Southampton University Law School is to host a major international conference on the “legality, validity and legitimacy” of Israel “given the urgent need to respond to persistent Palestinian suffering.”
For three days in April, academics will flock to discuss the “problems associated with the creation and nature of the Jewish state itself and the status of Jerusalem.”
The conference will explore “the relatedness of the suffering and injustice in Palestine to the foundation and protection of a state of such nature,” asking what role international law should play in the situation.
Event literature says the subject is a “marginalised debate” needing a “legal analysis of the manner by which the State of Israel came into existence as well as what kind of state it is”.
Jewish community leaders expressed “grave concern” about the perceived partiality of the conference, which organisers said was “a ground-breaking historical event on the road towards justice and peace in historic Palestine.”
Tory peer Lord Leigh said: “It is very disappointing that a distinguished university like Southampton has organised this conference. They have never held a conference questioning the right of existence of any other country.”
Organised by Prof. Oren Ben-Dor, a former Israeli who has previously called Israel an “arrogant self-righteous Zionist entity,” the event promises “public debate without partisanship.”
However this was in doubt after the discussion of Israel was framed in the context of “other unjust regimes” and “other states established as a consequence of extreme violence towards indigenous populations”.
Despite opposition from Jewish community leaders – several of whom have lodged protests with the university’s vice-chancellor – organisers have pressed ahead with the convention on 17-19 April, saying they hope it will “serve as a platform for scholarly debates rather than positing an activist aim”.
Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Simon Johnson, who was among the dissenting voices, said: “We are gravely concerned about this unbalanced, delegitimising conference, which will have a detrimental impact on cohesiveness. We have asked the vice-chancellor to reconsider.”
He added: “It’s a fine line between academic freedom, which we all cherish, and delegitimisation and discrimination. This conference seems to hover around that line.”