Melbourne University lied to community groups when adopting IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism

Jan 25, 2023

The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) condemns the University of Melbourne for their underhanded and misleading treatment of community groups when adopting the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism yesterday.

While in this instance framed as a part of a commitment to anti-racism by the University, the IHRA definition has been thoroughly criticised around the world as leading to attacks on Palestinians, including on students and academics, speaking the truth about Israel and Zionism.

“It is disappointing that the University of Melbourne chose to lie to key stakeholders, deliberately hiding from us they were thinking of adopting the IHRA definition and refusing to meet, despite repeated requests,” APAN President Nasser Mashni said.

“This speaks to a lack of genuine concern about dealing with all forms of racism and an underhandedness that is inappropriate in a public institution like this.

“Antisemitism is a large problem in Australia currently, as seen in the recent revelations regarding Premier Dominic Perrottet’s wearing a Nazi uniform to his 21st. It needs to be eradicated, but the IHRA Definition focuses instead on limiting legitimate and important truth-telling about Israel.

“This has been shown internationally, wherever it has been implemented.”

“It is also concerning that the University asserts that they will now look into developing a definition of Islamophobia – which no one has called for and which inaccurately sets up legitimate political concerns as a religious conflict.”

This decision by the University of Melbourne follows recent actions by the University of Melbourne Student Union to support Palestinians and Palestine in their political actions. The University responded inappropriately to those students then, and this move to adopt the IHRA definition continues that framework.

It also follows inappropriate intervention by parliamentarians into universities, through the formation of the Parliamentary Friends of the IHRA and their writing to all universities.

In January the United States Department of Education refused to adopt the Definition, despite substantial pressure and in October the University of Aberdeen’s Senate rejected its use, saying that it “impinged too heavily on academic freedom and the work of academics” and “does not serve to tackle discrimination against Jewish people”.

“It is crucial that no other universities follow Melbourne University’s path. We already know that students with Palestinians backgrounds, regularly, deny their ethnic origins due to a fear being excluded. The further adoption of this flawed definition would create a hostile workplace and learning space for students across the country, and is a direct attack on Palestinian political expression,” Mr Mashni said.