Anti-Israel academics tried to organize an anti-Israel conference. However, the university agreed to cancel the event after coming under pressure from pro-Israel groups and individuals.
A conference at the British University of Southampton which was slated to discuss Israel’s “right to exist” next month has been cancelled, the Guardian reports.
Denounced by critics as “one sided,” the conference was to deliberate over the “legitimacy in international law of the Jewish state of Israel.”
Among those who condemned the conference were the Jewish Board of Deputies, and MPs including Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, who warned that “the far-left’s bashing of Israel … often descends into naked anti-Semitism,” and Caroline Noakes, MP for Romsey and Southampton, who said the university could “bring itself into disrepute by hosting such an apparently one-sided event”.
The Zionist Federation UK arranged a petition opposing its staging that attracted more than 6,400 signatures. A counter-petition signed by more than 800 academics, including from Oxbridge, Russell Group and US Ivy League universities, urged Southampton to resist the pressure.
The organisers accused the institution of bowing to pressure at the expense of free speech.
Anti-Israelism Disguised as Academia
Oren Ben-Dor, a former Israeli, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Southampton and a known anti-Israel activist and one of the event organisers, told the Guardian that he was told by the institution’s operating officer that it would not be allowed to take place, citing “health and safety” concerns.
Ben-Dor dismissed this as “not serious, it’s a way of creating bogus reasoning.” The real reason was political pressure, he claimed. “It’s ridiculous to say they cannot ensure the safety of the participants.”
Ben-Dor, who has denounced Israel as an “apartheid state” and voiced support for an academic boycott, said the organisers were considering legal action against the university but would also consider finding an alternative venue.
Only 150 people had signed up to attend the event, but Ben-Dor said he was hoping for 300.
Ben-Dor claimed that he had invited a number of senior Israeli academics but that they had all declined to attend.
The decision on the event is apparently not final.
A spokesman for the Zionist Federation said it was awaiting the university’s official decision but added: “We would welcome the cancellation. We don’t think that it was a valid academic discussion.”
A university spokesman said: “The University of Southampton is in discussion with the organisers 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.”