UK Jewish Leaders Slam University Union’s Rejection of International Definition of Antisemitism
by Rachel Frommer
Leaders of the UK’s Jewish community have condemned an academic organization’s decision on Monday to reject an international definition of antisemitism.
Jonathan Arkush — president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews — characterized the University and College Union’s (UCU) decision at its annual congress to spurn the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) description of antisemitism as “retrograde,” “deeply disappointing” and “disgraceful.”
“This resolution seeks to deny victims of antisemitic abuse the right to call it out for what it is — particularly when it is dressed up as extremist and dangerous demonization of Israel or when Jews are harassed or intimidated because of their connections with Israel,” Arkush said.
The UCU motion stated that the “[IHRA] definition conflates anti-semitism with criticism of the state of Israel and has been used to intimidate academics who are engaged in activities that are critical of the policies of the Israeli government but that are not anti-semitic.”
It also referred to the opinion of a UK lawyer — obtained by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and others, including a group of anti-Zionist Jews, called “Free Speech on Israel” — which claimed the IHRA illegally hinders free speech.
The motion called upon members to report “all repressive uses of the IHRA definition” to the UCU’s national executive committee, which has in turn committed to stand against any university administrative action that “reacts to spurious accusations of anti-semitism by banning speakers who are opposed to the policies of the state of Israel but who have not in any way expressed racism against Jewish people.”
Simon Johnson — the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council — told The Algemeiner that the UCU’s decision was “no surprise.”
“We have given up UCU as a lost cause and a hotbed of singling out Israel for delegitimization,” said Johnson, who added that the motion “will have no impact on campus life for Jewish people.”
A separate motion was passed at the congress noting the UCU’s “dismay” that University of Birmingham Professor Kamel Hawwash — vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council and a PSC executive board member — was “prevented from entering Israel on 7th April on a trip with his wife and young son to visit relatives in occupied East Jerusalem.”
The UCU said Hawwash was targeted by an Israeli law passed in March banning supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign — which the motion referred to as a “non-violent human rights movement” — from entering the Jewish state.
Hawwash thanked the UCU for its support on Twitter.
In 2011, the UCU rejected the definition of antisemitism proposed by the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, which, like the IHRA, considers forms of anti-Zionism to be antisemitic.