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Controversial definition of ‘antisemitism’ debated in Student Council Meeting

A motion proposing that the Students’ Association publicly condemn antisemitism was debated in Student Council on the night of Thursday 27 October.

The contention surrounding this motion mainly focused on the definition of antisemitism which the motion employed.

The motion utilised the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC)’s working definition of antisemitism, which has been controversial since its inception due to claims that it too closely aligns anti-Zionist views with those of antisemites.

The motion was written by Gabriel Phillips, a member of the University of Edinburgh Jewish Society (Jsoc). Phillips, a fourth year undergraduate, spoke at the meeting in favour of the motion, along with third year undergraduates Robbie Travers and Esther Dominy.

Speaking to The Student, Phillips defended his use of the EUMC working definition, saying: “The EUMC working definition is accepted by all major Jewish groups, such as the Board of Deputies, who are the elected representatives of British Jews, as well as the Community Security Trust, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and other non-Jewish groups such as the NUS and the UK Policing Force.

“Only Jewish students are able to define antisemitism and their oppression, and to have several people who were not Jewish attempt to deny our heritage, religion, and history was grossly condescending and insulting,” Phillips continued.

Travers and Dominy both echoed Phillips’ sentiment, saying the fact that this motion was at any risk of not passing was already incredibly disheartening.

“[The fact] that a motion on antisemitism, which uses universally used definitions, would be arguably failed or needed to be put to an online vote is concerning and disgraceful. If this was any other group, we wouldn’t be quibbling,” Travers told The Student following the Student Council meeting.

Dominy, who also supported the motion at the meeting, told The Student: “This motion would give the Students’ Association a widely accepted definition to refer to when dealing with antisemitism on campus, making it easier to address if and when it happens. I’m disappointed that some students in the room were unwilling to support a motion condemning antisemitism, which was submitted by Jewish students and backed by the Edinburgh Jewish Society.”

However many students also voiced their concerns on their perceived limitations of the EUMC definition used in by the motion. A spokesperson for the Students for

Justice in Palestine Society (SJP), spoke to The Student about their disagreement with the speakers in favour of the motion.

“This new motion risks marginalizing one people group for the benefit of another. Antisemetism does exist, and it is something that needs to be dealt with, but this “working definition” is not the solution,” they told The Student.

“The conflation of antisemetism with anti-Zionism is a double-edged sword. Although this definition only functions as a “working definition” and cannot be used as anything other than a reference point for identifying antisemetism, it alienates those it is meant to protect.

“Those who support the Jewish people and their struggle, but not the oppressive Israeli regime, cannot aid in weeding out the bigots among us. In addition, Jewish people who face antisemetism, but also oppose the apartheid state are isolated from their friends and communities,” they continued.

“We [SJP] would be in support of a definition with clearer guidelines, and separation from Zionism so that it can be used to protect all Jews and not just ones that support an oppressive apartheid state,” they concluded.

 

Image: The Edinburgh University Students Association 

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