The University of Cambridge has formally adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism

The move has been welcomed by the Cambridge University Jewish Society


The University of Cambridge has formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition on antisemitism in full.

The adoption of the definition was agreed upon at a meeting of the General Board on 4th November 2020 and comes a month after the government accused universities of ignoring antisemitism, saying in a letter sent to vice-chancellors that it was “frankly disturbing” that so many universities had failed to adopt the IHRA definition and threatening to cut off “funding streams” if universities did not act by the end of the year.

At the time a freedom of information request by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) found that only 29 out of 133 universities had adopted the IHRA definition, with 80 saying they had no current plans to do so.

The IHRA definition reads: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”. The university has accepted all 11 examples of antisemitism.

The university has also included the following clarifications recommended by the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2016 to “ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse about Israel and Palestine, without allowing antisemitism to permeate any debate”.

The clarifications say that “it is not antisemitic to criticise the government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest anti-Semitic intent”, and that “it is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.”

As the representative body for Jewish students at Cambridge, Cambridge University Jewish Society (CUJS) supports the decision made by the University of Cambridge. Joel Rosen, the External Affairs Officer for CUJS, said in a statement: “Crucially, it includes all 11 examples specified by the IHRA. We trust that this announcement endows colleges, faculties and departments with the clarity and confidence to take robust action to safeguard Jewish students and we will seek further details on how this decision will be implemented.

“No Jewish student or member of staff should face the degrading indignity of antisemitism be it through coded tropes or explicit abuse. 

“CUJS will work with allies across the collegiate university and beyond to challenge prejudice, support victims and fearlessly advocate on their behalf. It is now time for Cambridge SU to welcome this decision and follow suit.”

Ben Margolis, Undergraduate President of the Cambridge Student Union commented: “As an SU, we are firmly committed to opposing anti-Semitism, along with all other forms of racism.

“Throughout the term, we have been supporting the End Everyday Racism project and developing policy to embed anti-racism in all our campaigning and representation. As part of this, we are in the process of formulating a comprehensive and practically workable definition of racism to adopt in our By-Laws, which sets out our Code of Conduct.

“To ensure that this definition is grounded in individual students’ lived experiences and reflects the diversity of minority groups and backgrounds that are represented in our membership, we will be working in collaboration with student societies and clubs – including Cambridge University Jewish Society – as well as SU Campaigns to hear their views on how best the SU can safeguard its membership and support campaigns to tackle all forms of racism, both in the University and more broadly.”

Featured image credit: Ella Fogg.