Universities across England are at risk of having funding cut if they refuse to adopt an internationally recognised definition of antisemitism before the end of the year, the Education Secretary has warned.

The University of Sheffield is yet to adopt the definition after previous work by the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion committee was delayed due to the pandemic.

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, said in a letter to vice-chancellors that it was “frankly disturbing” that many universities had not adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. 

The IHRA believes there must be clarity about what antisemitism is and how it manifests itself in the 21st century in order to begin to address the problem.

The IHRA’s working definition states antisemitism as: “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.”

A Freedom of Information request by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) found that as few as 29 out of the 133 universities had adopted the IHRA definition – with the University being among the many that have failed to do so.

Williamson said: “The repugnant belief that antisemitism is somehow a less serious or more acceptable form of racism has taken insidious hold in some parts of British society, and I am quite clear that universities must play their part in rooting out this attitude and demonstrating that antisemitism is abhorrent. 

“There remain too many disturbing incidents of antisemitism on campus, from both students and staff, and a lack of willingness by too many universities to confront this.

“These providers are letting down their staff and students, and, shamefully their Jewish students in particular.”

The University’s equality and diversity policy states it is committed to equality of opportunity and to treat all students with dignity and respect.

Jewish students are frustrated at the slow pace of action at the University as work on antisemitism was delayed due to the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the UJS told Forge Press: “Jewish students have been clear. They have been demanding that universities take antisemitism seriously and the first step of this is the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.  

“It is time universities protect their Jewish students. Every university can and should be doing more to raise awareness around antisemitism and all forms of racism, discrimination and hatred.”

With a clear request from the union, the University is under pressure to implement the definition at a time when resources are already strained due to dealings with Covid-19 infection across campus. 

A spokesperson for the University of Sheffield, said: “The University is consulting widely on the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. 

“Next month a working group set up by the University’s Equality Diversity and Inclusion Committee will be starting a listening process on equality, diversity and inclusion and religion and belief identities with our community, including our Jewish staff and student groups, after previous work by this group was unfortunately delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The University of Sheffield is committed to tackling antisemitism and all forms of discrimination. When developing new policies, processes and structures, Sheffield takes an approach that fully engages our student and staff communities to foster an inclusive environment where new policies can be fully implemented.”

Image Credit: George Tuli

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