UCU HE branch officers have received a letter from Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, Chair, British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP). The group have written to alert us to an emerging crisis for UK universities that is likely to have significant repercussions for academic staff and their right to free expression and academic freedom and to invite us to act. This follows the significant pressure on UK Universities to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, with the threat from the Secretary of State to impose punitive financial penalties on any HEI which does not adopt the definition by the end of this academic term. While this is initially targeted at English universities, it will be rolled out to Wales.
You will be aware the IHRA definition of antisemitism, with its attendant examples, is highly controversial, and was condemned in motions adopted overwhelmingly by UCU Congress in both 2017 and 2018 (the motions are available on request). The definition, and the illustrative examples attached to it which conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, have been heavily criticised by the Institute of Race Relations; eminent legal experts including ex-Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley; Liberty; leading academic experts on anti-Semitism, including Anthony Lerman and Brian Klug; 40 global Jewish social justice organisations, and more than 80 UK-based BAME groups.
The right to free expression is at the centre of public concern, and in particular freedom of speech on a range of topics concerning Israel/Palestine. For scholars and teachers at universities, this is of particular concern since it also is likely to have an impact on our freedom to research and teach in the Academy, subject to the law, without let or hindrance from powerful influences or the state. If the Government’s intervention in this case is not resisted it will very likely become a precedent for similar interference on other issues.
We ask members to have conversations in their schools and with their managers, highlighting concerns about the challenge to academic freedom. We will be talking to the VC about this, and reiterating our commitment to opposing anti-Semitism and all forms of racism through our equality and dignity at work policies.