UCU open meeting on organising over the IHRA working definition - Thursday 6 May, 6pm

30 April 2021

An update on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘working definition’ of antisemitism and notification of UCU's Open Organising Meeting: Resisting the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

We are writing to update colleagues on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘working definition’ of antisemitism and to encourage attendance at a meeting on Thursday, May 6, to develop a grassroots organising campaign in the union across the UK against its adoption.

UCU Open Organising Meeting: Resisting the IHRA working definition of antisemitism

Thursday 6 May, 6pm

Speakers include Saladin Meckled-Garcia (UCL UCU), Jonathan Rosenhead (BRICUP), Anne Alexander (Cambridge UCU) and others

More information and how to register

Called by London Region UCU and Yorkshire and Humberside Region UCU.


UCL Academic Board voted overwhelmingly to replace the IHRA ‘working definition’, which had been adopted by Council in 2019 without the agreement of Academic Board, with another definition better suited to the university.

This ‘definition’ and its examples (which, it transpires, were never officially adopted by the IHRA itself) conflates criticism of Israel and its supporters with racism against Jews. As such, adoption creates serious problems of academic freedom for scholars of Israel, Palestine, the Middle East, the Holocaust, and any academic in any discipline who may wish to refer to these political entities and events. There are good reasons to believe this conflation makes tackling cases of actual antisemitic speech and writing more difficult - and of course, it sets up a dangerous precedent for criticism of other national states.

UCL Academic Board voted to set up a Working Group to identify alternative definitions. That work is ongoing.

In the meantime, the Senate at the Open University voted to adopt the Jerusalem Declaration. This clarifies the interpretation of the IHRA document, effectively limiting any interpretation of it that would be contrary to the Equality Act. The Open University Senate voted 70% in favour. Our Academic Board was similarly overwhelming in its support of the proposition that the IHRA document should not be permitted to interpret cases in complaint and disciplinary processes.

Several universities have considered and declined to adopt the IHRA working definition in the first place. But many are engaging in ‘secret adoption’, declaring that management groups have decided to ‘adopt’ the definition, without telling staff or even the trade unions.

This means that as well as representing a major attack on university autonomy, academic freedom and free speech, the process of adoption represents a major challenge for UCU and our sister campus trade unions across the UK.

UCL is not a lone voice in standing up to this process. We encourage members to come to the meeting next Thursday and to circulate it among their colleagues and professional networks.