University of East Anglia Jewish Students Reject Call to Replace Leading Definition of Antisemitism
Jewish students at the University of East Anglia on Tuesday rejected efforts to replace the leading definition of antisemitism, less than two years after its adoption by the school’s student union.
The day prior, the student group Decolonize UAE published a call to divest from companies “facilitating illegal Israeli settlements” and replace the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, which has been adopted by scores of governments, universities and other institutions.
The group — which describes itself as “student-led society … committed to decolonial initiatives” at the school — charged the IHRA definition with “[making] expressing Palestinian experience of colonialism and its attendant violence punishable.”
“We reject the use of educational institutions as a tool to police the anti-colonial, anti-racist organizing of Palestinians, their allies, and all oppressed peoples,” the group said on Instagram. It called instead for the adoption instead of the Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism, an alternative definition presented by critics of the IHRA standard that explicitly excludes boycotts of Israel.
The Decolonize group also castigated the university for its relationship with the British bank Barclays, which it accused of “underwriting the Israeli government” and facilitating “ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.”
The UAE Jewish Society (JSoc) on Tuesday pushed back on the group’s campaign, writing in an Instagram post that while there was some disagreement over the IHRA definition, it is supported by a “vast majority” of British Jews and is “the best we currently have.”
“Only Jews get to decide what their oppression looks like,” it continued.
UEA JSoc added that it viewed the Jerusalem Declaration as “fundamentally flawed.”
“In the entirety of its text it fails to define what a hate crime against Jewish people would be. In addition, the academics who wrote it did not consult with Jewish community organizations,” the JSoc said.
The IHRA definition says that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
In citing explanatory examples, it elaborates that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,” while recognizing that manifestations of antisemitism “might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”
The University of East Anglia Student Union voted to adopt the IHRA definition in January 2020, according to the student paper The Concrete. In the same session, it voted to continue a controversial policy of banning Israeli goods from the campus.