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Education minister calls on government and universities to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism

Education Minister Alan Tudge has called on the Australian Government to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. 

Mr Tudge spoke with the Jewish community leadership on Monday, in a meeting organised by the Zionist Federation of Australia, about the rise in antisemitic incidents on campus and how Australian and Israeli universities can benefit from each other.

In his comments, Mr Tudge said, “We should be adopting the international definition of antisemitism – and it should be adopted more broadly.” He continued, “From my perspective, I’m determined to see it implemented as government policy, and I’d like to see that cascaded down to key institutions, including universities.” 

Mr Tudge also said had been talking with university leaders about this.

Mr Tudge noted that antisemitism on campus is rising, and is usually conducted “under the cloak of anti-Zionism” and that “it comes down to all of us in leadership positions … to call it out when we see it.”

ZFA President Jeremy Leibler welcomed Mr Tudge’s comments. “The IHRA working definition is a key tool when it comes to educating people about antisemitism. With the rise in antisemitic incidents on and off campus, it is clear that it should be adopted as widely as possible in Australia, and I was delighted that Mr Tudge so strongly supported its adoption – as government policy and more broadly.”

The ZFA, in coordination with other Jewish community organisations, has been urging the government to formally adopt the working definition. In November last year, both Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Opposition Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Penny Wong endorsed the definition. 

The ZFA participated in community consultations held for the government earlier this year, and made a submission (here) recommending its adoption. 

Another topic covered by Mr Tudge was how Australian universities can learn from the Israeli example of monetising innovation. “We’ve learned from what Israel does”, said Mr Tudge. “We’ve studied it deeply, and we’re going to be implementing some of those policies, which we’ll announce later this year or early next year.”

IHRA working definition of antisemitism

The IHRA working definition evolved from a 2005 ‘working draft’ of antisemitism developed by an EU agency. This was later adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (or IHRA). The working definition (here) includes a 38-word definition followed by 11 illustrative examples of antisemitism. 

The examples include ‘traditional’ tropes regarding Jews having inordinate power over media, financial systems or governments, and more recent inventions, such as holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions or denying Jews the right to self-determination. 

The definition does not aim to nor does it actually stifle criticism of Israel. Indeed, it specifically says, “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

The working definition is being adopted across the world by countries and organisations with strong anti-racist mechanisms. So far, 40 countries have adopted it in one form of another. The Australian Government is reportedly considering how to adopt the definition (and Labor leader Anthony Albanese has repeatedly endorsed it).

Over half of UK universities have adopted the working definition, as has the English Premier League and the Global Imams Council.

The working definition’s main role is as a resource to help educate people as to what antisemitism is, and what is (and what is not) legitimate criticism of Israel. There are many anti-racism resources developed by government and non-government agencies for the same broad purpose – to allow the public to engage in free speech while being careful not to offend minority groups who have long been subject to discriminatory behaviour. 

A subordinate role of the working definition is to act as a yardstick, to measure whether an action or cumulative actions by an individual or group amounts to antisemitism (whether intended or otherwise). The working definition does not recommend what should happen if someone is found to be antisemitic. Most businesses and organisations ban racist and bullying behaviour and provide appropriate sanctions if an employee is found to be racist or a bully. In this context, the working definition helps determine if alleged antisemitic behaviour was, in fact, antisemitic.