Statement from 400+ Current UK Students on IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

If you are a current UK student, and would like to add your name to the letter, you can do so here.

As students in the UK, we are deeply concerned that the space to bring the facts of the past and ongoing dispossession faced by Palestinians into the public domain, including in UK universities, is under severe threat by the adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism with its attached examples.

We believe that the IHRA definition is a threat to the fundamental right for Palestinians to describe their lived experience of oppression. The discredited definition, and specifically its illustrative examples, conflates anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of the laws, policies and constitutional order of the State of Israel.

We are therefore gravely concerned by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson’s, announcement that he is actively exploring measures to force universities to adopt the definition, including cutting their access to funding streams. The vast majority of UK universities have so far rightly withstood pressure to adopt.

As a broad coalition of Palestinian civil society organisations warned back in 2018 the discredited IHRA examples erase Palestinian history and shield Israel’s far-right regime of occupation and oppression by conflating discrimination against Jews on the one hand with legitimate critiques of Israel’s policies and system of injustice on the other.

The concerns raised about by Palestinian civil society around the definition, and its illustrative examples, are shared by the Institute of Race Relations; eminent lawyers including ex-Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley; civil rights organisation Liberty; leading academic experts on antisemitism Anthony Lerman and Brian Klug; 40 global Jewish social justice organisations; and more than 80 UK-based BAME groups.

These concerns are not merely academic; they have unfortunately been substantiated by many examples across the globe.

The right of Palestinians to accurately describe their experiences of dispossession and oppression, to criticise the nature and structure of the state that continues to oppress them and to openly criticise the ideology of Zionism which informs the actions, policies and laws of that state, is a core right, protected under numerous international laws and conventions, including Article 10 of the European Convention for Human Rights.

Likewise we affirm the rights of all students, alongside all UK citizens, to study and disseminate information around the constitutional order and structure of the State of Israel, as well as to stand in solidarity with Palestinians facing continued dispossession and oppression, including through advocacy for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the State of Israel until it complies with international law. As recently upheld by the European Court for Human Rights, advocating for boycott is a protected right under Article 10.

Attempts to suppress our right to bring information about Palestinian history into the public domain violate our right to free expression, and serve to render Palestinians invisible as a people. These attempts also contradict our academic freedom to learn, discuss, question and test received wisdom.

We call on UK Universities to unequivocally protect our 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 its respect for Palestinian rights.

The list of signatories is available here

If you are a current UK student, and would like to add your name to the letter, you can do so here.