From Fathom: Antisemitism and Oren Ben-Dor

Before the University of Southampton’s conference on Israel and international law was cancelled/postponed, a petition was set up insisting that this controversial topic was a legitimate subject for discussion and debate.

We affirm, as academics from various disciplines and institutions of higher education, 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.
We are very concerned that partisan attempts are being made to silence dissenting analyses of the topic in question.
Many who disliked the conference’s stance still supported its right to go ahead, and cautioned against an illiberal or counterproductive overreaction.  Ben Gidley, for example, argued that we should challenge opposing views, not seek to ban them.
I am sure that I would strongly disagree with the views expressed by many of the speakers at the conference. It may be that some speakers may contribute to a climate in which antisemitism is not taken seriously. These positions, however, should be challenged through argument, and not by banning an event.
I agree with this evaluation of the conference.  However, the spotlight on Southampton made many look more closely at the views of one of the conference organisers, Oren Ben-Dor.  I would be interested to know how those who supported the agenda of the conference (not simply its right to go ahead) respond to his published views on ‘Zionism, Anti-Zionism and the Jewish Prison’.  You can read my own response to this abhorrent piece here on Fathom.

For the record – Israel matters at UCU Congress 2015

There’s always a hostile special interest taken in Israel at UCU Congress and this year was no different. I wasn’t there but followed the #ucu15 Twitter hashtag – eyewitnesses, feel free to flesh out the details.

There was a motion from the University of Brighton to confirm the boycott of Israel and circulate the PACBI guidance.

43  UCU and BDS campaign

University of Brighton Grand Parade

Congress notes:

1.     the achievements of the global BDS campaign, particularly in North America;

2.     the overwhelming adoption by Congress (2009 and 2010), after four years’ careful reflection, of a general pro-boycott policy directed at Israeli products and institutions, including academic institutions;

3.     Congress decision (2009) that all colleagues be urged, in the light of UCU policy, to consider whether cooperation with Israeli institutions is morally or politically defensible;

4.     that unions have no mechanisms to impose a boycott, and implementation is only encouragement of individuals to reflect, hence legal anti-implementation cautions are irrelevant;

5.     advice to some members from UCU, and some public information about UCU’s position, have been misleading or inconsistent with policy.

Congress reaffirms its pro-BDS policy.

Congress resolves:

a. all members will be contacted individually, in a dedicated e-mail, reminding them of policy on Israel, and with a link to the PACBI guidelines;

b. any misrepresentations of UCU’s policy will be corrected publicly.

One of the more self-referential things about this motion is the muddling of ‘achievements’ in getting institutions to boycott Israel with the actual or probably ‘achievements’ for Palestinians which amount to none that I know of – but boycotters don’t bother themselves about that because the boycott mostly exists for their own aggrandisement. For an organisation which finds it increasingly hard to stand up to its own bosses it often seems that nothing better restores its sense of potency than standing up to Israel and the UK Jewish establishment. That the motion contains no mention of Palestinian needs or wishes adds to the impression of gross narcissism.

The PACBI guidelines for boycotters used to be along the lines of rant followed by directives, but lacked support for its adherents who, it turned out, were potentially legally exposed. As a campaign against Israel, one party in a conflict which is not one-sided, it would be partisan and hostile for UCU to circulate the PACBI guidance without including other viewpoints. Note that since July 2014 the guidance now emphasises that boycotting Israel doesn’t mean ostracising individual Israelis. Because of the antisemitic and Israeli-hating prejudices the boycott attracts, many Israelis have been personally targets of obviously racist boycott activism, hence this new aspect to the guidance is badly needed and long overdue. I’d be surprised if UCU boycotters discussed these developments, or are even aware of them. As far as I know the issue wasn’t raised and nobody proposed an amendment protecting the rights of Israeli academics. This is in keeping with UCU’s double standards on rights for Israeli academics compared to other academics. Note that motion 10 on overseas campuses called on UCU’s National Executive Committee to connect with democratic trade unions in other countries – however, this conflicts with policy from 2010 when UCU decided to sever all relations with Israel’s equivalent of the TUC (motion 31).

Thanks to Sarah Annes Brown‘s willingness to oppose the motion (update: for details see her comment below), a moderate number of people felt able to vote against it. The motion passed but was immediately voided because of longstanding legal advice sought by UCU trustees which casts doubt on the legality of boycott campaigning. Like UKIP and the Conservative right, UCU boycotters find their style is cramped by anti-discrimination legislation.

