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University of Exeter

Jewish leaders have lambasted the “pathetic” response from the Arts and Humanities Research Council as it dismissed concerns about a conference on Israel’s Bedouin and “settler colonialism”.

The funding body angered community leaders this week with its response to a letter from the Board of Deputies, sent last Monday, which highlighted the “intellectual dishonesty” of the University of Exeter event in October.

The conference – called ‘Gender and Settler Colonialism: Women’s Oral Histories in the Naqaq’ – deals with the sensitive issue of Bedouin land rights in Israel. Organisers say they will “challenge Israel’s alleged exceptionality”.

Last week Board Chief Executive Gillian Merron said: “We regard this project with deep concern as it appears to be a disingenuous attempt to politicise the Bedouin issue in the wider context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Prof. Rick Rylance, chief executive of the AHRC, said: “I am sorry that this matter is causing concern within your organisation and the broader Jewish community.”

However, he refuted the Board’s suggestions that the conference “fails to meet the required standards of the AHRC to benefit it with financial support”.

He said: “Under open calls, the AHRC has no role in setting or developing individual research topics. The research questions proposed stem from ideas and research methods generated by academic applicants themselves.”

On Tuesday, a Board spokesman said: “We are very disappointed with the AHRC’s response, which fails to address the key concerns raised.”

He added: “We will be writing to them again to press the point that we are unhappy with the way in which academic debate is apparently being suppressed by conference organisers through poorly publicised calls for papers and pre-selection.”