Image: Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies
Oxford University Jewish Society (JSoc) has welcomed the University of Oxford’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.
The definition can be found on the IHRA’s website, and reads: “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’s stated aims are to educate on, research and remember the Holocaust, taking an “intergovernmental” approach as well as helping teachers to educate the next generation about the dangers of antisemitism.
A statement co-signed by Samuel Benjamin and James Onona, the President and Vice President of Oxford JSoc respectively, was released in the wake of the University’s decision. It said, “Oxford University Jewish Society is pleased that the University has officially adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. In doing so, it joins the growing number of universities across the country in adopting a definition that is crucial in combatting prejudice and discrimination against Jews.”
Oxford JSoc further acknowledged that, “This marks a milestone in the University’s efforts to combat antisemitism”. The adoption of the definition brings the university into line with institutions as diverse as the Premier League and the UK Labour Party, the latter having adopted it in full in 2018 despite then party-leader Jeremy Corbyn suggesting an accompanying clarification over the freedom to criticise the Israeli state and raise the issue of Palestinians’ rights.
The adoption of the definition may well be welcomed warmly by Oxford’s Jewish communities given the context of accusations of antisemitism against Oxford’s Black Lives Matter organisation earlier in the year, and past issues with antisemitism in the Oxford University Labour Club over which a co-chair resigned in 2016.
The IHRA holds that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” However, last month 122 Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals published a letter in The Guardian signalling their concern that such definitions were being “instrumentalised by the Israeli government and its supporters in an effort to delegitimise the Palestinian cause”. Nonetheless, this is the widely adopted definition, used by countries from the US to France to Israel to Cyprus, to name but a few.