Another Israel-related motion concerned the cancelled Southampton Conference.

HE31 Composite: Conference cancellation and academic freedom

Leeds Beckett University, University of Winchester, London South Bank University.

Conference notes:

1.     the University of Southampton’s cancellation of the International Law and the State of Israel conference following political pressure;

2.     the official ‘health and safety’ reason was belied by the assurances of peaceful protest from pro-Zionist groups, and police assurances on security;

3.     this academic conference had a normal CfP, invitations to Israelis, and scholars with divergent views;

4.     6,000 signatories in 24 hours signed a petition condemning the University decision.

Conference believes the management decision was related to nature of the conference, not health or safety concerns; constitutes a surrender to political pressure; and is an unprecedented assault on academic freedom.

Conference instructs the HEC, in the absence of an appropriate apology, and in response to any such request from the University of Southampton UCU, to commence ‘greylisting’ of the University of Southampton unless satisfactory assurances on academic freedom are forthcoming from University of Southampton management, including in appointments, course design and staff research.

The Southampton Conference was organised by Israel boycott campaigners. It included a very small number of presenters who could be said to have dissenting views, sufficient only for a foil. I should say here that those people do not consider themselves foils, and would have put their arguments trenchantly. I’m not sure that the conference’s open call for participation was in place from the start – in any case, the obvious thrust of the meeting would have deterred everyone but the toughest dissenter from the majority anti-Israel line. For all but a tiny number of Israelis holding exceptional views, this conference would have been ‘about us without us’. The absurdity of discussing one country’s legitimacy without including the full range of views is what marks this conference out as a campaign meeting.  One of the organisers holds hateful racialised opinions of Jews which should have sounded alarm bells for an anti-racist trade union. None of this relates to Southampton’s security reasons for cancelling the conference, but it is important to the debate.

Moreover the cancellation was upheld in the High Court and deserves to be taken seriously even if, like several Engage contributors (though not me), you protest Southampton’s decision to move the conference off-campus. Instead we have a rush to allege that sinister overwhelming power has been brought to bear (subtext: by Jews). What is particularly galling is that these fulsome campaigners for academic freedom are totally quiet about an important precedent. Less than a year ago and for what seem to be the same reasons inept Palestine campaigning led Southampton University to prevent an individual Israeli academic, Mark Auslender, from presenting there. And unlike the anti-Israel conference, Auslender didn’t get offered support to present elsewhere. So perhaps if the Southampton conference campaigners had taken risk assessment as seriously as those of the QUB conference on Charlie Hebdo, they might have managed to pull off their conference.

But facts seem to slide off UCU Congress when it comes to Israel and so they voted to greylist Southampton. The only UCU greylisting policy I can find (correct me if necessary) is from 2007 – it relates to international activity but I can’t imagine the principles would differ much. It says that greylisting is supposed to be carefully thought through with a view to understanding the purpose and outcomes, and be capable of having an effect or creating an acceptable result. Greylisting also isn’t supposed to happen unless Southampton members trigger it, but Southampton wasn’t involved in this motion and when the motion came up for debate, I understand it was remitted from the Higher Education meeting because Southamption members didn’t support the greylisting. However, it came up again in a different session and was carried.

There was another Israel-related motion in support of Steven Salaita, an academic whose contract was terminated for the nature of his response to Israel’s last major military action in Gaza. The following motion was carried and Salaita’s reward for tweeting aggressively about Jews, Zionists and Israel and making some students feel unsafe on campus was to escape any criticism and be given a symbolic donation of £100 to help with his legal campaign.

46  Support for Steven Salaita (academic freedom) – London Metropolitan University North

Congress notes the University of Illinois’ revocation (in 2014) of the decision to appoint the Muslim-American scholar Steven Salaita just three weeks before his scheduled classes were due to begin.

Prof. Salaita, whose parents are Palestinians, had been a vociferous critic of Israel’s assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014. University officials justified his firing on the basis that his many tweets on the subject were considered ‘uncivil’. A freedom of information request revealed that the university had come under pressure from many, predominantly pro-Israel, alumni and donors.

