The controversial conference in University of Southampton questioning Israel's right to exist may be cancelled on ground of safety concerns, according to the major media.
The conference was due to take place in April 17-19. The organizers are all known political activists: Oren Ben-Dor, University of Southampton, a staunch supporter of a bi-national state and a member of the One State Group, wrote in 2005 in The Independent, The boycott should continue; George Bisharat, Professor of law at University of California and Hastings College of the Law, wrote in 2010 on the Mavi Marmara affair in the USA Today, that Israel is "a state committed to privileging Jews" and that "Israel is implanted...in a country that, can only be sustained by violence"; Suleiman Sharkh, Professor of Power Electronics Machines and Drives, University of Southampton, signed in 2012 a Letter in CounterPunch "The World Cannot Stand by as Palestine is Battered to Death".
University of Southampton authorities were besought by letters and petitions from Jewish groups to cancel the event because of its one-sided selection of speakers and overall bias. The gist of all these appeals was that universities should not provide legitimacy to blatant political events. The only pro-Israel speaker scheduled was professor Geoffrey Alderman from University of Buckingham, hardly a balance for the otherwise hostile three days conference.
The Southampton case is reflective of the broader issue of whether extreme bias on campus can be tolerated under the guise of academic freedom. There are no simple answers to this conundrum, prompting academic authorities to invoke the safety hazard remedy. This, however, created a powerful irony since pro-Palestinian activists have forced the cancellation of several pro-Israeli events by promising disruptions. For instance, in 2007 the University of Leeds cancelled a lecture of Dr. Matthias Kuntzel, a German scholar that was invited by the German Department, entitled “Hitler’s Legacy: Islamic Anti-Semitism in the Middle East.” The university’s Islamic Society complained about the “offensive title,” although the title was changed, university authorities cancelled the lecture on grounds of security concerns.
Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the organizers announced that they "will explore legal emergency measures to prevent the university from cancelling the conference." They are learning the hard way what a two edged sword is.
University of Southampton's International Law and the State of Israel conference ‘in doubt’
31 MARCH 2015 | BY MATTHEW REISZ
University looks at “withdrawing permission” for controversial event
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.
Southampton University conference questioning right of Israel to exist 'scrapped' after protests
Southampton University has withdrawn permission for a controversial conference questioning Israel's right to exist to be held on its south-coast campus, claim the event's organisers
By Patrick Sawer, and Jonny Paul
12:30PM BST 31 Mar 2015
A leading British university is set to scrap plans to host an controversial conference questioning the right of Israel to exist, following a wave of international outrage and threats of protests from both sides.
The University of Southampton is understood to have withdrawn permission for the three-day conference to be held on its campus in the face of criticism from opponents who described it as “giving legitimacy to anti-Semitism”.
Critics said the conference – International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism – would be a ‘one-sided’ exercise in Israel-bashing and more than 6,000 people signed a petition calling on the university to cancel it.
One of its most respected former alumni returned his degree in protest and at least one major patron of the university was said to have been considering withdrawing funding.
Organisers describe the conference as “the first of its kind and constitutes a ground-breaking historical event ... it is unique because it concerns the legitimacy in international law of the Jewish State of Israel.”
The university’s own website advertising the conference, originally planned for April 17 to 19, made no secret of the fact that the event would question both the legal and moral right of the state of Israel to exist, stating:
“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.”
But in a sudden turnaround the university has apparently told the conference’s organisers that the event could no longer go ahead on safety grounds, after fears that demonstrators would try to disrupt the event, clashing with Pro-Palestinian activists expected to demonstrate in support.
In a statement on Tuesday the conference organisers, who include Professors Oren Ben-Dor and Suleiman Shark of University of Southampton, and Professor George Bisharat, of University of California, Hastings College of the Law, said: “It is with extreme astonishment and sadness that we have to inform you that the University of Southampton has told us earlier yesterday [Monday] that it intends to withdraw its permission to hold the academic conference on International Law and the State of Israel.
“We were told that the decision was taken on the grounds of health and safety: a number of groups may be demonstrating for or against the conference which could present risks to the safety of the participants, students and staff. The University claims that it does not have enough resources to mitigate the risks, despite a clear statement from the Police confirming that they are able to deal with the protest and ensure the security of the event.”
The organisers said any decision to cancel the event was a blow against free speech and that Southampton was using ‘health and safety’ and as excuse.
