Aberdeen University has come under criticism for adopting an antisemitism definition approved by Palestinian and pro-BDS groups, instead of the more widely accepted IHRA working definition of antisemitism.
After a two-year consultation, the university has adopted the Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism (JDA) instead.
The move has been welcomed by a professor at Aberdeen University who argued that parts of the IHRA guidance “define antisemitism as any critique of the state of Israel”. This is something refuted by Jewish groups in Scotland. He claimed this would have posed a “real threat” to his teaching.
Condemning Aberdeen’s decision to adopt the JDA, a spokesperson for the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities said: “If the critics of the IHRA Definition (originally devised by the EU Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia) had taken the trouble to read it, they would see that far from ‘defining antisemitism as any critique of the state of Israel’, it explicitly says the opposite – the second paragraph begins ‘criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.’
“Unfortunately however there is no shortage of antisemitism of all kinds on campuses, and universities and their staff should be at the forefront of stamping it out.
“If they claim to oppose racism but tolerate antisemitism of any kind, they are simply proving David Baddiel’s thesis that ‘Jews don’t count’ and indulging in second-order antisemitism.”
Amongst those that welcomed the move was the Aberdeen branch of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign who said the decision “sent a clear message of political impartiality and opposed the undermining of academic freedom to expose human rights abuses.”
Enthusiastic backers of the JDA have been the pro-Jeremy Corbyn group Jewish Voice for Labour, and supports of the BDS movement.
The IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism states: “Antisemitism is 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.”
The IHRA says that manifestations of antisemitism include “the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity”.
The JDA says that evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state is not antisemitic. “This includes its institutions and founding principles. It also includes its policies and practices, domestic and abroad, such as the conduct of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, the role Israel plays in the region, or any other way in which, as a state, it influences events in the world,” the JDA says.
A spokesperson for Aberdeen University confirmed:”Working with the Aberdeen University Jewish Society and the Palestinian Society, University Senate and other staff and students, it was agreed that the university should adopt a definition of antisemitism to support its Jewish community but that wider options than the IHRA definition should be considered.
“Further consultation indicated that the JDA definition was the preferred option, noting that it offers a clear and fair definition which protects critical open debate.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said the Jerusalem Declaration is a “wrecking document intended to undermine the globally-recognised” IHRA definition.
They added: “The university is the only such institution in the country to take this scandalous position. In rejecting the definition that has consensus support across the Jewish community in favour of the fringe and controversial Jerusalem Declaration, the university has done the opposite of standing with British Jews and Jewish students.”