Bricup Introduction

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is in the news again in Australia and this time it’s good news. The definition, which mysteriously acquired eleven “examples” of possible antisemitism including no fewer than seven referring to the state of Israel rather than Jews, has been aggressively promoted by pro-Israel lobby groups in Australia as in Britain and elsewhere. In October 2021, the right-wing Scott Morrison government formally endorsed it and since then a cross-party parliamentary group has been pressing Australian universities to adopt it. Several have yielded to the pressure, incorporating the definition into their regulations. They include Macquarie University and the Universities of Wollongong and Melbourne, all of which are reported to have done so without consulting faculty, students or Palestine advocacy groups: practically in secret, in other words. But the Universities of Sydney and New South Wales have held back from adopting the definition, Griffith and James Cook Universities have rejected it, and the Australian National University (ANU) has just announced that it too has rejected it. This latter decision is important. ANU is located in Canberra, the national capital, and is the only university created by the Parliament of Australia. It is also the highest ranked research university in the country and the alma mater of many of its most prominent citizens. The battle to promote Palestinian human rights on the Australian campus is by no means over. But ANU’s decisive rejection of the IHRA definition is likely to have strong repercussions across the university community and may just be a game-changer.


The original version of the following report can be found here.

Australian National University won’t adopt controversial antisemitism definition

The Guardian (Australian edition), 28 Mar 2023 05.44 BST By Caitlin Cassidy

The Australian National University has rejected growing pressure from parliamentary MPs to adopt a controversial definition of antisemitism.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of antisemitism has been critiqued as an “outright attack on academic freedom” among Palestinian and Arab scholars who argue its definition of antisemitism, which includes “targeting the state of Israel”, could be used to shut down legitimate criticism of Israel.

It follows an open letter from the Parliamentary Friends of IHRA sent to vice-chancellors in November, urging them to formally adopt the IHRA definition and requesting a response by the end of January. The group is headed by MPs Josh BurnsAllegra Spender and Julian Leeser.

The ANU vice-chancellor, Prof Brian Schmidt, confirmed on Tuesday the university does not intend to adopt the working definition after its Academic Freedom Reference Group found ANU’s “current system of policies and procedures, as well as the university’s culture, practice and values adequately addresses the threat of antisemitism”.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the Australian National University Students’ Association (ANUSA) welcomed the move. In a joint statement this afternoon, the bodies said staff and students had expressed “serious concern” about the proposed adoption.

These concerns include the potential for this working definition to be misused to suppress research and teaching activities critical of the actions of the state of Israel. Concerns have also been raised that the working definition has a chilling effect on academic freedom, including the freedom of staff and students to engage in discourse on political and human rights issues.

The NTEU and ANUSA … have made representations to the ANU over the past three months urging the university not to adopt the IHRA working definition … we believe this provides a strong example for other universities in the sector who may still be considering the IHRA working definition. This is also an opportune time for reconsideration for other universities who have already adopted the working definition.

The University of Melbourne was the first tertiary institution to publicly back the definition as part of its antiracism strategy this year, while Monash University, Macquarie University, Sunshine Coast University and the University of Wollongong have also changed their policies to include the IHRA statement.