The following event is being organized by our colleagues at BRICUP, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine. We invite you to join:
Palestine, Antisemitism and Academic Freedom
How to Resist the IHRA Definition
1030 – 1315 (British time), Saturday, 23rd January 2021 (2:30 am – 5:15 am Pacific, 5:30 am – 8:15 am Eastern)
The threat to academic freedom in the medium term lies in the definition’s silencing of Palestine advocacy and the voice of Palestinian colleagues, but also in its chilling effect in our institutions on teaching and research about the Middle East and its history. This is an effect that will be felt by colleagues in colleges offering GCSEs and A-level courses in politics and Middle East history as much as in universities. This Zoom briefing will address the context in which this definition is being mobilised, the inadequacies of the definition as a response to antisemitism, the legal standing of the definition (and of the Secretary of State’s intervention in England), the impact on teaching and scholarship, and the means to resist the pressure to adopt the definition.
We should also bring to your attention some key documents that will be of considerable use to you in any campaign over the adoption of the definition.
- A letter from eight senior lawyers (including two retired Lord Justices of Appeal) was published on January 7th. It urges Gavin Williamson to withdraw his illegitimate threat of financial penalties on English universities that fail to adopt the definition, and challenges both the legal and moral basis of his threat.
- The weighty report of a Working Group set up by the Academic Board at UCL to consider the role on their campus of the IHRA definition. The Report is a detailed and forensic study of the IHRA definition, and looks at the implications of adoption, including the risks it poses to legitimate teaching, speech and academic research. It concludes that UCL Council should retract its adoption of the IHRA working definition, and consider more coherent alternatives.
- A letter from 122 Palestinian and Arab intellectuals was published in November. They outline their concerns about how the IHRA definition, and its attendant examples, have been applied in a range of contexts to stifle legitimate criticisms of Israel and suppress arguments for Palestinian rights. .
- An opinion piece in December’s Guardian from David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. Feldman argues that the recent intervention by the Secretary of State is misguided, observing that the working definition is both confusing and divisive, and affords no protection to Jewish students on campus.
We urge as many of you as possible to attend and participate in this briefing. Though our immediate struggles are over Covid-safe working and resisting redundancies, the adoption of this definition across the sector would change the tenor of teaching and scholarly life, and open many members to malicious complaints, and potential disciplinary action.