LONDON, March 26, 2015 (WAFA) – Pressure by Jewish and Zionist groups in the United Kingdom is being exerted on the University of Southampton to cancel or ‘reconstruct’ a conference on Israel and international law scheduled to take place on April 17 – 19.
Groups such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews and United Kingdom Zionist Federation have urged the university to cancel the event, and there has also been an intervention from Communities minister and Conservative MP Eric Pickles.
A total of 859 academics have signed a petition in support of freedom of speech and the university’s decision to hold the event. “We, the undersigned academics, express principled and full support for the University of Southampton’s commitment to freedom of speech and scholarly debate.”
They said in their letter of support, “We commend the University of Southampton administration, including Vice-Chancellor Don Nutbeam, for its resolute defense of academic freedom. It is standing principle and recognized practice that academic conference organizers have the right to choose those speakers and topics they feel would best address the purposes of the conference, without these being dictated to them by outside parties.”
The academics who come from various disciplines and institutions of higher education, affirmed that the themes of the conference, such as the relationship of international law to the historic and ongoing political violence in Palestine/Israel, and critical reflections on nationality and self-determination, are entirely legitimate subjects for debate and inquiry.
Describing the incident as a “worrying precedent” the academics stated, “We are very concerned that partisan attempts are being made to silence dissenting analyses of the topic in question.”
In the letter, the 859 signatories expressed hope that the schedule of the conference will go as planned. “We trust that the programme of ‘International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism’ will go ahead as planned, to the credit of the University of Southampton and all those involved.”