Is a British University Calling Off Conference on Israel?

April 1, 2015

Conflicting reports circulated Tuesday about the status of a conference, International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, scheduled for next month at the University of Southampton, in Britain. The conference has been the subject of intense debate over the last month. Some defenders of Israel and others have charged that the conference is one-sided and designed to question the right of Israel to exist. Some of those critics have called on the university to cancel the conference, which -- to date -- it has not done. Many scholars have defended the conference, some because they back its substance and others on the principle that academics should be able to organize conferences as they see fit.

On Monday, organizers of the conference wrote online that the university informed them it intends to withdraw permission for the event to take place. The organizers wrote that while university officials cited safety concerns, the professors who put together the meeting believe that political considerations and not safety explain the move.

A spokesman for the university sent an email to Inside Higher Ed strongly denying that the conference has been called off. The spokesman acknowledged that the university has raised security issues, but said that was the only reason for the discussions, and that the faculty organizers would have the final say. "Any decision by the university regarding the withdrawal of permission will be judged purely on considerations around the health and safety of our staff, students and for the general public. Any decisions about a potential cancellation of the conference will be left to the organizers," the statement said.

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