The planned anti-Israel conference at the University of Southampton continues to generate controversy.
The conference, “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism“, is organised by Prof. Oren ben-Dor, an Israeli academic known as a campaigner for a One-State Solution and a supporter of an academic boycott of Israel.
The three-day conference in April does not pretend to be neutral. The official event description says it
…concerns the legitimacy in International Law of the Jewish state of Israel. Rather than focusing on Israeli actions in the 1967 Occupied Territories, the conference will focus on exploring themes of Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism; all of which are posed by Israel’s very nature.
According to our own research, 45 of the 56 speakers – 80% – have a record of anti-Israel activism such as supporting boycotts, opposing Israel’s existence, justifying terror or writing for campaigning publications like Electronic Intifada. By comparison, only 3 speakers have any record of supporting and only 8 speakers no obvious campaigning background at all! This is not a conference of impartial experts or neutral academics discussing their research. It is a political conference of political campaigners involved in fringe anti-Israel causes.
Only one speaker is an academic from an Israeli university — Dr Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, an Israeli Arab academic at Hebrew University. Many of the other speakers, including conference organiser Prof. ben-Dor, support a full boycott of Israeli universities. Surely they wouldn’t apply that policy to only Jewish Israeli academics?
Many people have voiced their concerns about the bias of the conference:
The Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies have both raised objections with the University’s Vice Chancellor.
A petition organised by the Zionist Federation calling for the conference to be cancelled now has 5000 signatures, leading to coverage in the Sunday Times
Lawyer Mark Lewis’s comments about the credibility of Southampton’s Law department were covered in the Telegraph. He said
“This is a one-sided conference, not a debate and I would want to raise serious questions about what students at this university are being taught and what the university believes.
“If Southampton allows teaching which does not present both sides of a case it would raise doubts in my mind about the suitability of a candidate from its School of Law. I would not look so favourably on those CVs.”
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government told the Jewish News last week that
“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.
“Given the taxpayer-funded University has a legal duty to uphold freedom of speech, I would hope that they are taking steps to give a platform to all sides of the debate, rather than allowing a one-sided diatribe”
The bias of the conference has also been condemned by local MPs.
We will update if there are any further developments.