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27/06/2017
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UCU Will Debate Anti-Semitism Definition

henry@alondon.net (26/05/2017)

The UCU has proposed a motion distancing itself from a definition of anti-Semitism accepted by the British government last year

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(source: The Jewish News)

The University and CollegeUnion (UCU) will debate whether to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s recently proposed definition of anti-Semitism.

As originally reported by the Jewish News, UCU delegates representing Leeds, Brighton Goldsmiths and London universities have proposed a motion to distance the UCU from the definition adopted by the IHRA in May 2016.

The definition, which was published partly out of concern regarding the rising tide of anti-Semitic hate crimes being recorded across its membership countries, reads: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The British government adopted this definition under Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership in December. May endorsed the definition as method of tackling the UK’s recent spike in anti-Semitic hatred, saying at the time: “there will be one definition of anti-Semitism- in essence, language or behavior that displays hatred towards Jews because they are Jews- and they will be called out on it.”

However, the definition received a good amount of blowback almost immediately from critics of the Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and those concerned with the rights to free speech.

This is a result of one particular line within the new definition document published by the IHRA, which adds, “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” to the list of “contemporary examples of anti-Semitism”.

The line read to many on the British political Left, including the writers of the UCU resolution, as an attempt to silence fair criticism of the State of Israel’s most controversial policies regarding the occupation. In conjunction with Israel’s recent BDS ban, which has already prevented British and British-Palestinians citizens from entering the country, there is a legitimate fear that Israel is attempting to stamp out free speech beyond its borders.

The resolution proposed by the delegates of the for schools argues that the 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.”

Taken from the Jewish News:

"The motion complains of “government-inspired attempts to ban Palestine solidarity events, naming Israel Apartheid week”, and instructs the conference, if the resolution is adopted, to dissociate UCU from the IHRA definition and to “contact all members… urging a report to (the union’s national executive) of all repressive uses of the IHRA definition”.


Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush (source: SteveWinstonPhotos.com)


A swift rebuke of the resolution emanated from at least two prominent members the British Jewish community.

Director of the Academic Friends of Israel Dr. Ronnie Fraser, who is also a member of the UCU according to a blog profile, wrote that it was hypocritical of an organization to “oppose racism and then pat themselves on the back for all their good work and immediately follow it up with ‘we don’t want to have anything to do with the IHRA definition’ which has been adopted by the British government in the fight against anti-Semitism.”

Fraser calls this “hypocritical extremist and racist behavior which shows no respect and tolerance for the views of British Jewry”, before concluding: “‘it is perfectly legitimate to express support for Palestinian rights or to express either support for or opposition to Israel’. But this motion is not primarily about the Israel/Palestine conflict it is about the denial of Jewish human rights, the right to live without discrimination as well as our definition of anti-Semitism.”

Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush called the resolution, “deeply disappointing” and “disgraceful”, adding, “Despite past form, it beggars belief that anyone in the UCU would want to dictate to Jews what constitutes anti-Semitic abuse against them.”

Arkush called on the UCU delegates “to confront this pernicious affront to common decency, and stand with the victims of racist abuse, rather than the abusers.”

The UCU, a century old institution with more than 110,000 members that primarily consists of teachers, will debate whether to use this definition at the annual UCU Congress on May 27th.



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