Jewish student representatives have called for “a culture change” after research revealed that only one fifth of higher education institutions had adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said more than 100 centres of learning were “defying” the government’s repeated call to adopt the definition, demanding that the remaining institution “step up”.
In January, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick demanded that all universities and colleges adopt it, but they are legally independent and currently not required to do so.
“Nine months on from the Secretary of State’s intervention, and following our extensive lobbying of universities, freedom of information requests have shown that only 29 out of the 133 higher education institutions in the UK have adopted the IHRA definition,” said UJS this week.
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“Whilst pleased that that almost 30 institutions have taken steps to protect the Jewish students by adopting this definition, we continue to be frustrated and dissatisfied that universities have failed to sufficiently protect their Jewish students from anti-Jewish racism, the oldest form of racial hatred.”
Since 2017 successive Universities Ministers, including Jo Johnson and Chris Skidmore, have urged universities to adopt the definition, which includes several working examples relating to Israel, but their calls have been largely unheeded.
UJS campaigns organiser Bradley Langer this week called for universities to “step up and demonstrate their support for Jewish students and staff”.
He said: “The only way to achieve the mass adoption and implementation is for Jewish students to take the lead creating grassroot campaigns on campuses and forcing university to staff to see the need.
“It is now time for there to be a culture shift where the adoption of the IHRA definition is seen as an example of ‘good practice’ and not a controversial step.”
Robert Halfon MP, who chair Parliament’s Education Select Committee, said: “It is both shocking and disappointing that, yet again, antisemitism is swept under the carpet by some of our major higher education institutions in our country.
“It seems strange that they are prepared to virtue signal on so many PC issues but when it comes to Jewish people, they are ignored. The Minister must make it absolutely clear that IHRA is adopted – no excuse or delay. It just must happen.”
UJS said that 17 institutions had said they planned to discuss the definition in formal meetings in the coming months, while 80 said they had not adopted IHRA and had no plans to do so, with some citing freedom of speech as a reason.
Jewish student representatives however said that antisemitism on campus had risen by more than a third since lockdown, adding that the definition “is a cornerstone in ensuring that antisemitism, when reported, is dealt with in a way which the Jewish community can be confident in”.
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