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December 17, 2018 4:39 pm

UK Jews Applaud Office for Students for Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

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University College London (UCL) quad in spring. Photo: UCL.

The regulatory body for higher education in England has adopted an internationally-recognized definition of antisemitism — a move welcomed by the UK Jewish community.

The Office for Students (OFS) announced that as part of its effort to promote equal opportunities for all students, “we have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism as a guide to interpreting and understanding antisemitism.”

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) describes antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” — a definition endorsed by 31 countries, among them the United Kingdom.

Examples of antisemitism shared by the IHRA include advancing “the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.”

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The OFS noted that the IHRA adoption would “not affect the legal definition of racial discrimination, so does not change our approach to implementing our regulatory duties, including our regulatory expectations of registered providers.”

“Nonetheless, we have adopted the IHRA definition because we believe that it is a useful tool for understanding how antisemitism manifests itself in the 21 century,” it added.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed the announcement on Monday, saying it was the result of “a series of engagements” with the OFS, which also included the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).

“It shows a commitment by the regulator to lead by example,” said Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl in a statement. “We have long called for universities to adopt this definition as it is a helpful guide to interpreting and explaining contemporary antisemitism. They should now follow the OFS’ lead and do so without further delay.”

The outgoing president of the UJS, Hannah Rose, stated, “We can only fight antisemitism when we are able to accurately define it in its contemporary form.”

“We now call on other HE bodies, universities and students unions to mirror this adoption and work with us to eliminate antisemitism from UK campuses,” she added.

The IHRA definition has previously been the source of controversy in the UK, with the opposition Labour Party initially adopting an amended version earlier this year that omitted four examples — including those calling Israel’s existence racist, comparing the actions of Israelis to Nazis, and accusing Jews of dual loyalty.

Following an outcry from UK Jewish leaders, the party later adopted the full IHRA definition with all its supporting examples in September. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attempted at the time to pass an amendment asserting that it should not “be regarded as antisemitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist,” but failed to rally enough support. However, the party did append a clause to the definition emphasizing the right to “free speech” on Israel, which some criticized as an unnecessary and potentially harmful qualification.

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