A ballot of academics at a top London university that was expected to reverse a decision to adopt a new definition of antisemitism has been delayed until the new year.
The Academic Board of University College London (UCL) had been due to vote on whether to rescind the 2019 adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, but at the last minute it was rescheduled for January “to allow proper debate”.
In November 2019, UCL’s Council adopted the definition with the support of the Provost and the University’s Jewish Society, but a working group has since said it stifles free speech on Israel.
University authorities said even if the Academic Board were to vote to rescind the adoption of the definition, the decision still lies with the UCL Council, which is chaired by Hong Kong businessman Victor Chu.
If there is a U-turn, it will be the first instance of a university reversing its adoption, but Jewish student representatives said it may not be the last, with similar moves underway across the city at King’s College London.
For the past year, a UCL working group on racism and prejudice has been examining the consistency or otherwise of the IHRA definition with academic freedom at UCL.
In its recently submitted 150-page report, a copy of which has been seen by Jewish News, they say the definition is “not fit for purpose in a university setting and has no legal basis for enforcement”.
Despite this, the same academics report “disquieting evidence that antisemitic insults towards Jewish students… have occurred at UCL much more frequently than most of us had realised”. They said this was the case even “under the most restrictive definition of antisemitism”.
Yet the dons said there were already enough policies in place to combat antisemitism, and that the problem lay in “insufficient reporting” of antisemitic insults and “a lack of awareness of what antisemitism is and why it is a problem”.
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