First Australian university adopts IHRA definition of antisemitism

Jewish community officials in Australia hope the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism will cause a chain reaction, encouraging others in the country to do the same.

 An Australian flag is seen hung in a tree burnt by bushfire on the property of farmer Jeff McCole in Buchan, Victoria, Australia (photo credit: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY)
An Australian flag is seen hung in a tree burnt by bushfire on the property of farmer Jeff McCole in Buchan, Victoria, Australia
(photo credit: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY)

The University of Melbourne announced that it adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism on Tuesday. In doing so, it has become the first Australian university to adopt the definition. The adoption of the Working Definition is particularly relevant at University of Melbourne given the offensive and discriminatory motions passed by the university’s student union last year.

“The University of Melbourne expects that students, staff, visitors and our partners of all ethnicities, nationalities and faiths feel welcome, safe and that they belong,” according to the university’s website. “To support the safety and inclusion of these members of our community within the University, the University will adopt a definition of Islamophobia, following consultation with Muslim students and staff, and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ‘Working Definition of Antisemitism.’”
Jewish organizations in Australia have praised the decision: The Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) said it “welcomes the University of Melbourne’s adoption of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.” ZFA President Jeremy Leibler said, “This move is a strong step forward in the fight against antisemitism on campus and in society as a whole.”
Leibler concluded by stating that “by becoming the first Australian university to adopt the IHRA Working Definition, the University of Melbourne has demonstrated the leadership expected of Australia’s top-ranked university. We call on other universities to follow its lead and adopt the IHRA Working Definition.”
The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) also welcomed the decision. AIJAC Executive Director Dr. Colin Rubenstein said, “This is a very welcome and much-needed step towards combating rising antisemitism at university campuses across Australia. The Australian, NSW and Victorian governments have already adopted the definition, which is a non-legally binding tool to identify, educate about and help prevent antisemitism.”

 Melbourne University  (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Melbourne University (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Zionists in Australia rejoice

Zionism Victoria also welcomed the University of Melbourne’s announcement. Zionism Victoria President Yossi Goldfarb said, “In recent years, Jewish students across Australia have become increasingly uncomfortable on campus with student unions adopting virulently anti-Israel resolutions that cross the line between what could be considered legitimate criticism of the country and blatant antisemitism.”

In 2021, the Australian government adopted the IHRA Working Definition in a bipartisan decision. Since then, the majority of Australian states – including Victoria – have adopted or endorsed the definition. The Working Definition specifies that criticism of Israel is not in and of itself antisemitic, but that denying Jews the right to self-determination is.
Originally developed as a European Union educational tool, the Working Definition of Antisemitism was adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016. Since then, dozens of countries, businesses and educational institutions have adopted or otherwise embraced the Working Definition as the best description of modern antisemitism. IHRA is an international state-level organization of which Australia is a member.

“This move is a strong step forward in the fight against antisemitism on campus and in society as a whole.”

ZFA President Jeremy Leibler

Last year, the University of Melbourne's student union demonstrated the need for the IHRA Working Definition when it passed an antisemitic motion that resulted in Jewish students feeling unsafe on campus. That motion, which implicitly denied Jewish indigeneity to Israel, along with other explicit lies, evidently made the University of Melbourne Council realize the worth of the Working Definition as an educational tool.