Through the Looking Glass – it’s that Mann again!

John Mann and the last tsar

JVL Introduction

(Lord) John Mann, ex-Labour MP, is the UK Government’s ‘Antisemitism Tsar’. Gavin Williamson is the Secretary of State for Education. In October Williamson instructed English universities to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. And since then Mann has been zooming round the country roughing up Vice Chancellors whose universities have failed to comply.

But now, in an article in the Jewish Chronicle, he says that the definition “should not be used to restrict academic freedom of speech or of research”! What is going on?

Well it could be relevant that this week University College London’s academics gave an overwhelming thumbs down to the definition having any foothold on their campus. Could it be that Mann has sensed a change in the weather, and is trimming his sails? This can be a tricky procedure, especially if a gale is blowing up.

In his article Mann seems to be saying that he wants the definition installed everywhere, but not actually used to target academics or student societies. Perhaps he can extract a self-denying ordinance from the Campaign Against Antisemitism, UK Lawyers for Israel and others who, with him, have been crusaders for imposing the definition anywhere and everywhere.?

Only last week Oxford University Jewish Society , supported by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, made strenuous efforts to get the St Peter’s College to withdraw an invitation to its alumnus Ken Loach, citing as grounds that  “Loach has made remarks that are antisemitic under the IHRA definition”…

And yet John Mann now writes: “Be it Ken Loach or JK Rowling speaking on campus, or attempts at academic boycotts, I support the principle of free speech and academic freedom. Much more importantly, so does IHRA and the IHRA definition of antisemitism.”

Who would have known it these past few years?

The IHRA definition should not be used to ban free speech – and that includes Ken Loach

John Mann, Jewish Chronicle, 10th February 2021

Lord Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, says IHRA is a vital tool but must not be abused in seeking to ban people with whom we disagree.

The clue is in the title. It is the International Holocaust Alliance definition of antisemitism that has been agreed and adopted by democracies across the world. Understanding what it is and what it is not is therefore important.

For Jewish communities and for the country it is vitally important that Jewish students have confidence that their university life will be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience.  Any impingements on this should be regarded as wholly unacceptable by their university.

We have good statute in this country to deal with criminal transgressions, but most of the campus and university issues do not cross over the criminal threshold. For a Jewish student, being shunned and ostracised for being oneself can be a demoralising restriction on liberty and being fearful of expressing one’s own  identity, including one’s own Zionist identity, is a discrimination and discomfort that is too readily dismissed.

In this, IHRA adds value, to ensure that consideration is always given to the consequences of behaviour and action. IHRA complements our existing laws and university protocols and systems.

The Jewish community has never been afraid of democratic debate, indeed the community seems to relish it. Students, including Jewish students, are entitled to be discomforted and challenged by different ideas and perspectives and this is an essential part of university life.

The IHRA definition of antisemitism does not and should not be used to restrict academic freedom of speech or of research. I welcome universities being unequivocal in their protection of all academic freedoms to teach, to research, and to cooperate with other academics and institutions. Any barrier to this undermines the British concept of democracy and liberty.  An accurate use of IHRA complements this commitment to free speech.

Be it Ken Loach or JK Rowling speaking on campus, or attempts at academic boycotts, I support the principle of free speech and academic freedom. Much more importantly, so does IHRA and the IHRA definition of antisemitism.  Anyone looking to ban a speaker will need to look beyond IHRA and the IHRA definition to establish a reason and rationale for doing so. If in doubt then ask IHRA itself.

IHRA’s definition exists to ensure that students from the Jewish community enjoy the same freedoms and liberties as all other students and the effective and consistent use of the full IHRA definition of antisemitism   underpins these principles.

This is what IHRA is about, a working tool which is already proving valuable in practice.

The banning game cuts both ways. I have been involved when there have been attempts to stop the Israel Ambassador, former Israeli generals, Israeli elected politicians, from speaking in our universities.

