News

UK Is Considering £5.5M Contract for 'Pro-Israel' Program in Schools?

"I thought the government works for the people, not to foreign countries," one X user commented.

Published Feb. 14, 2024

Updated Feb. 15, 2024
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In early February 2024, several social media accounts, most notably @Lowkey0nline on X (formerly Twitter), posted that "the British Department of Education is tendering a £5.5million contract for a new pro-Israel push in schools and universities." The post received more than 529,000 views and 9,800 likes, as of this writing. 

"I thought the government works for the people, not to foreign countries," one user responded to the post.

Another popular X account, @MintPressNews – which describes its content as "independent watchdog journalism" – posted essentially the same claim and garnered more than 12,700 views, as of this writing. (The user @Lowkey0nline hosts a podcast for MintPress News, according to his profile.)

The full tweet read as follows:

The British Department of Education is tendering a £5.5 million contract for an organisation to push a pro-Israel agenda in schools and universities

The contract requires a supplier that will help push universities to commit to the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which equates anti-Zionsim [sic] with antisemitism.

It also states that the supplier will help counter "disinformation about what has happened in Israel since the terrorist attacks of October 7th."

It is true that on Feb. 6, the U.K. Department for Education published a "contract opportunity" for a prime supplier for a program titled "Tackling Antisemitism in Education." According to the official posting, the contract is worth up to £5.5 million ($6.9 million) and submissions would be accepted until March 7, 2024.

The contract would begin on April 23, 2024, and end on March 31, 2027.

The contract opportunity was divided into two separate "lots." The first addresses "tackling antisemitism in universities," as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (more on that below), and the second directly addresses antisemitism in schools and colleges, which involves "the development and rollout of training for school and college staff and student engagement opportunities."

Will the Program "Push a Pro-Israel Agenda"?

In regard to whether the U.K. Department for Education is looking to push a "pro-Israel agenda" in schools and universities as MintPress News alleges, the answer is somewhat complicated and may be more a matter of opinion than fact. 

The description of the program mentions Israel only once: "The Supplier(s) will also be responsible for the development and implementation of supporting resources, including on the situation in Israel following the terrorist attacks on 7th October, which tackle mis- and disinformation, and can be used in student engagement activity."

The description also states that the "cornerstone of this contract will be the development, testing and rollout of a Quality Seal for universities, that will allow universities to demonstrate practical commitment to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, and to the safety and welfare of Jewish staff and students."

It's important to note that the IHRA's definition of antisemitism repeatedly mentions Israel throughout, perhaps leading commentators and news outlets to conclude that a program built on such a "cornerstone" would be pushing a "pro-Israel agenda." The IHRA's non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism is as follows:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

The definition states the following as further illustration: "Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic."

Snopes received this comment via email on behalf of Dr. Kathrin Meyer, secretary general of the IHRA: "The working definition on antisemitism emphasizes that 'criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic'. Any of Israel's policies can be criticized. However, it's important to be mindful that criticism of a policy can cross the line into antisemitism."

The IHRA's emailed response did not address a related question: namely, whether the IHRA's definition of antisemitism equates anti-Zionism with antisemitism as claimed by MintPress News.

Critics of the IHRA's working definition of antisemitism include The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch, among others. In an open letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona dated Feb. 6, 2024, the ACLU – an organization that "does not take position on the conflict between Israel and Palestine" – expressed concerns that in practice, the definition "would likely silence a range of protected speech" including criticism of the Israeli government's policies and actions regarding Palestinians:

[The IHRA] definition of antisemitism conflates protected political speech with unprotected discrimination, and enshrining it into regulation will chill the exercise of First Amendment rights and risk undermining the agency's legitimate and important efforts to combat discrimination.

The IHRA working definition of antisemitism includes protected criticism of Israel and its policies.

In a 2023 letter by Human Rights Watch to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and Under Secretary-General Miguel Ángel Moratinos, the organization "urged" the U.N. not to adopt the IHRA's definition of antisemitism on the grounds that "the IHRA definition has often been used to wrongly label criticism of Israel as antisemitic, and thus chill and sometimes suppress, non-violent protest, activism and speech critical of Israel and/or Zionism, including in the US and Europe."

In sum, the U.K. Department for Education did post a contract opportunity worth up to £5.5 million for a program that addresses antisemitism in schools, colleges, and universities, using the IHRA's nonbinding, working definition of antisemitism — which has been widely adopted as guidance by countries and institutions around the world — as a cornerstone. Because that definition states that "manifestations [of antisemitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel," individuals and organizations such as the ACLU and Human Rights Watch have opposed its official adoption due to its potential effect on free speech concerning the state of Israel.

We reached out to the U.K. Department for Education contract buyer for comment, but had not received a response as of this writing. This story will be updated as necessary.

Sources

Human Rights and Other Civil Society Groups Urge United Nations to Respect Human Rights in the Fight Against Antisemitism | Human Rights Watch. 4 Apr. 2023, https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/04/04/human-rights-and-other-civil-society-groups-urge-united-nations-respect-human.

'Https://Twitter.Com/Lowkey0nline/Status/1755180774188335570'. X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/Lowkey0nline/status/1755180774188335570. Accessed 14 Feb. 2024.

'Https://Twitter.Com/MintPressNews/Status/1755240460673601934'. X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/MintPressNews/status/1755240460673601934. Accessed 14 Feb. 2024.

'Member Countries'. IHRA, https://holocaustremembrance.com/who-we-are/member-countries. Accessed 14 Feb. 2024.

'Reject Definitions of Anti-Semitism That Encompass Protected Speech'. American Civil Liberties Union, https://www.aclu.org/documents/reject-definitions-of-anti-semitism-that-encompass-protected-speech. Accessed 15 Feb. 2024.

Tackling Antisemitism in Education - Contracts Finder. https://www.contractsfinder.service.gov.uk/Notice/79abdcb2-29af-481d-ae0e-deab2c90c285?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2024-02-07&utm_source=SavedSearch. Accessed 14 Feb. 2024.

Walker, Peter, and Peter Walker Political correspondent. 'UK Adopts Antisemitism Definition to Combat Hate Crime against Jews'. The Guardian, 12 Dec. 2016. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/dec/12/antisemitism-definition-government-combat-hate-crime-jews-israel.

'What Is Antisemitism?' IHRA, https://holocaustremembrance.com/resources/working-definition-antisemitism. Accessed 14 Feb. 2024.

You Are Being Redirected... https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounder/about-ihra-working-definition-antisemitism?gad_source=1&gclid=CjwKCAiAlJKuBhAdEiwAnZb7lbw8K5BqaKZyULNcCHTeubpcNe4P3qpfWbJqsjpLuSnt1zT_719-3BoCCbIQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds. Accessed 14 Feb. 2024.

Updates

Feb. 15, 2024: This article was updated with the addition of opposing views on the adoption of the IHRC definition of antisemitism.

Taija PerryCook is a Seattle-based journalist who previously worked for the PNW news site Crosscut and the Jordan Times in Amman.