Calling off Israel event is setback for freedom

April 9, 2015

The decision of the University of Southampton to cancel a conference that was to have been held later this month under the auspices of its school of law amounts to a massive setback for academic freedom in this country (“Southampton cancels controversial Israel conference”, 2 April).

The university has cited safety and security concerns. But these have arisen only because interests opposed to the subject matter of the conference (the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state) threatened to demonstrate against and (to my certain knowledge) disrupt the proceedings.

As a proud Jew and a proud Zionist, I am appalled. As a patron of the Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards, I am outraged. As someone who was to have presented a paper at the conference, I am horrified.

Academic freedom is indivisible. There is no subject that cannot be discussed in a university environment. Let us hope, therefore, that the university authorities at Southampton can be persuaded even now to undergo a change of heart.

Geoffrey Alderman
Michael Gross professor of modern history
University of Buckingham

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Reader's comments (1)

Geoffrey Alderman is wrong. The cancellation was correct, though not for the right reason. This was never a proper 'conference'. As Michael Gove said "It was not a conference, it was an anti-Israel hate-fest.” That was clear from the language of the ‘call for papers’ (‘racial gerrymandering’, ‘apartheid colonisation’ and all the usual bluster of the Israel bashers). This rhetoric made it clear to supporters of Israel that their ‘free speech’ would not be welcome. Professor Alderman's paper would probably have been given to an empty room. Most of the speakers were committed boycotters. The main speaker, Richard Falk, has regularly made antisemitic comments about Israel, has blamed Israel for the Boston Marathon terrorist attack and has given credence to the most extreme 9/11 conspiracy theories. Neither is the right to ‘free speech’ at a University absolute, as Professor Alderman seems to suggest. It is subject to the University's duty to eliminate harassment and foster good relations between members of different groups (section 149 of the Equality Act 2010). Universities are places of academic enquiry, not hosts for Israel hatefests. There are plenty of other venues available.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

David Parkins Christmas illustration (22 December 2016)

A Dickensian tale, set in today’s university

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

man with frozen beard, Lake Louise, Canada

Australia also makes gains in list of most attractive English-speaking nations as US slips