Cornwall House at King’s College London. Photo: C. G. P. Grey.
King’s College London unanimously accepted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, a spokesperson told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.
The move — spearheaded by KCL’s president and principal, Professor Edward Byrne, and his Senior Management Team — comes amid efforts to better ensure student safety at campus events.
The IHRA describes antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” — a definition adopted by 31 countries, among them the United Kingdom.
Examples of antisemitism shared by the IHRA include advancing “the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.”
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“The university will now use this definition as a guide in assessing and responding to future events, incidents, meetings and speakers,” a spokesperson said.
At the same senior leadership meeting, KCL also approved a nearly-identical characterization of Islamophobia, described as “a certain perception of Muslims, which may be expressed as hatred toward Muslims.”
“King’s will use this together with guidance from the Muslim Council of Britain and Runnymede Trust reports to guide practices and procedures and improve event management in the future,” the spokesperson explained.
KCL was further reported on Tuesday to have formulated guidelines designed to improve its management of campus events.
The university has witnessed a number of aggressive protests in recent years, some involving physical violence. Demonstrators disrupted a lecture with a former Israeli minister in February, leading to a harsh rebuke from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative body of British Jewry. The following month, a group of masked and hooded individuals violently stormed a panel discussion held by KCL’s Libertarian Society, leaving some audience members and security staff injured and “traumatised,” according to Byrne.
In 2016, the university drew widespread scrutiny after anti-Zionist demonstrators attempted to shut down a campus event with a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency. The group broke a window, set off fire alarms, threw chairs, and banged on the walls, forcing police to evacuate attendees from the building. One protester was found guilty of assault by beating.
Byrne told Jewish News that under the new guidelines, demonstrations will have to take place at a distance that would prevent them from interrupting an event with loud chants. Megaphones will be barred, while banners and flags will not be allowed in lecture halls.
“We’ve been working with KCL on these since the turn of the year, although our relationship goes back many years and is very close,” a spokesperson for the Board of Deputies of British Jews told The Algemeiner, adding that the policies were “still being processed.”
The Board’s president elect, Marie van der Zyl, applauded KCL on Wednesday for adopting the IHRA definition, saying it will make “it easier for authorities to identify and understand the nature of contemporary antisemitism.”
She encouraged other universities to join KCL — a hope that was shared by Liron Velleman, campaigns manager of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).
“If universities are truly committed to zero tolerance approach to antisemitism, they should follow [KCL’s] example and adopt IHRA definition,” he tweeted.
The president of UJC — which represents some 8,500 students in the UK and Ireland — likewise said the definition ensures “we will now be better equipped to deal with incidents going [forward].”
Others were more tentative in their praise.
Tamara Berens, president of the KCL Israel Society and communications director for the KCL Libertarian Society, applauded Byrne for taking this “first positive step” to address the “recent harmful incidents on campus towards Jewish and Israeli students.”
Yet she and her peers still await action on “a wide range of issues” stemming from “the handling and aftermath of serious incidents that have occurred on campus,” she told The Algemeiner, pointing to the protests in February and March.
“While the adoption of the IHRA is important,” Berens said, “it must be applied to issues happening on the ground in order for this move to make a real impact.”
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