FOUR leading Jewish academics in Scotland have quit one of the largest UK lecturers' unions over its stance on the definition of anti-Semitism.

The lecturers resigned from the 12,000-member University and College Union after it rejected the European Union Monitoring Centre’s working definition of anti-Semitism. The detailed guidance paper defines it as a hatred towards Jews and says the “rhetorical and physical manifestations” of anti-Semitism can also target the state of Israel.

The NUS claims to represent 98% of UK students, adopted the document as national policy in 2007 but the UCU rejected it at its May congress amid claims that the definition is being used to stifle academic debate.

The four academics, leading members of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (Scojec), have announced their resignation from the union in response to the move.

They are Ephraim Borowski, who was head of Philosophy at Glasgow University and a trustee of the national union, Paul Spicker, a professor at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Walter Sneader, who was head of the School of Pharmacy at Strathclyde, and Gillian Raab, the chairwoman of the Edinburgh Liberal Jewish Community who is a professor at St Andrews University.

They told UCU general secretary Sally Hunt membership of the UCU and Scojec was no longer compatible.

They said although they take no stance on Israel, they are charged with representing the interests of Jewish people and told Ms Hunt: “We have grave concerns in this respect. The racist propaganda brought in the wake of the Middle East crisis has exposed Jewish people in Scotland and the UK to a wave of hostility. This is the situation you are feeding.”

The EU and the Westminster and Holyrood governments have not adopted the EUMC definition. The UCU says it “confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine anti-Semitism and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus”.

The four pointed to examples of anti-Semitism identified by the EUMC, such as “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” and said the UCU’s claim that the definition is used to silence debate means the “UCU is claiming a licence to vilify Jews in service of its political aims”.

John Scott, a lawyer specialising in human-rights issues, said the EU document was robust.

Mr Scott said: “The definition is sound, but is sufficiently wide that it could be misinterpreted by someone if they want.

“Anyone doing that or using it to stifle debate should be challenged as that is not its aim.”

He said the crucial element is it allows for debate by saying “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic”.

The UCU said it believes that the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine anti-Semitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.

It agreed that the union will not use the EUMC definition “in educating members or dealing with internal complaints; that UCU will dissociate itself from the EUMC definition in any public discussion on the matter in which UCU is involved; and that UCU will campaign for open debate on campus concerning Israel’s history and current policy, while continuing to combat all forms of racial or religious discrimination”.

The NUS confirmed it has adopted the document but would not comment further on claims it was being used to stifle debate.

The UCU would not respond directly to the comments.