Statement on adopting the IHRA definition at UK Universities and worldwide

The European International Studies Association (EISA) is a leading academic organisation for the study of International Relations and Global Politics. The EISA is deeply concerned with the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism at universities worldwide and the current external pressure for the acceptance of the definition at UK universities.

The IHRA definition, and its attendant examples, 7 out of 11 relate to Israel, have been instrumentalised in several contexts to silence defenders of Palestinian rights. Equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism undermines the ability of scholars to engage in important anti-racist and decolonial work. There is evidence from Germany, Canada, the US, the UK and elsewhere that the IHRA definition is being weaponised to target staff and students. Kenneth Stern, who was among the IHRA definition’s drafters, rejects its adoption as a campus hate speech code arguing that it “will harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates, but also Jewish students and faculty, and the academy itself.” Notably, over 200 scholars working on anti-semitism have proposed an alternative definition. The EISA stands in solidarity with efforts to root out antisemitism and all forms of racism from university campuses.

Currently, UK institutions are adopting the definition through undemocratic and non-transparent means, without the participation of academic staff. During a time of national and economic crisis, the education secretary Gavin Williamson insisted UK Universities adopt the IHRA definition or face financial penalties. This is improper interference and is a violation of academic freedom, which violates free conduct of research, the organisation of events and the planning of curricula within UK higher education.