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SCAN had the pleasure to interview Noah, the Campaigns Officer for the Jewish Society, regarding the open letter to Andy Schofield (the Vice Chancellor/VC) concerning the acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.
The open letter ‘is a definition of discrimination against our minority community’ that Noah believes is ‘necessary because antisemitism is such a unique form of prejudice and because it is ingrained in so many things’. Lancaster University is one of many universities across the country that have yet to accept this definition, despite a recent letter from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson about the possibilities of cuts to funding if the definition is not accepted.
Noah explained that ‘people aren’t always clear on what it is to be antisemitic’ and that by having a definition it ‘restricts hate speech in the sense that it is able to give a definition of what hate speech would be’. When asked whether antisemitism is overlooked in comparison to racism, homophobia and islamophobia the answer was an emphatic ‘yes, 100 percent’. Noah mentioned that antisemitism is often presented as the views of ‘fringe groups’ but that recently there have been incidents at Warwick University and with Professor Miller at Bristol University. In these instances appalling views are being presented with the defence of being allowed due to free speech. Noah said that they are just continuing ‘age old antisemitic stereotypes that literally date back to the Middle Ages’.
Noah was keen to emphasise that ‘people day to day will not see a difference. It’s the fact that if an incident was to happen, it would be dealt with in the proper way’. In the statement by the Jewish Society it mentions that there has been opposition to this definition being accepted on the grounds of free speech. In the statement there is direct reference to the fact that this definition ‘does not restrict valid critique of the State of Israel’ and Noah made it clear that by adopting this definition ‘we’re not trying to stop conversations at all’. It does say that the definition will ‘stop those who mask their Antisemitism with anti-Israel rhetoric’.
At the end of the letter to the VC it is made clear that this definition has been adopted by British Jewry, the NUS, the major UK political parties, the British government, 35+ international governments and over 30 UK universities. This is not a radical or unprecedented step to take- even ‘our rivals at York’ have adopted this definition! There is currently a petition to sign to show your support for the adoption of the IHRA definition- hopefully this will show the VC and university as a whole that among the student base there is widespread support for this change.
The university statement regarding this issue mentions being ‘committed to building a diverse, inclusive environment’ which is ‘free from prejudice’. There is an ongoing review of the ‘University’s policies to support equality and diversity’ and they add that ‘more formal consideration of the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism may take place as part of this’. However, ‘no specific timetable’ has been set yet although ‘the matter will be discussed by University management in due course’.