The weaponisation of antisemitism could soon hit the campuses, warns Lucy Nichols
In October, Tory education minister Gavin Williamson threatened to take action against any universities that fail to adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism by the end of the year.
The education secretary wrote a letter to Vice-Chancellors around the country urging them to accept this definition of antisemitism by Christmas, condemning various Universities for their ‘lack of willingness’ to confront acts of antisemitism on campuses.
It is no secret that British universities have a serious problem with all forms of racism, including antisemitism. As much as it pains me to agree with a Tory, Williamson is therefore probably right in accusing universities of ‘dragging their feet’ when it comes to responding to antisemitism.
But adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism is not how we fight against racism, or in the interests of Jewish people. The IHRA definition of antisemitism is deeply problematic and adopting it will not necessarily make campuses safer for Jewish people, or any other marginalised group.
It essentially argues that any opposition to the State of Israel is antisemitic, for example, ‘by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour’.
As we have seen in various other institutions (such as the Labour Party), the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism almost always results in the shutting down of any debate surrounding Palestine, and leads to the distortion of any anti-Zionist sentiment into antisemitic sentiment.
Given the commitment of so many students to the Palestinian cause, an adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism would likely result in a witch-hunt of student activists and various BDS societies around the country.
This would also throw up a myriad of problems for Student Unions around the UK, as many have already committed to the BDS movement and support Palestinian liberation.
Conflating all Jewish people with the State of Israel, or conflating all Palestine activists with antisemitism is not how antisemitism must be tackled. You cannot battle one form of racism with another.
The shutting down of debate around Palestine will, first and foremost, be detrimental to Palestinians in Palestine, and around the world. It will also result in a witch-hunt of even more principled socialists and Palestine activists, as has happened within the Labour Party, local councils and schools.
We must stand firm in our rejection of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, while at the same time fighting the abhorrent racism faced by Jewish people, and the equally abhorrent treatment of Palestine at the hands of Israel.
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