Southampton conference on Israel ‘in doubt’

University looks at “withdrawing permission” for controversial event

March 31, 2015

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.

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Reader's comments (2)

So this is what it has come to. Basically, if you take sides on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the thing to do to win an intellectual argument is organize a mob, shout down speakers,lobby universities to cancel conferences on grounds of health and safety regulations, etc. Both sides seem to agree that shouting down one another is the appropriate tactic. They are often absolutely sure their side is in the right, yet panic when other ideas are floated. I guess the closest thing to a resolution of the conflict we have at the moment are the tactics appropriate for engaging with the other side (bullying, shouting, etc.). Sad times for people who like to debate ideas and speakers civilly on British campuses. Thomas Scotto, Professor of Government, University of Essex (speaking in a personal capacity)
I agree with Professor Scotto we are on the verge of the dark ages; might makes right. Is this the great future we were promised when we started no platforming people, when 'sending a message' to unpopular speakers meant disrupting events by constant heckling and 'peaceful direct action' morphed into occupations and vandalism. Is this the moral high ground, the rule of the mighty? What these actions demonstrated is that a vociferous minority can indeed stop things being said that they disagree with. Is anyone surprised that this tactic is becoming a universal approach. All that is needed is people who are prepared to hint at violence (they need to actually do any) just indicate they will 'send messages' or 'noisily protest'. In the arms race to see who is the mightiest any notion of exchange of ideas is drowned out by self righteous moralising about the evils of the other side and the need to defeat them. I see no end to this , the topics that will fall victim to this will increase until little is left to discuss. Modern politics is fast being conducted along the same lines, opponents are evil not wrong. How can one talk or negotiate with 'evil'. Despite pious hopes neither Democracy nor equality nor free speech are inevitable destinations for society. I doubt we will value what we are about to lose until it is lost forever.


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