House of Lords debates campus antisemitism

Today the House of Lords debated the CST Report on campus antisemitism. You can read the debate in Hansard. Baroness Deech achieved the debate and made an excellent opening speech. She mentioned the Noah Lewis case at SOAS.  More: “How ironic that the practice of no-platforming is so acceptable in universities but not when it comes to antisemitic speech.” Other speakers were confined to just one minute. Good speeches were made by Lord Pickles, Baroness Altmann, Baroness Ludford (who rightly observed that her (and my) alma mater LSE has failed to adopt IHRA) , Lord Grade (outstanding), Lord Austin, Lord Palmer (who rightly singled out SOAS), Lord Mann, Lord Leigh and Lord Wolfson (the Minister responding).

Baroness Falkner (a Peer since 2004) is the newly appointed Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Committee (you can see her confirmatory hearing here) Her view of the IHRA definition is wrong:It [the IHRA definition] directly conflicts with the duty on universities to protect free speech.” Has she read it: “Criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”. As Lord Mann noted, there is not a  single example of the IHRA definition hindering free speech. Her opposition to IHRA seems to be rooted in a fear that other minorities eg Muslims will want to follow and that free speech will be further stifled. It’s a not unexpected view from a Libdem of long standing (she resigned in July 2019, reportedly due to a policy disagreement) – but it’s wrong. Lord Palmer (also LibDem) declared himself ‘shocked’ by her opposition. She is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. Secularism could also be a factor in her hostility to a measure to combat antisemitism.

Inevitably Tonge got her one minute. Disgustingly (but not unexpectedly) she blamed antisemitism on Israel. It is not the done thing for their Lordships to snipe at each other but for Tonge an exception is rightly made. Anticipating her speech Lord Polak said “I am certain that Jewish students up and down the country will take some comfort from today’s debate—although I am unsure how a one-minute contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, will be sufficient to put right a career of repeating old, medieval tropes.” Afterwards Lord Austin said “it is completely wrong for the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, to blame racism against Jewish people in Britain not on the racists responsible but on Israel; Lord Grade said “I was especially interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, would have to say in this debate, given her form on anti-Semitism. I have to say that it was predictable” and Lord Palmer said “there are no excuses for antisemitism“.

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Postscript: Two days later this letter by 97 Jewish student leaders was published, backing the adoption of the IHRA definition by all universities

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