The University will adopt the full IHRA definition of antisemitismLucas Maddalena

The University of Cambridge has adopted the International Holocaust Remebrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition on antisemitism in full.

The adoption of the definition was agreed upon at a General Board meeting on November 4th.

A University statement describes the IHRA definition as “a useful tool for understanding how antisemitism manifests itself in our society. It will be used as a test to establish whether behaviour that is in breach of the University’s rules is anti-Semitic.”

The IHRA definition, a one-paragraph summary of antisemitism with 11 examples, was written in 2016 and has since been adopted by a number of institutions including the UK government.

The IHRA defines antisemitism as 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.”

Examples given of contemporary antisemitism under the IHRA definition include “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” and “applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

The University has also included clarifications “to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse about Israel and Palestine, without allowing antisemitism to permeate any debate”, as the University details is recommended by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

The clarifications are: “It is not anti-Semitic to criticise the government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest anti-Semitic intent” and “It is not anti-Semitic to hold the Israeli government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest anti-Semitic intent.”

Joel Rosen, External Affairs Officer for Cambridge University’s Jewish Society (CUJS), detailed in a press release CUJS’s support of the University’s decision, particularly referencing the inclusion of “all eleven examples specified by the IHRA.”

He continued: “We trust that this announcement endows colleges, faculties and departments with the clarity and confidence to take robust action to safeguard Jewish students and we will seek further details on how this decision will be implemented.”

“No Jewish student or member of staff should face the degrading indignity of Antisemitism be it through coded tropes or explicit abuse. CUJS will work with allies across the collegiate university and beyond to challenge prejudice, support victims and fearlessly advocate on their behalf.”

Following the University’s adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, Cambridge Students’ Union passed an emergency motion during Monday’s (09/11) student council to support the adoption of the IHRA definition.

The motion notes that CUJS and the National Union of Jewish Students both support “this decision and believe that the IHRA definition of antisemitism is the best mechanism for safeguarding Jewish students from prejudice”, and that the SU “in line with the Macpherson principle” believe “it is for Jewish students to determine what does and does not constitute antisemitism.”

The SU further note their belief that “it is hurtful and wrong to diminish or deny the lived experiences of Jewish students’” and that they “should join the growing number of universities and student unions in the UK to protect their Jewish students”. The motion also resolved that the SU will “hold the University to account in implementing a zero-tolerance approach to Antisemitism, using the IHRA definition and all eleven examples.”

Ben Margolis, the SU’s undergraduate president, detailed to Varsity the SU’s current engagement in “formulating a comprehensive and practically workable definition of racism to adopt in our By-Laws, which sets out our Code of Conduct.”

He continues to stress that the SU will work to “ensure that this definition is grounded in individual students’ lived experiences and reflects the diversity of minority groups and backgrounds that are represented in our membership, we will be working in collaboration with student societies and clubs - including Cambridge University Jewish Society - as well as SU Campaigns to hear their views on how best the SU can safeguard its membership”.

The IHRA definition has been a source of much controversy over the last few years, only last month Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote to vice-chancellors warning them that he would act if “the overwhelming majority” of universities did not adopt the IHRA definition of anti-semitism by the end of the year.

Williamson added that recent freedom of information (FOI) requests by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) which showed that only 29 out of 133 universities had adopted the IHRA definition, with a further 80 institutions having no current plans to do so was “frankly disturbing”.

Mr Williamson wrote in his letter to the vice-chancellors: “The repugnant belief that antisemitism is somehow a less serious or more acceptable form of racism has taken insidious hold in some parts of British society, and I am quite clear that universities must play their part in rooting out this attitude and demonstrating that antisemitism is abhorrent.”

In regard to the responses from their FOIs, the UJS highlight the imperative of adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, particularly when considering that “antisemitic incidents at UK universities rose by 38% year-on-year in the first six months of 2020. “

They continued: “We have seen multiple examples of antisemitism being dismissed by universities who refuse to adopt this definition. When the definition is not used, it gives the power to those investigating, most often academic staff from the same department, to decide what they believe constitutes antisemitism.”


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At the time that Williamson sent his letter to vice-chancellors a Cambridge University spokesperson told The Jewish Chronicle that “any behaviour that would fall within the IHRA definition would be covered by the University’s current Rules of Behaviour.” However, the spokesperson did emphasise that “the University keeps its Rules of Behaviour under review and therefore, will continue to monitor its approach.”

Following Cambridge’s adoption of the IHRA definition, UJS released a statement expressing thanks to “all those involved who have been instrumental in achieving this step. The adoption of the IHRA definition will go a long way in ensuring Jewish students are safeguarded from antisemitism on their campus.”