The new chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said that she is against the call for universities to sign up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.
Speaking in a personal capacity during a House of Lords debate around antisemitism on campus, Baroness Falkner said: “I am afraid that I do not support the call for an IHRA definition.”
She said it was “extremely poorly worded and probably unactionable in law,” adding that it “directly conflicts with the duty on universities to protect free speech”.
Falkner also said: “There is a further danger in this. When universities adopt this definition, the pressure on them increases also to adopt the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia’s extremely badly worded definition of Islamophobia.
“The end route, if we go down this road, is that there is no space left where students may learn to disagree with each other respectfully.”
She was taking part in a debate in which Jewish peers including Baroness Deech, Baroness Ludford, Baroness Altmann, Lord Polak, and Lord Mendelsohn took part, many urging universities to adopt the IHRA definition. To date, less than half have.
Deech said adopting IHRA “has the effect of concentrating minds on its expression as well as its definition”, while Lord Pickles, the UK head of delegation to IHRA who persuaded the Prime Minister to adopt the definition, said arguments that the definition hindered free speech were “malicious”.
He added: “If academics cannot find a way to criticise the Israeli Government without having to resort to antisemitic tropes, it speaks volumes to both their paucity of language and their real motivation.”
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