Recently, there have been a number of concerning incidents which have threatened our collective right to campaign for justice for Palestinians within universities. Much of this suppression has come as a result of ‘the chilling effect’ that adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism within these institutions has led to. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is co-ordinating an open letter signed by students and academics that we will send to every university Vice-Chancellor in the UK.
We will be sending this in the week commencing Monday 1st November and would kindly ask that you only sign this letter if you are an academic or student within a university. Only signatures with a university e-mail address will be accepted.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to e-mail us at: email@example.com
The space to bring into the public domain the facts of the past and the ongoing oppression of Palestinians is under severe threat. We are writing to you as students and academic staff at universities across the UK to ask that your Institution does not adopt the discredited IHRA definition of antisemitism. If your institution has already adopted the definition, we ask you to rescind this decision.
In UK universities, there are growing attempts to suppress both discussion of the history of Palestinian dispossession, and advocacy for Palestinian rights. These attempts are creating a hostile environment for Palestinians, and for those advocating for their basic human rights.
The IHRA definition of antisemitism is one of the key tools used to attempt to suppress advocacy for Palestinian rights, and criticism of the state of Israel. The definition conflates antisemitism with criticism of the policies, practices, and the constitutional order of the State of Israel, and with Zionism, which is a political ideology and political movement.
The definition, now adopted by over half of UK Universities, has been used both to stifle criticism of Israel, and to prevent campaigning in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has logged numerous instances in which it has been wielded in attempts to shut down educational events, used to penalise support for the non-violent Palestinian call for boycott, or to implement unfair restrictions on speaking events.
These examples are the tip of an iceberg. Across the UK, dozens of academics and students have faced lengthy disciplinary investigations based on comments they have made which are critical of Israel’s laws, policies, and practices. Recently, Professor David Miller of the University of Bristol became the first UK academic to be dismissed from his job for scholarly conclusions and judgments related to Israel and Zionism, after extreme pressure had been placed on the Institution stemming from the assertion that Miller had been guilty of antisemitism. This was despite a university-appointed QC reportedly finding that nothing Miller had said was unlawful or antisemitic.
At other universities, false and malicious accusations of antisemitism directed at staff because of their research or teaching, provoked or facilitated by the issue of the IHRA definition, have been judged unfounded. Yet these exonerations come only after months of anxiety suffered by those so accused.
More recently still, Dr. Somdeep Sen, Associate Professor of International Development Studies at Roskilde University, has faced significant censoring mechanisms by the University of Glasgow after being invited by their Department of Politics and International Affairs to deliver a talk on his new book. This pushback specifically referenced the IHRA definition and reinforces major concerns about the integrity of academic freedom at institutions where the IHRA definition has been adopted.
All of these cases have contributed to a chilling effect that creates a culture of fear and self-censorship within the academic community. We affirm that the reality of the oppression of the Palestinian people belongs in the public domain. The right accurately to describe this reality, and to criticise the nature and structure of the state that continues this oppression, and openly to criticise the ethnically exclusivist ideology of Zionism which informs the practices of that state, is a core right. It is a right protected under numerous international laws and conventions, including Article 10 of the European Convention for Human Rights.
We call on UK Universities to protect, unequivocally, the right to describe the facts of Palestinian oppression, to describe Israel’s laws, policies and actions as racist or as constituting apartheid, to criticise the political ideology of Zionism, and to call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel as nonviolent measures of accountability to bring about its compliance with its obligations under international law, and respect for Palestinian rights.
To ensure these rights are protected, we call upon your University to take the following steps:
- to rescind the adoption of the IHRA definition by your Institution, if it has already been adopted;
- if it has not been adopted, to ensure that this remains the case [i], and that any incidences of antisemitic behaviour are investigated as part of the University’s usual processes and procedures in relation to dignity at work and mutual respect; and
- if your University does suffer a disproportionate or serious problem of antisemitism, overt or tacit, that it consider the adoption of the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, and to use this definition as the basis for an educational project to raise awareness about this particular racism, and its insidious forms.
Open Letter to Vice-Chancellors: Your Signature
[i] Note: We are aware that all UK universities have recently received a letter from the authors of the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism. This provides a framework which allows for our calls in this letter to be respected. More information at: https://noihradefinition.co.uk/alternative-definitions-of-antisemitism/