Congress:

condemns the firing of Professor Salaita as a blatant violation of his academic freedom

calls on the general secretary to issue a statement in support of Professor Salaita on behalf of UCU

authorises a payment of $100 to be made to support Professor Salaita’s legal challenge against the University of Illinois.

As a force in higher education UCU isn’t very influential. Several other motions were to do with union democracy and are indicative of a democratic deficit. UCU has been characterised as domineering activists and a correspondingly inert membership, both easily dismissed by sector policy makers. An important thing to know is that, when given a chance to have their say on boycotting Israel, even though the activists are pushing it the members reject it. The motions, the back-turning, and the double standards on academic freedom are the sorts of postures weak unions strike. The solution can only be for members to get involved and active.

Letter sent to the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University by Robert Fine and David Seymour

This letter was sent to the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University, Professor Don Nutbeam, by Robert Fine, Emeritus Professor of Sociology University of Warwick and Dr David Seymour, Senior Lecturer In Law, City University London. It is published with their permission.

A request to revisit your decision to cancel the conference on International Law and the State of Israel

Dear Professor Don Nutbeam,

We are writing to urge you to reconsider the cancellation of the conference on International Law and the State of Israel. We have a long track record of opposing the academic boycott movement, opposing BDS, opposing the delegitimation of Israel, and opposing antisemitism in all its forms. We have also spoken out in defence of academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of criticism. We recognize that there is much in this conference with which we would profoundly disagree, and that the participation of our Israeli academic colleagues has probably been limited both by the particular political character of this conference and by the general atmosphere created by those who would exclude them from the global community of scholars. That said, it is vital for the work of all those who look to the development of rational and open debate on issues surrounding the Israel / Palestine dispute, and on the forms of racism and antisemitism that sometimes take the place of such debate, that academic conferences such as this one can go ahead. We are more than capable of arguing our various positions and we do not want to encourage either the reality or appearance of stifling debate. So we urge you, with due consideration of the security issues at stake, to allow the conference to go ahead. While we respect the grounds of your decision, our judgment is that it is wrong in principle and will create an unwelcome precedent.
Best wishes,
Robert Fine and David M. Seymour
Robert Fine
Emeritus Professor of Sociology University of Warwick

Dr David M. Seymour
Senior Lecturer In Law,
City University London

Hidden Agenda at Southampton University – Mark Gardner

This piece is written by Mark Gardner on the CST blog.

The cancellation on “health and safety” grounds of a planned anti-Israel conference at Southampton University is causing much controversy. This hides a deeper problem with the conference: its organiser’s insistence that Zionism can only be understood by deep reference and understanding of Jews, Judaism, “Jewish being” and “Jewish pathology”.

The organiser is Professor Oren Ben Dor, whose thinking sits alongside that of the better known Gilad Aztmon. Both men are ex-Israelis living and working in Britain. They both hold up Jewish anti-Zionists as some kind of ultimate supposed proof that Zionism can only be fundamentally understood (and more importantly opposed) as an extension of Jewishness.

Atzmon’s anti-Zionism has caused turmoil in anti-Israel circles. Most left wing anti-israel activists anxiously manufacture distance between Zionists and Jews (i.e. between anti-Zionism and antisemitism).  Ben Dor derides such thinking as “politically correct” and opposes it every bit as bitterly as does Atzmon.

Atzmon’s insistence on linking “the Jewish Question” and Zionism means leftist Jewish anti-Zionists have led a fractious but largely successful campaign to have Atzmon declared antisemitic and beyond the pale within anti-Israel circles. Now, with Ben Dor at its core, the Southampton anti-Israel conference threatens to derail this.

As Jewish anti-Zionist Tony Greenstein has stated of Ben Dor’s association with Atmzon:

he has aligned himself with a small, anti-Semitic current on the fringes of the Palestinian movement.

Ben Dor is a staggeringly turgid writer and speaker, whilst Atzmon is a showman: but nobody is compelled to visit his website, read his book or attend his meetings. In the case of Professor Ben Dor, university students (Jewish and non-Jewish) are being taught by this man.

Ben Dor’s defence of Atzmon in Counterpunch gives some indications of his ideology and impenetrable style. It begins “…No thinking person could fail to be stimulated by the deep connections Gilad [Atzmon] makes”.