“The security argument used to rationalise a decision to cancel the conference that has been taken under public pressure of the Israeli Lobby. It is quite simply unbelievable that the University cannot ask the Police to handle the risk of demonstrations. Freedom of speech inherently involves taking risks, and hence the presence of risk cannot be used to curtail it,” added the statement.
On Tuesday morning Southampton University said it had yet to make a final decision about the conference, but said that its status was “under review”.
A spokesman said: "The University of Southampton is in discussion with the organisers of the conference ‘International Law and the State of Israel’ 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.”
But the expected decision was welcomed by groups who feared the conference would justify attacks on Israel itself and on Jews around the world.
Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society, said: “The event at Southampton University was not an academic conference but a rally of bigots. The proposed line up consisted only of people dedicated to the delegitimising and destruction of the state of Israel.
“No academic conference on Pakistan, for instance, founded just a year before Israel - would consist solely of discussion on whether it should have been created and how to end it.”
The Board of Deputies of Jewish Deputies had urged Southampton University to cancel the event. Its president, Vivian Wineman, said: “It is formulated in extremist terms, has attracted toxic speakers and is likely to result in an increase in anti-Semitism and tension on campus.”
One prominent lawyer said he would think twice before hiring someone from the south coast university. Mark Lewis, who has represented a string of celebrity clients, said he would look “unfavourably” at CVs sent by graduates of Southampton.
And Andrew Sawczenko, one of the few consultants accredited in both General Paediatrics and Paediatric Gastroenterology, returned the Bachelor of Medicine he received in 1987 to vice chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam, in protest.
At the same time, however, more than 850 academics from universities around the world signed a statement in support of the university’s stance, saying that the themes of conference “are entirely legitimate subjects for debate and inquiry” and that to call for it to be scrapped is an attack on free speech and academic freedom.
It added: “We are very concerned that partisan attempts are being made to silence dissenting analyses of the topic in question. For external pressure and interference, especially from political lobby groups and a government minister, to censor lawful academic discussion would set a worrying precedent.”
Univ. of Southampton cancels conference after government, Israel lobby pressure
Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Tue, 03/31/2015 - 05:48
The organizers of a planned conference on Israel say they are considering emergency legal action against the UK’s University of Southampton after administrators withdrew permission for the event. The cancelation follows an intense smear campaign against the conference and its organizers by Israel lobby groups, columnists and UK government ministers and members of parliament. The conference, “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism,” had been scheduled for 17-19 April.
Despite the intense pressure, the university had previously asserted its commitment to “ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the university, as well as for visiting speakers.” Hundreds of academics from around the world had signed an open letter urging the university not to cave in to pressure.
“Health and safety”
But on Monday night, organizers said university administrators informed them that permission for the conference had been withdrawn on grounds of “health and safety.” In a statement (full text), organizers say they were told that “a number of groups may be demonstrating for or against the conference which could present risks to the safety of the participants, students and staff.”
“The university claims that it does not have enough resources to mitigate the risks, despite a clear statement from the police confirming that they are able to deal with the protest and ensure the security of the event,” the statement adds.
The organizers question the explanations they were given and say that the decision to cancel the conference is “grossly disproportionate and therefore may well be illegal and unconstitutional.”
They accuse the university of using security “to rationalize a decision to cancel the conference that has been taken under public pressure of the Israel lobby.”
“We will explore legal emergency measures to prevent the university from canceling the conference, to reverse its decision and to properly collaborate with the police so that the demonstrations can be managed,” the statement adds.
A request for comment was sent to the University of Southampton late on Monday evening.
The conference program includes well-known academics and experts including University of California at Los Angeles historian Gabi Piterberg; Nur Musalha, a historian who has written extensively about Zionist plans to expel Palestinians; University of Exeter historian Ilan Pappe and Princeton University emeritus professor and former UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, among others.
The Jerusalem Post reported that late last year, “leaders of the Jewish community, including representatives of the Jewish Leadership Council, Board of Deputies and the Union of Jewish Students” sent a letter to the university urging it to cancel the conference.
The UK’s Zionist Federation launched a petition calling on the university to ban it as well, a demand to which several members of parliament added their voices.
The most high-profile criticism came from Conservative cabinet minister Eric Pickles, who warned the University of Southampton against “allowing a one-sided diatribe.”
It is with extreme astonishment and sadness that we have to inform you that the University of Southampton has told us earlier yesterday (30 March 2015) that it intends to withdraw its permission to hold the academic conference on international law and the State of Israel.
