British Education Secretary Charges Universities with Ignoring Anti-Semitism

October 12, 2020

The United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson accused British universities of “dragging their feet” and not adequately responding to anti-Semitism on campus. Secretary Williamson urged the nation’s universities, among the most reputable in the world, to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, or risk losing government funding, the Times of Israel reported.

Last Friday, in a letter to universities across the United Kingdom, Williamson outlined how in his view, institutions of higher education demonstrated “a lack of willingness” to confront anti-Jewish sentiments on campus.

According to a freedom of information request by the Union of Jewish Students in the UK, only 29 of the 133 institutions of higher education in the country have adopted the definition so far. Eighty institutions said they did not intend to do so. Several universities have actively refused to adopt the definition, citing freedom of speech concerns.

The letter highlighted the reluctance by universities to seriously address anti-Semitism on campus compared to other forms of racism. “While many universities have rightly been quick to…take action against other forms of racism, it is frankly disturbing that so many are dragging their feet on the matter of antisemitism. The repugnant belief that antisemitism is somehow a less serious, or more acceptable, form of racism has taken insidious hold in some parts of British society…universities must play their part in rooting out this attitude and demonstrating that antisemitism is abhorrent,” Secretary Williamson said in the letter.

Williamson was quite frank in his assessment of the problem and issued a warning that he would consider “suspending funding streams for universities at which anti-Semitic incidents occur and which have not signed up to the definition,” and stated that the “government has zero-tolerance toward anti-Semitism.”

The Education Secretary also pointed out that several ministers in the current and former governments have urged universities in recent years to adopt the IHRA definition and have they have failed to do. Williamson cited a consensus across political parties and state institutions on the matter. Providing a timeline to see the universities change course, Williamson concluded by saying, “If I have not seen the overwhelming majority of institutions adopting the definition by Christmas then I will act.”

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