Gavin Williamson wrote a letter to university heads calling on their institutions to adopt the Definition after a study showed that a limited number had done so, despite urging from the Government over the past several years and threats of loss of funding.
He also said that the Office for Students, which regulates higher education in England, could be tasked with taking regulatory action against universities, including over funding, if they fail to adopt the Definition by the end of this year.
“If I have not seen the overwhelming majority of institutions adopting the Definition by Christmas then I will act,” Williamson wrote.
Campaign Against Antisemitism has consistently backed efforts by the Government to encourage widespread adoption of the Definition by local authorities, universities and public bodies. The UK was the first country in the world to adopt the International Definition, something for which Campaign Against Antisemitism, Lord Eric Pickles and others worked hard over many meetings with officials at Downing Street.
However, universities have protested the intervention, with a spokesperson for Universities UK saying: “We recommend universities do all they can to tackle antisemitism, including considering the [D]efinition, whilst also recognising their duty to promote freedom of speech within the law. UUK has set up a taskforce to consider what can be done to address all forms of harassment, violence and hate crime on campus, including on the basis of religion. We are in regular contact with Jewish community leaders and student groups to ensure that universities are supported to do all they can to tackle antisemitism.”
A spokesperson for the University of Oxford, which has not adopted the Definition, reportedly said:“Harassment and discrimination of any kind, including harassment on racial or religious grounds, are totally unacceptable at Oxford University and we have strong policies in place to guard against them.”
Similarly, a spokesperson for the University of Cambridge reportedly said: “The University of Cambridge does not tolerate discrimination in any form. We are an inclusive community that welcomes staff, students, alumni, collaborators and visitors from a wide variety of backgrounds, including people of all faiths and none. We have a student-facing webpage dedicated to resources on the disclosure and prevention of hate crime, which explicitly links to the International Definition of Antisemitism sanctioned by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as a reference point. Any behaviour that would fall within the [D]efinition would be covered by the University’s current Rules of Behaviour. The University keeps its Rules of Behaviour under review and therefore, will continue to monitor its approach.”
At SOAS, it has been reported that academics expressed their furious opposition to adoption of the Definition in an internal discussion thread, with one lecturer allegedly claiming that the Definition was a “Zionist” attempt to redefine antisemitism. Another academic defended the Definition and was apparently attacked by colleagues in the thread.
If any students are concerned about antisemitism on campus or need assistance, they can call us on 0330 822 0321, or e-mail [email protected]