Source: University of Southampton
The fate of a controversial conference on Israel has become uncertain after a university said it was considering withdrawing permission for the event to take place on its campus.
Due to take place on 17-19 April at the University of Southampton, International Law and the State of Israel will focus on “the legitimacy in international law of the Jewish state of Israel”.
It has attracted much criticism from Jewish organisations and some MPs – Eric Pickles, the communities and local government minister, described it as “a one-sided diatribe” – but also a petition in support now signed by hundreds of academics.
On 31 March, the organisers – including Southampton academics Oren Ben-Dor and Suleiman Sharkh – expressed their “extreme astonishment and sadness” that the university intended to withdraw its permission for the conference “on the grounds of health and safety”. Although risks had indeed been identified by the police, it was “very clear from [their] report that they are more than capable of policing the conference and ensuring the safety of university staff, speakers, delegates, students and property”, the organisers said.
“[The university] has public roles and duties including upholding freedom of speech and to that extent it should be able to resort to police assistance in order to curb security risks to enable it to fulfil its legal obligation to uphold freedom of speech.”
The university’s behaviour, the conference organisers went on, suggested that “the security argument was used to rationalise a decision to cancel the conference that has been taken under public pressure of the Israeli lobby”.
As well as looking at legal options, they called for “the widest and most intense public campaign possible that would urgently encourage the university to reverse its decision”.
Asked for a comment, a university spokesman said that it was “in discussion with the organisers of the conference about the possibility of withdrawing permission for the event to be held on campus”.
“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,” he added.