‘We don’t think they’re doing enough’: JSoc on Lancaster Uni not adopting IHRA definition
The Education Secretary has threatened to cut all funding to unis that don’t adopt the definition
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has threatened to cut funding to all universities that have not adopted the internationally recognized International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Jewish students in Lancashire have responded by demanding that universities update their current definitions.
Williamson’s threats come in response to the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) report that only 29 out of 133 universities in the UK had officially adopted the IHRA’s definition. According to Lancaster University Jewish Society’s public statement on the potential adoption of the IHRA Definition of antisemitism, over 30 UK universities have adopted the definition including the University of York.
Lancaster University told LancsLive: “Our University is committed to building a diverse, inclusive environment where people can reach their potential free from prejudice.
“Antisemitism, racism or hate speech of any form will not be tolerated. With the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor in May 2020, the university’s policies to support equality and diversity are under review as part of a wider strategy update.
“A more formal consideration of the IHRA’s Definition of antisemitism may take place as part of this.
“At this stage, no specific timetable relating to any consideration to adopt the IHRA definition has been set, however, the matter will be discussed by university management in due course.”
‘They need to adopt IHRA because it’s the Definition written by Jews for Jews’
The statement from Lancaster University was not satisfactory for the university’s Jewish Society as campaigns officer Noah Katz told the Lancaster Tab that they felt the university wasn’t “doing enough” and stressed that “they need to adopt IHRA because it’s the definition written by Jews for Jews.” The definition would “protect current and future students here at Lancaster.”
Katz summed up the issue by quoting the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks’ claim that “antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred” which “manifests itself in such a unique way” and this is why the IHRA definition is so detailed.
Lancaster JSoc believes that the definition is important because “as a minority ethnoreligious group, [we] believe that [we] have the right to self-determination and to define the prejudice that [we] face.
“The IHRA definition was written by a group of 35 for representing Jewish views across Europe and the world.”
As echoed in their public statement, the definition is “vital” as “it is written by Jewish groups and adopted by the vast majority of British Jewry and international Jewry as well as over 30 UK universities, all major political parties, well over 30 international governments and the British government within that.”
Credit: @lancasterjsoc on Instagram
When asked whether they believed the university was doing enough to protect Jewish students, the response was a resounding no: “We don’t think they’re doing enough and that they need to adopt IHRA because it’s the Definition written by Jews for Jews.”
‘We need IHRA to be adopted to protect current and future students here at Lancaster’
Katz went on to site Sabrina Miller’s article from the Bristol Tab as “an amazing piece on what it was like for Jewish students there in the last couple of years.”
They described Sabrina as “a brilliant budding journalist and activist and advocate.”
Alongside their public statement, JSoc has launched a petition of support with well over 50 signatures, at the time of writing, from all nine JCR Execs/PG Board presidents, various campus political parties, sports club captains, society presidents as well as some students media outlets.
They went on to explain that they are “so thankful” for the support they have received. But there is a side of them that thinks “this wouldn’t even have to be a conversation with another minority ethnic or religious group.”
When asked how students can best show their support for the campaign, Katz responded with a plea for students to “listen to the Jewish society” as they’re “the only representative group on campus of British Jews affiliated with the Union of Jewish Students.”
‘The only speech it will stop is antisemitic speech’
They also went on to stress the importance of getting the information “straight from the source”, this includes IRA themselves and JSoc rather than “groups outside that have opinions with a bias that comes from places of misinformation.
“Not that that’s spreading blame, but it should come from the source like any good academic practice would be.”
Katz was unsure as to why Lancaster University had not yet chosen to adopt the IHRA Definition of antisemitism: “I think that it’s really poor of them to have not done it yet and I hope that the Vice-Chancellor responds to the letter that we sent last week.
“To anyone that says “oh this is going to hamper free speech” I’d like to say that’s categorically not true. As we said in our statement and the only speech it will stop is antisemitic speech. So quite frankly, unless you’re an antisemite, nothing is going to change.
“If you are antisemitic, things might change for you, but we don’t think anyone should have anything to hide, if you’re antisemitic you should face the consequences, if you’re racist you should face the consequences, if you’re homophobic you should face the consequences.”
Katz went on to point out that homophobic or racist incidents are treated very differently by the university: “What’s the difference? You wouldn’t expect the university, if they had a complaint that a student was being homophobic as said by a queer person, you wouldn’t expect the university not to listen to that.
“At the moment, if a Jewish student were to go to the university and say that there had been an antisemitic incident committed against them, the university wouldn’t have to listen to that student because the university doesn’t have the definition of antisemitism. We want to change that.”
‘We will be using every tool available to us to ensure that this definition is adopted’
Going forward, JSoc will continue to defend Jewish students at Lancaster and “will not stop until this definition is adopted.
“We will be using every tool available to us to ensure that this definition is adopted and to ensure that Jewish students are given the equal treatment that we deserve.”
On the 27th October, Katz submitted a paper that was passed to strengthen the already existing use of IHRA within LUSU policy. They pointed out that it had “been in their zero-tolerance policy since 2016 or 17 and in the EDI policy since 2018.”
Credit: @lancasterjsoc on Instagram
Katz went on to explain that the paper “was to ensure that we get support from the union in lobbying the uni (which has already happened) but this is ensuring it.”
The paper also aimed to ensure that the union “acknowledged that it was a JSoc campaign so that [they] don’t get co-opted as LUSU sometimes do like we’ve seen recently.”
Lastly, the paper protects Jewish students by ensuring that “if there were any antisemitic incidences involved in societies or sports clubs that those would be dealt with according to IHRA.”
Katz concluded by expressing that they are “thrilled to say that it was passed at LUSU exec today and I hope it’s the sign of more good to come.”
The president of the society, Dominic Cossoria, would like to formally thank all JCR presidents, VPs, society presidents and sports captains for their support of IHRA.
Following this interview, the Lancaster Tab reached out to the university for comment, in which they said:
“Our University is committed to building a diverse, inclusive environment where people are able to reach their potential free from prejudice. Antisemitism, racism or hate speech of any form will not be tolerated. With the appointment of a new Vice-Chancellor in May 2020, the University’s policies to support equality and diversity are under review as part of a wider Strategy update. A more formal consideration of the IHRA’s Definition of antisemitism may take place as part of this. At this stage, no specific timetable relating to any consideration to adopt the IHRA definition has been set, however, the matter will be discussed by University management in due course.”