Over the past week, various UEA societies have shared a statement written by Decolonise UEA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram calling for UEA and the SU to replace the current IHRA definition of Antisemitism with the JDA definition.
As well as this, the statement calls for a boycott of institutions such as Barclays “that are actively complicit in the colonisation of Palestine.”
The statement, posted on Monday, demands UEA to “repeal the adoption of the IHRA Definition and replace it with the Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism,” arguing the definition they currently use “makes expressing Palestinian experience of colonialism and its attendant violence publishable.”
The statement continues: “Palestinians, activists, academics, and allies already face multifaceted repercussions for speaking out for the human rights of Palestinians. Codification of colonial narratives and institutional silencing of anti-colonial activists through the adoption of the IHRA is the latest iteration of the de-legitimisation of Palestinian nationhood and expressions of solidarity. […] We demand the University and the Students Union suspend and replace the deeply problematic IHRA with the made-for-purpose Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA). Unlike the IHRA, the JDA makes a clear distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. This is a nuanced and necessary distinction for the safety and wellbeing of Palestinians and Jews alike.”
Alongside the change in definition, Decolonise UEA demands UEA to “divest from companies facilitating Israeli settlements. [UEA] currently banks with [Barclays], with any and all tuition fees being held and processed by them. Barclays use this and other capital to underwrite the Israeli government, facilitating their ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homeland. Investing [UEA] funds in institutions that are actively complicit in the colonisation of Palestine means that all UEA is complicit. Those UEA students who experience this violence first-hand are forced to be implicated in their own oppression.”
“As a university leading the way in tackling racism in all its forms, we demand that [UEA] lives up to the ideals that it claims for itself.”
Decolonise UEA’s post was shared through the Instagram and Facebook posts and stories of numerous societies, including the Arab society, History society, Feminist Book Club, Marxist society, Labour society, and the Politics society.
The Politics society wrote its own version, adding: “[The IHRA’s] broadly defined link between anti-zionism and antisemitism has frequently led to people being unfairly labelled as antisemitic for expressing a ‘pro-Palestine’ viewpoint or for being critical of Israel. […] The Jerusalem Declaration definition on the other hand does not have this issue. It recognises that there is sometimes a link between anti-zionism and antisemitism, but defines this link in a more specific and contextual way. We believe that adopting this definition would lead to less unfair labelling of people as antisemitic, and would lead to less confusion, thus strengthening the fight against antisemitism.”
“We strongly believe that Jewish people, like any group of people, should be able to define what hateful attacks against them are. This is why we believe that the Jerusalem Declaration is a good definition to replace the IHRA one. The Jerusalem Declaration had a number of Jewish scholars work on it, of which have diverse views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as receiving signatories from many others too. The Jerusalem Declaration even has the support of some of the originators of the IHRA definition, who now support repealing it and replacing it with this new one.”
The Pride society initially posted on Facebook before redacting, saying: “We would like to apologise for a post made earlier today that a few of you may have seen. We were forwarded those messages and ideas by decolonise UEA. We did not mean to try and define something that was not ours to define, we simply wanted to support another society without realising the impact of the words used.”
Chris Kershaw, the President of Decolonise UEA and co-writer of the statement, commented on the apology, saying: “We refute the accusation that in our statements or our intent we were in any way antisemitic. Calling for Palestinian narratives and experiences of colonial violence to be respected and not punishable by an institution of higher learning is not antisemitism” before Elly Page, the other co-author, added “that nothing in the statement was factually incorrect.”
Shortly after Decolonise UEA posted, the UEA Jewish Society published an Instagram post written by committee members. The caption says: “Only Jews get to define AntiSemitism. UEA Jsoc believes that the IHRA definition is the best one we have. SU council voted it in in 2019 and we plan to keep it.”
The post criticizes the JDA definition, saying “it fails to define what a hate crime against Jewish people would be. In addition, the academics who wrote it did not consult with Jewish community organisations, hate crime monitors or other complaint investigators. The failure to consult the community towards whom this definition tries to define hate, shows a blatant disregard to actual Jews.”
Expanding on this, Daniel Burns, the president of the Jewish society, wrote directly: “We believe that Jews, like Palestinians and all other groups in society have the right to self-determination and that this includes the right to define what counts as hatred towards us. That this has even happened indicates a double standard since no other group would have to face attempts by outsiders to change the definition of hatred towards them, especially attempts to legislate these changes at an SU level. We’ll continue to represent the opinion of the vast majority of British Jewry and fight against this change.”
In response to Jewish society’s reaction to the statement, Elly Page, who also practices Judaism, wrote: “We recognise that both antisemitism and anti-Palestinian racism are intertwined; we believe that oppression against one is an oppression against all, and we will not be free until we are all free. No official consultation of the society or the committee before [Jewish society] statements were released or social media posts claiming to speak for UEA’s Jewish community were made.”
Decolonise UEA replied: “We at Decolonise UEA, much like [Jewish society], support the right of all people to define what counts as hatred towards them and we are happy that some members of the [Jewish society] committee have made this very important clarificatory statement.
To state support for Palestinians right to ‘define what counts as hatred towards [them]’ whilst supporting institutional mechanisms which police the language and concepts they use to do this is, at best, thoughtless and empty rhetoric. […] Decolonise UEA, and all those who are taking part in the Jerusalem Declaration Adoption campaign, recognise the need for both Jewish and Palestinian students to be protected against racism. By enshrining a highly contested and specific version of the Israeli national narrative within the institutions’ procedures (as the IHRA does) this effectively makes being Palestinian a sanctionable offense by the university.”
The IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance), or the Working Definition of Antisemitism, has been adopted by 36 countries, as well as the European Parliament and other national and international bodies. It defines Antisemitism as “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 JDA (Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism) is a guide on Anti-Semitism commissioned by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute in Israel in June 2020, endorsed by around 200 scholars of Antisemitism, Jewish Studies, Holocaust Studies, and Middle East Studies. It was created to outline the bounds of Antisemitic speech following objections to the IHRA definition which critics including Professor David Feldman and Kenneth Stern have said suppresses legitimate criticism of the Israeli government. It defines Antisemitism as “discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).”