DfE renews calls for uptake of IHRA definition

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to host antisemitism summit for higher education sector at DfE today

The Department for Education is again calling upon higher education providers to sign up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Minister for higher and further education Michelle Donelan has urged “those few universities yet to sign up to the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism to follow in the footsteps of many others and do so now”.

Her comments today come as education secretary Nadhim Zahawi hosts an antisemitism summit for the higher education sector. The summit, held ahead on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January) at the Department for Education, will see vice-chancellors, university representatives and Jewish rights groups look at incidents of antisemitism on campus and discuss measures and commitments that can be taken to tackle antisemitism within universities.

Delegates will discuss methods of reducing antisemitic incidents on campus, including working with the charity Community Security Trust (CST) on open data reporting of antisemitic incidences to allow targeted interventions, and publicising case studies of antisemitism best practice through the Office for Students (OfS) website.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) will also run a training workshop at the summit on how to improve support for Jewish students who have been victims of antisemitism.

Education is the vaccine against antisemitism – Nadhim Zahawi

“In November I visited Auschwitz and was humbled by the experience,” the education secretary said. “Seeing first-hand the spectre of a concentration camp which bestowed so many horrors is something which will stay with me for the rest of my life.

“It also strengthened my resolve to fight the lingering plague of antisemitism still sadly present in our society. Ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, today’s summit marks a significant step towards that goal.

“Education is the vaccine against antisemitism. No Jewish students or staff members should be subjected to antisemitic abuse, and by working together we will send out a clear message that antisemitism – like other forms of racism – will never be tolerated in our classrooms or campuses.”

I want to take this opportunity to urge those few universities yet to sign up to the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism to follow in the footsteps of many others and do so now – Michelle Donelan

Michelle Donelan said:

“I am horrified by the very thought of even one incident of antisemitism on campus – it has no place within any of our world leading universities.

“I will work hand-in-hand with the sector to take forward commitments agreed to today and ensure providers have the right tools to tackle this issue.

“Finally, I want to take this opportunity to urge those few universities yet to sign up to the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism to follow in the footsteps of many others and do so now. Without a universal recognition of antisemitism, we cannot hope for its abolition.”

The IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism, which was agreed by the intergovernmental organisation in 2016, says antisemitism is “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.”

This is not the first time the DfE has exerted pressure on universities regarding the IHRA definition, which 95 universities have now adopted according to latest OfS figures.

In October 2020, Gavin Williamson wrote to vice-chancellors urging them to sign up, and last February the former education secretary asked the OfS to identify universities “reluctant to adopt the definition and consider introducing mandatory reporting of antisemitic incident numbers by providers”. The Office for Students publishes a list of higher education providers who have signed up to the IHRA definition.

The IHRA definition is deemed problematic by some in the higher education sector and by lecturers’ union the University & College Union (UCU). Last February, University College London’s (UCL) council was forced to reconsider its adoption of it after the academic board concluded it was “not fit for purpose in a university setting”. The IHRA definition remains in place at UCL.

You might also like: 67 more universities adopt IHRA antisemitism definition

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