Community groups warn against IHRA working definition of antisemitism, call on universities to reject adoption and ensure campuses are safe space for all

Mar 30, 2023

The Australian National Imams Council, Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV), Palestinian Christians in Australia and the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) commend the Australian National University on their decision to not adopt the divisive and harmful IHRA working definition of antisemitism, and urge other universities to follow suit.

“We welcome ANU’s responsible decision to protect the rights and freedoms of academics and students by choosing not to take on this politicised and discredited definition of antisemitism. It’s important that antisemitism and other forms of racism are addressed, and we already have effective measures in place, such as the Anti Discrimination Act.” said Nasser Mashni, APAN President.

The IHRA definition has been widely criticised in Australia and internationally for counting political criticism of Israel’s practices towards Palestinians as antisemitic. These practices have been demonstrated to constitute apartheid by an array of international legal authorities, and by Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs including Al Haq, B’Tselem, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

It is widely known and accepted by Palestinian and Jewish civil society groups as well as the United Nations, and the original author of the definition, that organisations are in practice using this distorted definition of antisemitism to encompass criticism of Israel for its systematic crimes against Palestinians.

Israel lobby groups are weaponising the very real threat of antisemitism to stifle dissent and debate of Israel. The IHRA definition has frequently been used internationally as grounds for targeting academics and students who support justice for Palestinians.

Therefore, we call on all Australian universities to reject this flawed and harmful definition, and we call on those who have adopted it, including the University of Melbourne, Monash University, University of Wollongong, Macquarie University and University of the Sunshine Coast to rescind their decision immediately.

In adopting the definition, these universities have neglected their responsibility to safeguard academic freedom and to protect their communities, including students, staff and the wider university sector, from politically-motivated attacks.

“We are deeply disappointed that universities such as the University of Melbourne have sidestepped community consultation, ignoring the very real concerns voiced by the Palestinian community and chosen to operate with a complete lack of transparency,” said ICV President Mr Adel Salman.

All universities who have adopted the definition have done so without consultation, in secret, and by deliberately misleading Palestinian organisations about their intentions. Adopting the definition without any reference to or consultation with the people at the heart of the issue – both Jews and Palestinians – seriously damages the credibility and reputation of universities and their claims to be institutions which respect the diversity of their communities. It diminishes their standing in the community.

Racism cannot be fought by singling out any one group as worthy of particular protection. All forms of discrimination should be addressed equally, with equal protections being afforded to everyone and measured in the same manner.  In the case of the University of Melbourne and Monash University, the decision to offer a simultaneous definition of Islamophobia to ‘balance’ the antisemitism definition is therefore misguided.

President of Palestinian Christians in Australia, Susan Wahhab, stated in a formal letter to the University of Melbourne that “by offering to introduce an Islamophobia definition to “balance” the antisemitism definition you have misguidedly reduced and misframed the struggle for Palestinian self-determination on their ancestral lands into a fight between Islam and Judaism, entirely erasing millions of Palestinian Christians”.

Ultimately, UoM has handed a powerful weapon to supporters of Israel’s apartheid practices. This will not reduce antisemitism.

The need to build safety for all people has never been greater – this definition is not the answer for any university or institution.