The University of Southampton has said it is still considering whether to pull the plug on a controversial conference exploring Israel’s legitimacy, despite organisers’ claims the decision had already been taken.
The Board of Deputies had called for the three-day event be reconstructed or cancelled while a petition against the gathering from the Zionist Federation garnered 6,00 signatures.
Last night a joint statement from the organisers said the the university had withdrawn permission for the conference on “health and safety grounds”. But the academics cried foul, claiming police officers had said they could control protests and ensure the safety of the event.
“The security argument was used to rationalise a decision to cancel the conference that has been taken under public pressure of the Israeli Lobby,” said organising professors in a joint statement.
“Freedom of speech inherently involves taking risks, and hence the presence of risk cannot be used to curtail it.”
But the saga has now taken a new twist with a statement from the university. “The University of Southampton is in discussion with the organisers of the conference ‘International Law and the State of Israel’ about the possibility of withdrawing permission for the event to be held on campus,” said a statement. “However, this review process is still ongoing. Any decision will be judged purely on considerations around the health and safety of our staff, students and for the general public.”
Organised by Prof. Oren Ben-Dor, a former Israeli who calls Israel an “arrogant self-righteous Zionist entity,” the event promised “public debate without partisanship” but senior Jewish community leaders had viewed it is “delegitimising and discriminatory.”
Doubts were raised about the nature of the conference when event literature said it was being convened “given the urgent need to respond to persistent Palestinian suffering.” Further concerns were aired when the introduction framed Israel in the context of “other unjust regimes” and “other states established as a consequence of extreme violence towards indigenous populations”.
Academics had been due to discuss the “problems associated with the creation and nature of the Jewish state” when politicians joined community leaders asking the University’s Vice-Chancellor to cancel.
Cabinet minister Eric Pickles had earlier written to the University, saying: “There is a careful line between legitimate academic debate on international law and the actions of governments, and the far-left’s bashing of Israel which often descends into naked anti-Semitism.”