People have a democratic right to protest, but they have a right to be heard, just as academic freedom includes an unchallengeable right to work with and cooperate with Israeli academics and Israeli universities. As the Palestine Solidarity Campaign stated in January, there are no examples of IHRA having been used to actually ban anyone.

The future prosperity of our country, under every definition of the word, relies on healthy universities. They need to be welcoming of Jewish students and seen to be welcoming of Jewish students, being able to be themselves whilst being students.

Every university must embrace IHRA. This is happening rapidly. In welcoming this we must be  unequivocal that the interpretation  and use of the working definition is not and cannot be a restriction on academic freedom of speech or  research.

IHRA properly and effectively being used gives Jewish students an equal status on campus. Academic boycotts and speaker bans have no place in our Universities, effective use of IHRA most certainly does.



Comments (33)

  • Margaret West says:

    Good Heavens … faints ..

    As a matter of information the discussion between Ken Loach and the Master of St Peters College is available on Youtube and well worth watching.

    You can find it here:

  • Harry Law says:

    “As the Palestine Solidarity Campaign stated in January, there are no examples of IHRA having been used to actually ban anyone”.
    How can they say that? There are countless examples of people being banned, here is one….
    The big ride for Palestinian children, banned by a London council…
    “The real reason was that council officers, in their infinite wisdom, had decided that the Big Ride for Palestine’s website was “anti-Semitic” based on the fact that it condemned “the crimes of the Israeli state” and spoke of “the parallels between apartheid South Africa and the state of Israel”.
    To justify this twisted and bizarre inversion of reality, the manager, Oudwa Idehen, invoked the IHRA “working definition” of anti-Semitism in some detail, claiming that the examples quoted from their website would “fall foul” of the document.

  • goldbach says:

    If you’ve ever heard John Mann speak you could be forgiven for thinking that the article had been “ghost” written.

  • Roshan Pedder says:

    He must think we are all as dumb as he is.

  • concerned says:

    What’s depressing about the Ken Loach event at St Peter’s is the reaction of students at other colleges. According to Cherwell, JCRs at Wadham, St Hugh’s, Hertford and Keble colleges have passed resolutions condemning the action of St Peter’s in inviting Ken Loach by large majorities. Keble has condemned the Master of St Peter’s for handling the issue insensitively and ignorantly. St Hugh’s said “the regrettable response of St. Peter’s college has encouraged the pile-on of antisemetic abuse”. I don’t know present-day Oxford U enough to know if these are very right-wing colleges. But it’s depressing beyond belief to see students at such a prestigious university denying Ken Loach’s freedom of speech and it seems condemning him unheard.

    I hope, if there is still a socialist society at Oxford U it will invite Ken Loach again, and perhaps Jeremy Corbyn, in the hope that some students there are prepared to use their minds rather than their emotions.

    Sorry to send this anonymously but the pile-on in Cherwell doesn’t seem to be against Jewish students.

  • David Stretton says:

    The lack of self-awareness is astonishing. Surely they could have come up with a more appropriate title than “Tsar” for an anti-Semitism enforcer given the aforementioned Tsar’s record on Russian-Jewish relations.

  • I find it difficult to believe that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign ever said something so stupid as ‘“there are no examples of IHRA having been used to actually ban anyone”.

    If they did say that they should be shot (metaphorically!). And if they didn’t they should demand a correction. Israel Apartheid Weeks have been banned and harrassed. A holocaust survivor at Manchester University had the title of her talk changed to satisfy the Israeli Embassy, Stan Keable was sacked from Hammersmith & FUlham. This is apart from the chilling of free speech.

    Perhaps Mann should have a word with the Campaign Against Antisemitism who called for the sacking of Rebecca Gould, a lecturer at Bristol University, for writing an article ‘beyond anti-semitism’ or indeed Professor David Miller at the same university.

