Communal leaders express ‘extreme disappointment’

Jewish students and staff were not consulted before the University of Adelaide opted not to adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.

The University of Adelaide. Photo: Bundit Minramun/Dreamstime
The University of Adelaide. Photo: Bundit Minramun/Dreamstime

The University of Adelaide reportedly failed to consult with Jewish students or staff before opting to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism last week.

Jewish students have previously confessed to being scared to go on campus in the wake of an article published in the University of Adelaide’s student magazine On Dit that called for “Death to Israel”.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) co-CEO Peter Wertheim told The AJN that the university has “taken no action” to address the antisemitic incidents reported over the last 12 months, citing the fact that the “Death to Israel” article was originally removed from the website, but has since been reposted.

“Complaints that the article has been reposted have been met with silence and inaction by the university,” Wertheim said.

A university spokesperson reiterated its “condemnation of antisemitism as well as all other forms of discrimination”, but told The AJN that the decision not to adopt the IHRA definition centres around its commitment to freedom of speech.

“We proudly encourage critical thinking and respectful debate. Freedom of speech is a right everyone holds, subject to the law. The right to express lawful views about controversial matters is at the heart of a robust democracy. It is also the essence of academic freedom.

“The University of Adelaide is committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech.”

Wertheim said the right to express “lawful” views about controversial matters is not in question, but what is in question is: “What should a university do if a complaint is made to it that statements have been expressed within the university context that are unlawful?”

“Four universities have adopted the IHRA working definition, two of them have also announced that they will adopt a definition of Islamophobia, following consultation with Muslim students and staff,” Wertheim said.

“The IHRA working definition, being non-legally binding, is a tool which acts as a complement, not an alternative, to the existing law and existing university codes of practice. Sadly, this is what the Adelaide University Council has failed to grasp.”

The Australasian Union of Jewish Students South Australia president Jonathan Iadarola expressed “extreme disappointment” in the university’s decision to not adopt the IHRA definition, “especially since there was no consultation with Jewish students, staff, or community organisations throughout the entire process”.

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler added the university’s decision “is most unfortunate”.

“And its reasoning shows an unwillingness to engage with what the IHRA definition is and isn’t. I would have thought that a university, of all places, would seek to properly engage with an issue before rejecting it out of hand,” he said.

“The university’s stated reasons for rejecting the definition centred on the university’s commitment to freedom of speech. But the IHRA definition does not quell free speech; it enriches it.

“Given recent events, when Adelaide University took no action when a student put antisemitic rhetoric in the university newspaper, and where Jewish students have been reported as being too scared to attend campus, one would think the university would have wanted to better educate its student body as to how to avoid the bigotry the university says it detests. Instead, it has chosen to do nothing.”

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