious that any of them is any better than the IHRA definition, which has been adopted by numerous bodies and institutions in the UK and around the world. Members of the Academic Board may have overlooked the desirability of having a standard approach to facilitate comparison and aggregation of data and hence monitoring and addressing antisemitism, which is a very real problem at universities such as UCL as well as elsewhere in society.

UCL’s Students’ Union voted in the meanwhile to support UCL’s retention of the IHRA definition by rejecting a proposal to support the recommendations of the Academic Board’s working group.

UCL itself stated following the Academic Board’s resolution:

“The decision to adopt the IHRA was passed by an overwhelming majority of UCL’s Council – the university’s governing body – as part of its commitment to drive race equality and tackle discrimination along with other action to raise awareness and understanding of different forms of racism. By adopting the IHRA, UCL has sent a strong message that we take antisemitism seriously and are committed to tackling it.

Following a thoughtful debate this week which universally reaffirmed this commitment to tackling anti-semitism, a meeting of UCL’s Academic Board voted to make an advisory recommendation to Council to find an alternative definition to the IHRA. Council will now consider this recommendation and will continue to consult and listen to the views of the entire UCL community on this and other issues.”

Dr Lars Fischer has resigned his position in UCL’s Faculty of Hebrew & Jewish Studies because of the “appalling assault on the IHRA definition currently being mounted at UCL”. In a post explaining his decision, he concludes:

“Not being able to stop these reprehensible people in their tracks is bad enough, but each and every one of us has a duty at least to avoid becoming complicit in their antisemitism-promoting activities. I am therefore left with no choice but to resign my affiliation with Hebrew & Jewish Studies, even if this decision does amount to a likely fatal blow to my ability to function as a scholar.”