IHRA GUCU Motion Passed

This motion was passed at a GUCU branch meeting, Monday 26 April, 4pm

GUCU notes that:

  1. At a meeting of Goldsmiths’ Academic Board held on 17th March 2021, a decision was made to begin a ‘consultation’ process, initially to take place through Departmental Boards on whether Academic Board should recommend to Council formal adoption of The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA’s):

o Working Definition of Antisemitism (2016) or

o Working Definition of Antisemitism and illustrative examples

  • The wording of the definition and illustrative examples have been extensively criticised and may pose a threat to academic freedom, curtailing criticism of Israel and discussion of Palestinian human rights, and the right to self-determination protected under international law, without providing additional protection against antisemitism for Jewish students and staff. 
  1. The definition was not voted on or adopted by Academic Board, however documentation was produced at this meeting which appeared to “confirm that with immediate effect the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism should be taken into account by any complaints, disciplinary or grievance panel considering an allegation of anti-Semitism”. This amounts to ‘implementation’ without ‘adoption’ and makes staff and students at Goldsmiths potentially subject to a new set of disciplinary, grievance and complaints processes, with unclear details as to how a non-legally binding definition is adjudicated in an employment context. For the purposes of collective bargaining, this constitutes a change of contract which Management completely denied will be in place, in their preliminary consultation with the main staff union in the college, GUCU.
  2. Although the Secretary of State for Education has called on universities to adopt and implement the IHRA working definition, the definition was recently voted against by the Academic Board at UCL. This followed the recommendation of a report by UCL AB’s Working Group on Racism and Prejudice which concluded that the IHRA definition constituted a threat to academic freedom without providing additional protection against antisemitism for Jewish students and staff.
  • There is widespread opposition (across the UK, US, Canada and other parts of the world) to the use of the IHRA definition in a University context, especially as a disciplinary tool, including by one of its original authors Kenneth Stern, and by the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Baroness Falkner who stated that it was “extremely poorly worded and probably unactionable in law” while it “directly conflicts with the duty to protect free speech”. 
  • In the days following the discussion at Academic Board, The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism was released. This includes a preamble, definition, and a set of 15 guidelines that provide detailed guidance for those seeking to recognise antisemitism in order to craft responses. It was developed by a group of scholars in the fields of Holocaust History, Jewish Studies, and Middle East Studies and provides an alternative to the IHRA definition, that does not conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism – a feature of the IHRA definition that, according to 200 Jewish academics who are signatories of the JDA, weakens the fight against antisemitism. 
  • Documents presented to the Academic Board note that “in line with the College’s statutes, the final decision on whether to adopt the definition resides with Council”.

GUCU believes that:

1.   The vote by UCL Academic Board shows why wide-ranging and careful debate is essential when considering whether to adopt the IHRA definition, as has taken place in other HEIs. Such debate requires not only ‘consultation’ but a democratic decision-making process. Council’s overall decision should not be contrary to the views of a majority of departments, Academic Board and other decision-making bodies and stakeholders.

2.   Given the experience at other Universities, there is evidence of a fundamental contradiction between the implementation of the IHRA definition in relation to the University’s rules, and its obligation in law to uphold academic freedom. The caveat on ‘implementation’ in disciplinary processes adopted by Academic Board, and the apparent choice to adopt the definition either with or without the illustrative examples, does not resolve this contradiction, leaving staff and students unclear as to which acts or ideas may be considered antisemitic under the definition. 

3.    Any ‘implementation’ of the definition as a means to trigger or underscore employee disciplinary or grievance procedures appears to constitute a unilateral change of contract at Goldsmiths – retrospectively changing the disciplinary procedure without consultation with GUCU (and other unions). Section 5(5) of the Higher Education and Research Act (2017) requires that the Office for Students undertakes appropriate consultation on any proposed new registration condition for Universities, with relevant sector representative groups. 

GUCU resolves to:

  1. Reject the adoption of both the working Definition of Antisemitism (2016) and the working Definition of Antisemitism and illustrative examples, on the grounds that they represent an unacceptable curtailing of academic freedom and debate whilst failing to provide adequate protection for Jewish staff and students.
  2. Challenge the implementation of the definition in disciplinary or grievance processes.
  3. Build a local campaign which urges the College not to implement the definition and instead explore the use of other approaches such as those outlined in The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, to defining and combating antisemitism, as part of a cohesive anti-racist strategy.