    Or perhaps even Kenneth Stern is fantasising when he condemns how right wing Zionists have weaponised the IHRA

  • John C says:

    Readers of the JC will be indebted to the Tsar and comforted no doubt to learn that black is white and white is black and that when the IHRA guidelines say black they mean white and when opponents of the IHRA guidelines have said white they have meant black. There is no greater champion of free speech than John Mann and if some of have not been able to be heard according to these rules clearly it simply was not speech they were uttering.

  • DJ says:

    This demonstrates that the Israeli lobby is well organised on university campuses. They understand the importance of winning the argument amongst students. We need to take this seriously. They are trying to pit ill informed students against pro Palestinian academics.

  • Jack T says:

    John Mann is a nauseating, smug, protector of an abominable regime in Israel which has absolutely no regard for the civil or human rights of anyone, including Jews, who refuse to follow their Zionist creed. He is part of a cabal of similar minded people in the Labour Party, including Keir Starmer, who have the cheek to refer to themselves as democratic Socialists. There again, maybe they don’t and in that case they should not even be in the Labour Party.

  • Ian Kemp says:

    Mann is a very nasty individual. My only casual dealing with him on the internet and mobile phone revealed how obnoxious he was and is. I challenged on anti Semitism, He came back referring to me as a young ignorant Corbynite who did not know what I was talking about, I explained I was in my 80s and a person of Jewish descent so after over 45 years as a member of LP on and off had never come across A/S anyware. I explained no doubt it exists but is very small within the LP.. He refused to reply, just said go and join your gang or words to that effect.
    He and the likes of Hodge Woodcock Austin Streeting are at the root of false accusations of Anti Semitism. This witch hunt because that is exactly what it is, has degenerated into a form of McCarthyism. It seriously undermines the real anti Semitism out there.
    Further the attempt, to undermine ken Loach as A/S is nothing short of utterly disgraceful and will surely blow in their faces for what they are worth. Why is Mann such a fanatical Anti Semite ? would be interesting to examine is motives and who pays him.

  • Karl Greenall says:

    Tsarist Russia was one of the most thorough and ruthless practitioners of anti-Semitism in history.
    It is ironic indeed that Mann should be described as the “anti-Semitism Tsar”, when the publicly expressed purpose of his role is to lead and oversee efforts against anti-Semitism.
    The use of the term is just another example of the dishonesty, duplicity and diminishing of this very serious matter by it’s weaponisation against the progressive forces of the Labour left in particular.
    Perhaps it’s too much to expect those on the right to understand this. Honest awareness either of self or in general is not one of their strong points.

  • Les Hartop says:

    Reading between the lines it”s quite heartening… Mann and the pro Israeli gvt lobby are clearly worried by the push back that they are experiencing.

    And the position Mann has retreated to has dekivered a lot of arguments that can be used against artempts to stifle free speech on Palestine in the future.

    Of course, this new position may just be a Trojan horse, a feigned manœuvre that will be forgotten as soon as the universities feel that no harm can come from adoption of the IHRA definition.

    BUT Mann has gifted us a major weapon, because he has said that the IHRA should not be used to restrict free speech…. which by implication means that it won’t stop people pressing for BDS,

    The IHRA definition is therefore irrelevant, and universities needn’t think it is important enough to bother spending time discussing it !

  • John Bowley says:

    It is total hypocrisy. Mann seems to be attempting to persuade that the IHRA definition is innocuous, despite overwhelming evidence that it is harmful to everyone. Sadly, there is lots of hypocrisy about now. It harms us all.

  • Margaret West says:

    Here is a link to an article in “Free Speech on Israel”
    discussing the reaction of St Peters students

  • George Wilmers says:

    I think this might be called “triangulation” by this consummate poseur and peddler of populist rhetoric. Could it perhaps be related to the words of another noble “tsar”, namely one Baroness Falkner, recently appointed head of the EHRC? You wouldn’t want to fall out entirely with her now would you? It might be a touch embarrassing after all.
    This is what Lady Falkner had to say to Lord Mann and the other noble Lords last month:

    “I am afraid that I do not support the call for an IHRA definition: it is extremely poorly worded and probably unactionable in law. The noble Lord, Lord Pickles, has just said that it is not meant to be legally enforceable. It directly conflicts with the duty on universities to protect free speech. But there is a further danger in this: when universities adopt this definition, the pressure on them increases also to adopt the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia’s extremely badly worded definition of Islamophobia. The end route, if we go down this road, is that there is no space left where students may learn to disagree with each other respectfully, something that I am sure no noble Lord would want.”