We were told that the decision was taken on the grounds of health and safety: a number of groups may be demonstrating for or against the conference which could present risks to the safety of the participants, students and staff. The university claims that it does not have enough resources to mitigate the risks, despite a clear statement from the police confirming that they are able to deal with the protest and ensure the security of the event.
As the law stands, the university is legally obliged to uphold freedom of speech, and – unlike in some engineering projects for example where health and safety may be the only legal obligation – the requirement of minimizing risk should also fall onto the police as the agency that is entrusted with the enforcement of the law (freedom of speech) and the provision of security.
The mitigating measure should therefore include policing in addition to what the university can reasonably provide using its own security resources. We are therefore extremely dissatisfied with the risk assessment conducted by the university which seems to lack consistency; high risks remained high even when seemingly effective mitigating measures were put in place. Crucially and additionally, the risk assessment does not seem to include all possible risk mitigating measures that could be provided by the police.
A number of risks have been identified by the police but it is very clear from the police’s report that they are more than capable of policing the conference and ensuring the safety of university staff, speakers, delegates, students and property. However, instead of accepting this at face value the university decided to focus on the risks identified by the police and ignore their statement about their ability to police the event – we were told the police will never say in writing they are not able to police an event, in other words the university had doubts about the police’s ability to do their job of upholding the law!
The university claims that the police are not able or unwilling to become too involved because the university is “private property,” which we find astonishing. The university is a public space, it was established by a royal charter and it 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.
If this is not done, if commitment to safety is not undertaken by the police, freedom of speech becomes an idle worthless notion. At no point were we given an indication that the university has indeed allowed itself the time to seek viable police assistance to supplement its own resources. Additionally, and unconvincingly, the university claims that it is now too late to put proper security arrangements in place. We do not accept that in any way as there are still 18 days left before the conference.
Given the police’s confidence in providing security and given that there are other possible mitigating measures that are yet to be explored that could be put in place to minimize the risk, a decision to cancel the conference would be grossly disproportionate and therefore may well be illegal and unconstitutional. Such an action by Southampton University will severely undermine the public’s confidence in the police’s and the in the university’s ability to protect freedom of speech.
Indeed it will have wider implications for all universities and organizations. We feel that the manner the university communicated with the police and conducted the risk assessment shows that the security argument was used to rationalize a decision to cancel the conference that has been taken under public pressure of the Israel lobby. It is quite simply unbelievable that the university cannot ask the police to handle the risk of demonstrations.
Freedom of speech inherently involves taking risks, and hence the presence of risk cannot be used to curtail it! The UK government and many other governments have refused to give in to attempts by Islamic extremists to stop the publication of pictures of Prophet Muhammad despite serious risks of violence. The correct response by the governments was to confront and contain that violence and not to cancel the publication of these pictures by Charlie Hebdo and others.
This is a sad decision for freedom of speech and for historic Palestine (which includes what is now the Jewish State of Israel and the 1967 occupied territories) and all the people who live there.
We will explore legal emergency measures to prevent the university from cancelling the conference, to reverse its decision and to properly collaborate with the police so that the demonstrations can be managed. In addition we call for the widest and most intense public campaign possible that would urgently encourage the university to reverse its decision and which would allow the conference to go ahead.
Finally, we must make it clear that we have made several attempts to meet with the vice chancellor to consult him on the organization of this conference, and to invite him to open the conference but we have never been given the opportunity to do so. On the other hand, the vice chancellor has met with pro-Israel representatives without ever calling us to attend meetings and we, as professors in the university, feel disempowered and marginalized by this disrespectful behavior.
- Professor Oren Ben-Dor, University of Southampton.
- Professor George Bisharat, University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
- Professor Suleiman Sharkh, University of Southampton.
- Ms. Juman Ismail.
What legitimacy does I$raHell have to be de-legitimised?
Posted on 30 March 2015.
Southampton University is hosting a conference next month which has stirred a whole raft of Zionist anger. “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” is, say its detractors, “anti-Semitic” and will, according to one British MP, “de-legitimise the existence of a democratic state”. Ah, is that the same “democratic state” wherein one-fifth of its citizens face official discrimination on a daily basis and the de-legitimisation of their culture, identity and existence in their own land?
Without wishing to pre-empt what the speakers at the conference are likely to say, this issue of “de-legitimisation” of Israel is fascinating, not least because it presupposes that the state has legitimacy in the first place. Accusations that Southampton’s examination of this topic will actually “legitimise anti-Semitism” are part of the usual smokescreen put up by the pro-Israel lobby in order to kill any discussion of Israel’s contempt for international laws and conventions.