It emphasises the link between Zionism and “Jewish being and thinking” and asks if the original aggressive Jewish  “victim mentality” and “choseness” persist into Zionism:

…Zionism can be conceived as a symptom the non-empathetic manifestations of which are historically and existentially continuing certain facets of Jewish being and thinking. It is very important to ask whether the originary aggression of victim mentality as well as the choseness-begotten separateness existentially links the Zionist and the Jewish question.

It opposes attempts to sever the deeper ontological connection of the “Jewish Question with the Zionist Question”. (Ontological means “the nature of being”.) Ben Dor says this is so deep, that Jews perhaps cannot even oppose Zionism:

…The anti-Zionist struggle must not encage itself in too simplistic a link between the Jewish Question with the Zionist Question–a simplistic link that in fact craves to sever the deeper ontological connection that might persist between the two questions…this very denial of the existential link between the Jewish Question and the Zionist Question – a link that is suppressed by formulations such as “Jews Against Zionism” or, more broadly, by many attempts of “Jews” to become anti-Zionist – that needs to be questioned and destabilised.

He then implies that the meaning of the Jewish link with Zionism means that it is not sufficient to only challenge “the symptom – Zionism”:

To be an anti-Zionist without due regard to that being and thinking that Zionism may so tragically continue, may well be to confuse symptom and cause, thus perpetuating that history that leaves the symptom – Zionism – intact…

On and on Ben Dor waffles, until he hits upon the Holocaust, stripping its meaning for Jews. This is where his ivory tower is perhaps at its ugliest.

Despite his family having lost many relatives in the Holocaust, Ben Dor shows a startling failure on the most basic human level to accept that Jewish backing for Israel (ie Zionism) is an overwhelmingly natural and human reaction to the Holocaust. He goes further, suggesting that Nazi perpetrators were somehow captives of a deeper historical force that may repeat in the future. Ben Dor does not explicitly rule out the possibility that this “corruption” “between humans and Being long ago” is somehow due to Jewish longevity and influence:

The horrors and murderous violence against Jews may have been a response to events that had corrupted the relationship between humans and Being long ago. Grasped thus, the Holocaust may have been severely distorted by National Socialism; by those who are said to “deny” the Holocaust by some arguments about facts; by self-righteous Jews-against-Zionism; by Zionists. All these forms of forgetfulness of the Holocaust may well be on a common matrix of denial. Indeed this denial may constitute a chronicle of another Holocaust foretold.

My point is that the Holocaust’s significance lies beyond the actions by the Nazis who actually perpetrated the violence and who justified these actions by turning this significance into a militarist object of an idea. The same claim can be made in relation Zionists and their Jewish opponents.

None of this mumbo jumbo features in the actual Southampton conference programme. Instead, it reads as just another faux academic anti-Israel hate fest. Which of its many attendees and defenders even know of Ben Dor’s deeper animosities is open to question: but these animosities are fundamental to his ideological position and place him firmly in the same ball park as Atzmon. An environment in which antisemitic discourse is permitted, even if not fully endorsed and encouraged…thus far.

If Ben Dor is now to be defended within current mainstream leftist anti-Israel and anti-Zionist discourse, this represents a significant lurch towards an anti-Zionism that holds  Jews and “Jewish being” as fundamentally responsible for every crime that is laid at Zionism’s door. The antisemitic danger of such a shift is blatant.

—-

For a more comprehensive view of Ben Dor’s animosity, the below video should be viewed. It is too long to summarise, but these give a taster of it:

10.50 [self hatred mentality] “stems…from sublimated hatred of, and supremacy towards, all others”

15.55 “It is the denial that there is something so Jewish in that which has provoked the Holocaust; and the dealing with which has been so successfully postponed by the Holocaust”

18.19 [on Jewish anti-Zionists] “Nothing would prevent them for going and celebrate many feasts of hatred of all others”

18.50 “the connective tissue to the Jewish pathology that actually moves Zionism and the deeper historicity that Zionism is just a fleeting phase of”

This piece is written by Mark Gardner on the CST blog.

 

“BRITISH UNIVERSITY SHOULDN’T CANCEL ANTI-ISRAEL CONFERENCE” – Ken Stern and Cary Nelson

This statement, by Ken Stern and Cary Nelson, appears on the Justus and Karin Rosenberg foundation website

The following letter from the Foundation, jointly written with Cary Nelson, former president of the American Association of University Professors, was sent to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Southampton on April 1, 2015, and was published the same day as a comment in Inside Higher Education. It calls on the University of Southampton to let an anti-Israel conference proceed, while also encouraging academics there and elsewhere to speak out about the bigotry that will likely be heard.

