How to oppose the IHRA definition – a briefing session

JVL Introduction

Last October Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education threatened English Universities with financial penalties if they didn’t adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism by Christmas. As far as we can see only a minority have complied; there seems to be considerable resistance among Vice-Chancellors, and growing resistance among academic staff.

BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine) is holding a briefing session on the definition and how to resist it.

How to oppose the IHRA definition across the UK, and Gavin Williamson’s attempt to impose it in England.

Register here

About the event
Omar Barghouti • Ben Jamal • Naomi Wimborne Idrissi • Jonathan Rosenhead • Salma Karmi-Ayyoub • Tom Hickey • Mark Abel • Ghada Karmi • Richard Kuper

Organised and hosted by BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine)

This is a Zoom briefing on how to understand and resist the pressure on universities and colleges across the country to adopt the contentious IHRA Definition of Antisemitism. In England this has now taken a new form: the attempt by the Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, to force universities to comply through the threat of financial penalties.

The briefing will address both the abuse of the definition as a means of silencing Palestine advocacy, and the attack on academic freedom and university autonomy which Wiliamson’s demand represents. And it is designed to provide a toolkit for negotiating with managements, preparing motions or statements or talks on the definition, and campaigning amongst staff and students.

Registered participants will receive informative documents in advance, and will be sent log-on details on the day before the event.

The briefing will cover

  • the origin and misuse of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism;
  • how the IHRA definition conflicts with the responsibilities of universities under the Equality and Education Acts, and the legal status of Gavin Williamson’s threat;
  • the potential impact of adopting the definition on university autonomy, and on the freedom of academic staff to teach and research in their fields – especially but not only if they involve the study of the Middle East;
  • the potential impact of the definition on students’ ability to debate Palestine/Israel issues on university campuses, and to interrogate the nature of Zionism; and
  • how individual staff and Academic Boards in universities, and trade unions in colleges and elsewhere, can resist the adoption of the definition by their institutions, and how they can defend Palestine advocacy in the face of the definition.

Register here


Introductory remarks

Jonathan Rosenhead (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine – BRICUP)

The context

Ben Jamal (Palestine Solidarity Campaign – PSC)

Omar Barghouti (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel – PACBI)

Session One

Chair and respondent

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi (Free Speech on Israel)

Jonathan Rosenhead

What’s wrong with the IHRA Definition?

Salma Karmi-Ayyoub (Barrister and Consultant on Human Rights)

The legal status of the IHRA definition, and of Williamson’s threat


Session Two

Chair and respondent

Ghada Karmi (Author, Activist and Academic)

Tom Hickey


The definition and its impact on research, teaching and debate about Palestine

Mark Abel (University of Brighton UCU)

Defending Palestine advocacy and academic freedom

Closing remarks

Richard Kuper (Jewish Voice for Labour and socialist publisher)


Jonathan Rosenhead (BRICUP)

Participants may find the latest edition of the BRICUP Newsletter (no.138) helpful. This and all previous issues can be accessed on the BRICUP website.

Comments (3)

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    Thank you for facilitating this Briefing session. I have signed up to it.

  • Dave Bradney says:

    It is not necessary even to engage with the politics surrounding the IHRA definition to appreciate that as a useable definition it is almost wholly deficient. The implausibility and opacity of the whole mysterious project speak volumes. See below my letter to Keir Starmer, which has been acknowledged (twice) but not answered,.


    From: Dave Bradney [mailto:[email protected]]
    Sent: 06 April 2020 00:49
    To: ‘[email protected]’; ‘[email protected]
    Subject: IHRA definition
    Importance: High

    Dear Keir Starmer,

    Congratulations on becoming Labour leader, if they are in order.

    Prominent in your victory address was your remark about antisemitism in the party, that you will “tear out this poison by its roots”.

    In that case it seems timely to raise with you the question of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which as I understand it is incorporated in or in some way associated with the rules of the party.

    Definitions exist to allow people to distinguish between “X” and “not-X” in a reliable way. They need to be sound, internally consistent, comprehensive and watertight. They need to be easy to use without any further guidance.

    The IHRA definition is none of these things. It contains huge logical holes that can be spotted on the most cursory examination. It is so badly flawed as to be ethically and practically unusable. It is unworkable.

    The appending to the definition of 11 worked examples loudly announces that even the authors of the definition were not confident in the functionality of their own work.

    In terms of tearing anything out by the roots (your words), the IHRA definition would be a dangerously defective tool. Its use would undoubtedly lead to both political confusion and personal injustice.

    I would be grateful if you would take whatever steps are needed to develop a Labour Party definition of antisemitism which is sound, internally consistent, comprehensive, watertight, easy to use and wholly owned and operated by the party itself.

    Personally I find the first line of the Wikipedia definition quite easy to understand and follow: “Antisemitism is hostility to, prejudice [towards], or discrimination against Jews”.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Yours sincerely

    Dave Bradney
    Member, Ceredigion CLP,
    Member number: L1410745

    [JVL web: This post is too long already If you want a copy of Dave Bradney’s comments on the IHRA document itself contact him at [email protected]]

  • Roshan Pedder says:

    Great line up of speakers. Have signed up and circulated the link to my local PSC group. Hope there is a large turnout for this very important issue which is being used to close down our rights of free speech.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Read our full comment policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.