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Issue 1842 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

Staff petition College to discuss merits of IHRA antisemitism definition

Jewish Society members slam effort as a ‘petty swipe’ when ‘antisemitism is rife across higher education’.

Ucu Flag Parliament Full1 Photo: UCU


in Issue 1842

President Hugh Brady and Provost Ian Walmsley have responded to calls from the local branch of a universities trade union to discuss Imperial’s use of the antisemitism definition adopted by the UK Government.

University and College Union (UCU) Imperial, which represents academic and support staff at the College, sent a letter last Friday to President Hugh Brady asking that he ‘facilitate a public discussion on the merits of the IHRA definition of antisemitism’

Responding this Wednesday, Brady and Walmsley said that Imperial’s position ‘is based on the law of England and Wales’, and has ‘been developed through extensive consultation with our community, including our trade unions’.

UCU Imperial has vowed to ‘fully support members attacked or victimised for supporting Palestinian rights or through abuse of [the] IHRA definition’.

It alleges that the definition has been used at Imperial and other universities ‘to intimidate and/or discipline staff and students who have spoken out about the ongoing events in Gaza’. 

It cites a letter sent by the College Registrar to the UCU branch secretary and at least one College student, that alleged chants by pro-Palestinian protestors at Imperial were ‘antisemitic’ and ‘unlawful (racist) speech’. 

The decision to lobby Imperial for discussion of the IHRA definition followed a motion voted through at its most recent all-members meeting, where 87% of attendees voted in favour, 13% abstained, and none voted against.

A representative of UCU Imperial said the union “is not at a liberty” to disclose the number of attendees but that the meeting was quorate – meaning that over 5% of its membership was present. 

“All members of Imperial UCU, many of whom are Jewish, were invited to attend the meeting, and the agenda and proposed motion were sent to all members several days in advance.

“We do not take demographic data on attendees, but can confirm that Jewish members of the union were involved, both in assisting in drafting the motion and in speaking on the issue at the meeting.”

A spokesperson for Imperial Jewish Society dismissed the resolution as “a poor, pathetic, and deliberate attempt to water down the definition of antisemitism [that] isn’t worthy of a statement in response.”

“Instead of telling the Jewish students and faculty what antisemitism isn’t, they should look inwards and check their own ranks.”

The IHRA definition of antisemitism has been used by Imperial since 2020 to ‘help raise awareness of antisemitism and how it manifests itself in society’ – though the College has not formally adopted it.

The definition is used to varying degrees by a total of 134 universities within the UK. 

UCU Imperial has taken issue with what it perceives to be a conflation of antisemitism with anti-Zionism. Antisemitism refers to prejudice against Jewish people, whereas anti-Zionism is opposed to Zionism, a movement that supports the development and protection of the State of Israel.

Critics of Zionism cite Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, where it has been accused of violating international human rights law, and its blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in the region.

‘The IHRA definition includes 11 “examples” of antisemitism, seven of which focus on the State of Israel,’ wrote UCU Imperial in its letter to the College.

Brady and Walmsley note that ‘our intolerance of antisemitism and our use of the IHRA definition does not prevent criticism of Israel or the actions of the Israeli government, just as all other nation states and government are open to critical discussion.’

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