Pears Foundation removes name from antisemitism institute

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Pears Foundation removes name from antisemitism institute

Charitable trust confirmed the move in wake of an article by the Birkbeck institute's director, Prof. David Feldman, which criticised the 'confusing and divisive' IHRA definition

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

2018 protest against antisemitism outside Labour HQ in central London
2018 protest against antisemitism outside Labour HQ in central London

The Pears Foundation has withdrawn its name from the Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck.

A statement from the charitable trust confirmed that from May 4 the Institute will no longer bear the Foundation’s name – although it will continue to be one of its funders.

The decision follows the publication of article by the director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck, Professor David Feldman in the Guardian which openly criticised what was described as the “confusing and divisive” IHRA definition of antisemitism.

While the Foundation’ statement did not directly refer to December’s article or name the Professor, it did reference “challenging and divisive issues.” ​

Amongst those to criticise Professor Feldman over the issue was Dave Rich, the Community Security Trust’s director of policy.

Mr Rich attacked the academic’s criticism of IHRA saying it was “the nuances in the definition’s language that make it so useful.”

In a further debate at the Limmud conference at the end of December Lord Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, launched an outspoken attack on Professor Feldman.

He said Professor Feldman had repeatedly said that IHRA “chills free speech”, which was “a myth”.

In 2010 Birkbeck, University of London and Pears Foundation had together established the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism.

It was the first academic institute of its kind in the UK.

But a March 23 statement from the Foundation confirmed: “As the Institute increasingly tackles challenging and divisive issues in the public sphere, the Foundation’s Trustees have decided that continuing to be so closely associated with the Institute is no longer in the F​oundation’s best interests.

“The Trustees of Pears Foundation and Birkbeck have, therefore, agreed that going forward the Pears name will no longer be directly associated with the Institute. The Foundation will continue to support its work as one of several funders.”

The Goldsmiths academic and campaigner against antisemitism David Hirsh told the Jewish News: “The institute hosts an infinite debate between those who study antisemitism and those who confer academic legitimacy onto antisemitism.

David Hirsh

“People who libel the IHRA definition as a dirty trick to silence criticism of Israel cite the institute’s director as an authority. He supports a wrecking declaration which explicitly legitimises what are in the real world the key elements of contemporary antisemitism, calling them ‘not in and of themselves’ antisemitic.

“If Pears wanted to support the scholarly study of antisemitism, they’ve been wasting their money.”

But Yair Wallach, lecturer in Israel studies at SOAS, accused the Foundation of a “sharp departure” from the principle of not intervening in academic decisions.

Mr Wallach added it was “all but obvious that the Foundation was displeased by a specific intervention of the Institute’s director, Prof David Feldman – his recent Guardian op-ed.”

The Jewish News has contacted the Pears Foundation for comment.

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