  • Jim Cooper says:

    How the slippery snake recoils in the face of organised campus opposition.
    Let us be prepared for it to prime its fangs for the next attack.
    A snake in the clothes of “free speech” is still a snake.

  • Ken T says:

    I agree this reads as though John Mann used a ghost writer. I think it is a reaction to UCL rejecting the IHRA definition as it restricts speech & academic freedom, in order to try to claim that it does not making it more difficult for academics to argue that it does.

  • Terry Messenger says:

    “There are no examples of IHRA having been used to actually ban anyone.” This is disingenuous and fails to address the most frequent criticism of the IHRA disciplinary code ie it “chills free speech.” People self censor. The code prohibits the denial of the Jewish People’s right to self determination, without defining it. Suppose in the study of history, we challenge the colonialist nature of the British Mandate in Palestine because we are anti-colonialist. Suppose we challenge the mandate’s authority to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine because we are anti-colonialist. That denies the legitimacy of the Jewish homeland on anti-colonialist grounds rather than on grounds of anti-semitism. But it risks accusation of anti-semitism in denying the Jewish People’s right to self determination. Why take the risk? Let’s change the subject. To clarify my own position, I strongly defend Israel’s right to exist on the grounds that current generations cannot be held responsible for colonial misdeeds in the past. If that were the case, few people would have the right to live anywhere. And if ever there were mitigating circumstances for colonialism it is in the foundation of Israel. But I believe students and academics should be able to explore these issues without the excessive fear of denunciation instilled by the IHRA disciplinary code.

  • Nick Jenkins says:

    Could it possibly be that someone has noticed a contradiction here: on the one hand, attempts to prevent people such as Ken Loach speaking on campuses, and on the other, “a free speech champion” being announced to prevent people being prevented from speaking on campuses?! Obviously, this is only really aimed at attempts to keep right wingers away, but even John Mann might have noticed the slight problem…

  • Simon Lynn says:

    There is clearly a distinct contradiction on the surface (not so much in their underlying motivation) between the announced today ‘free speech’ requirement and the imposition of the IHRA on Universities…..without accepting either of these could this contradiction be used to open space for pro-Palestinian Israeli State/Zionism critical voices/movements to act and be heard.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    It’s a liitlle known fact that Keir Starmer’s fiercely loyal #2 Angela Rayner has been the subject of a complaint by CAA on the grounds that she referenced The Holocaust Industry (Finkelstein) as a ‘seminal book’, called Labour antisemitism a ‘smear’ and campaigned for ‘antisemitic’ Parliamentary candidate Lisa Forbes.

    To the fury of the CAA the investigation of Rayner by Labour has been quietly dropped, presumably at Starmer’s request. The politics surrounding this contentious issue are of labyrinthine complexity, but much seems to depend upon how useful an MP is to the agenda of the political establishment. Rayner’s loyalty was of course formerly given to Jeremy Corbyn before being transferred to her new boss. The fact that she accepted the BOD’s demands wholesale and more recently vowed to expel thousands of Labour members for challenging the party line may well be factors in getting her off the hook — this time.

  • Rory Allen says:

    I would like to know which of Ken Loach’s past comments are supposed to have been antisemitic. Meanwhile, making a blanket allegation of this kind without proof amounts, surely, to libel?

  • John White says:

    If we are prohibited from justifiably criticising discriminatory actions which the Israeli Government via their troops and police impose on the Palestinians on an almost daily basis then we are as fascist a state as is Israel. I won’t abide by a single word or any attempts to impose this IHRA on the British people.

