The United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson accused British universities of “dragging their feet” in responding to anti-Semitism on campus and urged them to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition or risk losing government funding.
In a Friday letter to British universities, Williamson charged institutions of higher education of “a lack of willingness” to confront anti-Jewish sentiments on campus.
“It is frankly disturbing that so many are dragging their feet on the matter of anti-Semitism. The repugnant belief that anti-Semitism is somehow a less serious, or more acceptable, form of racism has taken insidious hold in some parts of British society,” the letter read.
Williamson urged universities to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, noting that the number of institutions that have already done so remained “shamefully low.”
Antisemitism is abhorrent and I am urging universities to root it out by adopting the IHRA definition. If universities ignore the issue, I have asked officials to consider options e.g. directing the Office for Students to impose a new registration condition or suspending funding. pic.twitter.com/j6B5ZNc79T
— Gavin Williamson (@GavinWilliamson) October 9, 2020
According to a freedom of information request by the Union of Jewish Students in the UK, just 29 of the 133 schools of higher education have adopted the definition, and 80 institutions said they did not intend to do so, according to the UJS.
Universities have rejected adopting the definition on the basis of academic autonomy and freedom of speech, according to The Guardian.
The letter highlighted the reluctance by universities to adopt measures to combat anti-Semitism compared to other forms of racism.
Williamson issued a warning that he would consider “suspending funding streams for universities at which anti-Semitic incidents occur and which have not signed up to the [IHRC] definition.”
Williamson stressed that the “government has zero-tolerance toward anti-Semitism.
“If I have not seen the overwhelming majority of institutions adopting the definition by Christmas then I will act,” he said.
The UJS welcomed the letter, saying, “This is a strong stand by the UK government against anti-Semitism and discrimination faced by Jewish students.”
UJS' response to the letter sent by the Secretary of State for Education @GavinWilliamson to all Higher Education institutions under his jurisdiction. https://t.co/WThnCv5AlS pic.twitter.com/vghdOCV540
— Union of Jewish Students (@UJS_UK) October 9, 2020
A spokesman for Universities UK, the representative organization for institutions of higher education in Great Britain, said: “We recommend universities do all they can to tackle anti-Semitism, including considering the IHRA definition, whilst also recognizing their duty to promote freedom of speech within the law,” according to The Guardian.
The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism says: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Critics of the definition argue that it stifles criticism of Israel. The definition includes a clause defining anti-Semitism as “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”