Antisemitism and the IHRA definition

Apr 26, 2023
The University of Adelaide

In a positive development, the University of Adelaide has rejected the adoption of the controversial IHRA definition of antisemitism, because to adopt it would have been potentially counter to “the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech”, according to the University Council.

This topic has been addressed twice in Pearls and Irritations over the past year.

On 12 July 2022, the writer raised the issue in an article South Australia and antisemitism”.  

More recently, Peter Slezak, Larry Stillman, and Martin Munz, considered it in a piece entitled A fizzled campaign to muzzle free speech”, on 11 April 2023.

In the first of these two articles I discussed the vote by the South Australian Legislative Council to officially adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism. I drew attention to the criticism that the definition had received worldwide as having the effect of censoring criticism of Zionism. I also drew attention to the fact that ALP members of the Legislative Council had received a directive to vote in favour of the definition from Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

The second article asserted that the IHRA definition “has been shown to suppress discussion about Israel/Palestine and intimidate critics”. It drew attention to the promotion of the definition by pro-Israel organisations in Australia, including the Australia Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, and the Zionist Federation of Australia. The latter advanced that it was a matter of prime importance to lobby Australian universities to adopt the IHRA definition. On that score it was noted that Monash and Melbourne Universities had so adopted the definition. However, it was further noted that six universities, (ANU, ACU, Flinders, Griffith, the University of Divinity and QUT) had rejected it. The authors of the article noted that at the UNSW, Adelaide, Sydney and Deakin Universities, the matter was still being considered.

I am pleased to now advise that the University of Adelaide has rejected the definition. It did so by a statement published by the University Council on the University website: Statement Regarding Freedom of Speech

A reading of the statement makes it clear that the definition was not adopted because to do so would have been potentially counter to “the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech”. The writer was and is not privy to the discussions occurring within Council. In his position as Patron of the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA) he is, however, aware of the strong submission put by that organisation that the definition should be rejected.

It is of interest to note that whatever its deliberations, Council was clearly not influenced by the adoption of the definition by the State’s Legislative Council.

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