During World War One, the British authorities, through the High Commissioner in Cairo, Sir Henry McMahon, conveyed a number of messages to Sherif Husain of Makkah promising “the Arabs” a Caliphate and the protection of the Holy Places in Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem. Post-1917 Britain’s promises began to look even less likely to be fulfilled, with the issue of the infamous Balfour Declaration promising support for a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…” That clause has been ignored completely ever since, with everything possible being done to expel the “non-Jewish communities” from their land in Palestine; the process continues to this day.
When Zionist leader Chaim Wiezmann arrived in Palestine in 1918, “he warned the British against the application of the democratic system as it ‘does not take into account the superiority of the Jew to the Arab…’” Wiezmann’s racism underpins the institutional racism of the “democratic state” whose existence is so beloved of the British MP noted above (and, it must be said, the prime minister, most of the British cabinet and far too many other MPs).
In the “recommendations of the King-Crane Commission with regard to Syria-Palestine and Iraq” presented to US President Woodrow Wilson in August 1919, it is stated that “a national home for the Jewish people is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State; nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” As such, “the extreme Zionist programme for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews… must be greatly modified”. A subsequent resolution of the US Congress in 1922 again reaffirmed the commitment for a “Jewish national home” not to damage the rights of the existing population of Palestine. This recurring theme has been ignored ever since.
The following year, King George V sent a message “To the people of Palestine” and, again, they were promised that the “national home for the Jewish People… will not in any way affect the civil or religious rights or diminish the prosperity of the general population of Palestine.” The man charged with passing on that message was Britain’s first High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, “a British Jew sympathetic to the Zionist cause”. Samuel distributed public lands to Jews and fixed a quota of 16,500 Jewish immigrants to Palestine in the first year of his administration, “in addition to the flourishing illegal Jewish immigrants who poured into the country with forged documents and disappeared in the Jewish settlements”. The die was cast.
The League of Nations Mandate given to Britain more or less affirmed the intention to create this by now capitalised “National Home” for Jews in Palestine. It has been said that the British government sought this “legal and ‘constitutional’ cover” in order to be able to “plant and alien entity in the heart of the Arab World for its own strategic colonial plans and needs.” When the League’s successor, the United Nations, put forward a resolution to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, it was overlooked that the UN Charter gives it no powers or right to create new countries.
“Israel is the only country in the world which was created by a ‘recommendation’ of the UN,” wrote Zafarul-Islam Khan in his book “Palestine Documents”. When, however, UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte was sent to sort out the resultant “mess” he was assassinated by the Stern Gang, “a Jewish terrorist group whose leader went on to become prime minister of Israel.”
The UN Partition Plan was rejected by the Palestinians and Arab states, who argued that the League of Nations Mandate over Palestine came to an end when the organisation itself was dissolved in April 1946. On the basis of the UN Charter, the Palestinians, it was argued by Henry Cattan on their behalf, should have been granted independence; it was, he said, their “natural and alienable” right. This was rejected.
The partition plan gave most of historic Palestine to the Jewish state even though Jews owned just 6 per cent of the land; in the subsequent ethnic cleansing and so-called “war of independence”, the nascent state of Israel took even more land, having reneged on a deal that had been struck with Jordan’s King Abdullah, the present king’s grandfather.
Israel has never declared what its borders are, the only member state of the United Nations not to do so. Indeed, its membership of the UN was made conditional upon it allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their land. Not only has Israel ignored that condition (along with almost every other UN resolution ever since, despite being a creation of the international body) but it has also obliterated all trace of more than 530 towns and villages which once had a Palestinian population. A glance at the maps of “Palestine” from 1948 onwards show that it has virtually been subsumed by Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent disavowal of a two-state solution and the existence of a state of Palestine should not have been a surprise to anyone. Israel and its founding ideology of Zionism have a greed for more land in order to fulfil the aim of “Greater Israel”, from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan and even beyond. There never was any support for a state of Palestine and probably never will be, not in any meaningful sense, anyway. The people who said that the negotiations and “peace process” were a farce have been right all along.
The question remains therefore: what legitimacy does Israel have? It will be interesting to see what the conference in Southampton next month comes up with. That is, of course, if the Zionist lobby and its twisted views of free speech and democracy is unable to have it cancelled. Justice and freedom demand that they fail in their quest.