The University and College Union (UCU) has concluded its annual congress by voting to reject the International Definition of Antisemitism. The definition, which was adopted by the British government following a long campaign by Campaign Against Antisemitism and others, notably Sir Eric Pickles, has been widely endorsed. The National Union of Students (NUS) reaffirmed its support for the definition earlier this month. A recent NUS survey showed that 26% of Jewish students said that they were either “fairly worried” or “very worried” about suffering a physical attack, property damage, verbal abuse or theft because they are Jewish.
Now, the UCU has put itself at odds with NUS, which first adopted the definition in 2007. The UCU, which is the largest higher education union in the world, representing almost 120,000 university academics around the United Kingdom, adopted a resolution stating “that this definition conflates antisemitism with criticism of the State of Israel and has been used to intimidate academics who are engaged in activities that are critical of the policies of the Israeli government but that are not antisemitic.”
The definition could not be clearer that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, and even contains a passage explicitly stating that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”. What the definition does consider to be antisemitic is calling Jews or the Jewish state the successor to the Nazis. That is not criticism, it is hate speech. The definition equally identifies as antisemites those who engage in spreading conspiracy myths about Jewish subterfuge and nefarious power.
The resolution commits UCU to actively lobby against the definition and to “make no use of it (e.g. in educating members or dealing with internal complaints).”
The UCU is now institutionally committed to opposing the only definition of antisemitism used around the world, including by the European Parliament, the UK College of Policing, the US Department of State, and the 31 countries comprising the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It is a disgraceful act by the UCU, but it is sadly not a surprise: the UCU voted to reject the definition before, in 2011.