A Guardian report by Haroon Siddique (“Antisemitism definition used by UK universities leading to ‘unreasonable’ accusations”) represents the latest in a long series of articles and op-eds at the outlet attempting to undermine the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.
IHRA, by far the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism in the world, has, Siddque writes, “come under fire in a report which says it has led to 40 cases being brought against students, academics, unions, and societies – 38 of whom have been cleared”. The remaining two cases, we’re told, have yet to conclude.
This data is based on a report by the European Legal Support Center (ELSC) and the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (Brismes), who argue that IHRA “stifles criticism of Israel and has a chilling effect on free speech.”
So, we’re evidently supposed to be alarmed about the danger to academic freedom posed by a antisemitism definition (that’s been adopted by most universities in the UK) which, even by its critics’ own account, hasn’t actually resulted in anyone being sanctioned.
Not surprisingly, the Brismes report itself includes lies such as this:
[IHRA] delegitimises Palestinian claims to self-determination and opposition to Israel’s discriminatory policies against Palestinians as antisemitism.
IHRA, in fact, does NOT define either idea as antisemitic.
The Brismes report also includes this variation of the Livingstone Formulation, a term which describes the accusation that Jews dishonestly claim antisemitism to silence critics of Israel.
The promotion of the IHRA definition in UK universities and its use in complaints against staff and students is part of a wider context and history of false accusations of antisemitism being levelled against those concerned with Israel’s human rights violations
Let’s recall that the report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on antisemitism in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corby concluded that such accusations against Jewish Labour members amounted to unlawful antisemitic harassment.
Also, Brismes’s claim that they oppose IHRA due to their commitment to academic freedom (the term is used 35 times in their report) is undermined by the fact that, in 2019, their members passed a non-binding resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israel.
Returning to the Guardian article, Siddique writes the following:
The report said: “Accusations of antisemitism levelled against students and staff in UK universities are often based on a definition of antisemitism that is not fit for purpose and, in practice, is undercutting academic freedom and the rights to lawful speech of students and staff … University staff and students are being subjected to unreasonable investigations and disciplinary proceedings based on the IHRA definition.”
In 2021, the University of Bristol sacked the sociology professor David Miller, who was accused of antisemitic comments. The case was not included in the report because the scope of the investigation and exact reasons for its conclusion were confidential, with the university saying only that he “did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff”. He is taking the university to an employment tribunal.
Tellingly, the Guardian journalist omitted two extremely important facts:
1) Brismes, the organisation whose report on IHRA they featured, previously defended David Miller against ‘charges’ of antisemitism.
2) Those who charged that Miller was an antisemitic, conspiratorial crank operating under the guise of ‘academic research’ were clearly vindicated when, after being sacked by Bristol, he joined Iranian PressTV and began unleashing even more unhinged and hateful rhetoric about Jews – accusations about Jewish power and malevolence that CST’s Dave Rich argued evoked Protocols of the Elders of Zion-style antisemitism.
If the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published today, it would be a viral video for social media that looked just like this. https://t.co/lBLCpQSS5n
— Dave Rich (@daverich1) July 25, 2023
The fact that the Guardian has again uncritically promoted a group hostile to IHRA, while framing David Miller as the poster boy for victims of ‘unfair’ accusation of antisemitism, tells you all you need to know about the outlet’s cold indifference towards British Jewish victims of racism.