  • Peter Johnson says:

    If the John Mann of National organisation of Labour Students in his early 1980 University of Manchester days could see himself now !!!

  • Alan Stanton says:

    “You’ve been – to use your own words John, a vital tool. And sadly there is no further honour we Tories can bestow on you that is more elevated than the titles Lord and Tsar.”

    “But let this not subtract one iota from our gratitude. Please be aware just what pleasure we take from the success of your sacred mission.”

    “You, Mann-of-the-hour now draped in fake dead animal fur, helped us defeat a menace even greater than the Bolshevism which sadly toppled your predecessor Nikolai ll. Bravely did you do your part. Averting not only the insidious plague of Corbynist Scandinavian-style Social Democracy, But thwarting any egalitarian or environmental leaning ideals and policies. You have saved us, O John!”
    “Or at least until the planet in wars and pestilence, starves, floods and burns.”

  • bob cannell says:

    It’s because the ultras campaign to use IHRA as a battering ram to destroy critics of Israel/supporters of Palestinian rights, has come into crashing conflict with Patel and Company’s condemnation of cancel culture and several Tory toffs new found enthusiasm for ‘Free Speech’. Does the Left Hand know what the Right Hand is doing? Can they tell their arses from their elbows? Obvs not.

  • SHEILA LEE says:

    John Mann says that a Jewish student should not be fearful of expressing his or her ‘own Zionist identity’. Being a Zionist is not confined to Jews, nor are all Jews Zionist. Criticism of Zionism cannot, therefore, be Ipso facto anti-Semitic or discriminatory. The fact that it may cause discomfort is not a reason to silence it.

  • George Wilmers says:

    In my capacity as a “maverick academic”, to quote Lord Mann, I feel duty bound to draw attention to his speech in the House of Lords on 21 January, which provides a colourful embellishment to his article above:

    “My Lords, the Council of Europe, the European Union, the British police for the last nine years, Chelsea Football Club for the last two years, and universities, some for three years, have not just thought about the IHRA definition; they have used it. There are no examples of it restricting free speech in any way. Every one of the examples cited by some maverick academics is an embellished falsehood, but do not take my word for it. This week, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, in its training document, stated that there are no such examples.”

    Note that, as referenced by Tony Greenstein above, the “embellished falsehoods” cited by “maverick academics” include the words of none other than Kenneth Stern, author of the IHRA definition.

  • Alan Stanton says:

    Reading the varied theories above has prompted my further musing on the puzzling Mann/Williamson about-turn.
    Could it perhaps be that whoever makes the ultimate decisions has gently explained a secret? How Universities, previously international student goldmines, are in deep financial trouble? From which they won’t emerge after the Covid crisis if the best staff start looking around for perches in other states. Countries where they can research, write, publish, and teach without some commissar making an anonymous complaint. About what? We all know, don’t we, the list of —isms and —phobias permitted or not permitted this year?

    “He had committed – would still have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper – the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it.”

  • Margaret West says:

    Mann has evidently been reminded of the Tory Manifesto promise to make “No Platforming” illegal – in pursuit of Academic Freedom. As indicated above Patel is about to make good on this promise ..

    Another who will have problems is the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE who will be expected to enforce this – at the same time as enforcing the adoption of the IHRA by Universities.

  • DJ says:

    The establishment are not interested in protecting free speech for anti capitalists and opponents of settler colonialism. They support free speech for racist bigots, right wing libertarians and those who glorify the UK’s imperial past. John Mann has joined their ranks. He knows full well that the IHRA definition is an attack on free speech and academic freedom.

  • Rosa says:

    Is the newly ennobled Lord Mann by any chance related to ex MP John Mann, the author and disseminator of that nasty racist anti Roma/Gypsy/Traveller pamphlet? How about no-platforming the Noble Lord for his totally unacceptable comments about the most vilified and poorest section of society? Oh, I forgot, it’s perfectly acceptable to hurl racist abuse at Roma. They don’t count.

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