Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has written to British universities urging them to adopt the international definition of anti-Semitism.
Williamson warned university vice-chancellors that he would act if “the overwhelming majority” of universities had not adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism by the end of the year and that they could even have “funding streams” suspended.
He added it was “frankly disturbing” that a recent survey by the Union of Jewish Students had shown that only 29 out of 133 universities had adopted the IHRA definition, and 80 said they had no current plans to do so.
Earlier this year CUFI called upon supporters to write to the Secretary of State and their MPs asking the government to pressure universities to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and therefore welcomes this latest move by the Education Secretary.
In a letter to vice-chancellors on Friday, the minister said there were still “too many disturbing incidents of anti-Semitism on campus and a lack of willingness by too many universities to confront this”.
He said the number of universities which have adopted the definition “remains shamefully low”, adding he was surprised that institutions have chosen not to demonstrate that they “do not tolerate anti-Semitism”.
“These providers are letting down all their staff and students, and, shamefully, their Jewish students in particular,” Mr Williamson said.
The Education Secretary is asking officials to consider directing the Office for Students (OfS) to impose a new regulatory condition of registration or suspend funding streams for universities at which anti-Semitic incidents occur and which have not signed up to the definition.
He added: “While many universities have rightly been quick over the summer to demonstrate their readiness to take action against other forms of racism, it is frankly disturbing that so many are dragging their feet on the matter of anti-Semitism.
“The repugnant belief that anti-Semitism 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 anti-Semitism is abhorrent.”
Antisemitism is abhorrent and I am urging universities to root it out by adopting the IHRA definition. If universities ignore the issue, I have asked officials to consider options e.g. directing the Office for Students to impose a new registration condition or suspending funding. pic.twitter.com/j6B5ZNc79T
— Gavin Williamson (@GavinWilliamson) October 9, 2020
A spokesman for the OfS said: “The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is an important guide to interpreting anti-Semitism and a useful tool for understanding how anti-Semitism manifests itself in the 21st century.
“We will explore with the Department for Education what practical steps should be taken to ensure its wider adoption, and how to make sure that anti-Semitism has no place on campuses in England.”