*******

Dear Vice Chancellor Nutbeam,

We write as two North Americans who oppose academic boycotts and support academic freedom. While we find the upcoming conference on International Law and the State of Israel disturbing (it questions the right of Israel to exist, it includes panelists who have made gross antisemitic statements, etc.), we are shocked by the report that the university might cancel the conference.

Academic freedom requires that scholarly meetings, even ones that can rightly be criticized for promoting bigotry, are permitted to be held. The correct answer to the problems this conference poses is for others to use their own academic freedom to document what is wrong when, as here, history and principles are twisted to promote a bigoted political agenda. Especially given the University’s track record of supporting important and valued teaching and research in Jewish studies, it is well poised to answer speech with speech, rather than with suppression.

Canceling the conference because of security concerns is called, in the American context, a “heckler’s veto.” We ask Southampton not to eviscerate the right its faculty and students have to hear what the organizers of this conference present, even if what is presented is troubling and bigoted.

Campus security can surely handle a demonstration against the conference. Indeed people participating in such a protest would be exercising their own academic freedom so long as the event was allowed to continue.

We also worry about the precedent Southampton would set by canceling. Whether pro-Israel or anti-Israel (or pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant, or pro-gay rights or anti-gay rights, etc), it would effectively be saying that forces inside and outside the academic community who don’t like a particular point of view can shut down speech by threats. How can learning take place in such an environment? Would Southampton only then have conferences and speakers on “safe” topics? How can students learn to think when difficult issues and hot topics are no longer appropriate for campus programming?

We call on the university to allow this conference to take place, on campus, with adequate security. And we call on you and your colleagues to use your own academic freedom to speak out about both the bigotry that will likely be evidenced at the conference, and the danger to the academic enterprise when speech, even troubling and bigoted speech, is suppressed.

Cary Nelson, co-chair, Alliance for Academic Freedom
Kenneth Stern, executive director, Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation, executive committee, Alliance for Academic Freedom

This statement, by Ken Stern and Cary Nelson, appears on the Justus and Karin Rosenberg foundation website

 

Thoughts on the Southampton Conference

David Hirsh:

The fact that the Southampton conference is organised by somebody who has actively come to the defence of an open antisemite is not the point.  The fact that it de-legitimizes Israel and only Israel is not the point. The point is that the narrative of unique Israeli evil and criminality educates antiracists into an antisemitic worldview.

The fact that this antisemitic worldview is not recognised as such by most ‘decent’ people is one of the things that makes it especially dangerous; another is that it operates partly on an emotional and unconscious level and so is less vulnerable to rational debate than might be hoped. The antizionists love it when people of ‘opposite’ views engage them in debate because it legitimizes their questions, it positions them as the radical side of a discussion; to posit debate as an alternative to ‘banning’ is not proving an effective way of responding. The antizionists love to debate, they suck strength out of it.  Everybody sympathises with those who are defeated in debate by the ‘clever Jews’.

Ban the conference, especially on the spurious grounds of ‘security’, and it will be held elsewhere, the participants will declare their own courage and oppression, and people will be attracted to the conference which the power of the ‘Israel Lobby’ cancelled by fiat.

Don’t ban the conference and the daily work of normalizing the feeling that the Jews are behind everything bad in the world progresses as usual; it happens in pseudo-academic pseudo-egaltiarian language and seduces many directly, but it also sets the framework of what is considered respectable and legitimate.

The toxic notions pushed by this conference seem, at the moment, to be impermeable both to debate and to coercion. This is a measure of the scale of the problem.

Thoughts on the forthcoming Southampton Conference

Thoughts on the forthcoming Southampton conference, firstly by Ben Gidley and then by John Strawson

Ben Gidley:

In the last decade or more, working in British universities, I have witnessed the growth of a zeitgeist in which antisemitism is not taken seriously by people who, in every other way, would be regarded as exemplary anti-racists. It has become common currency among many anti-racist academics to claim that allegations of antisemitism are made in bad faith, that such allegations are a way of closing down criticism of Israel – a manoeuvre my former colleague David Hirsh has aptly named “the Livingstone formulation”.

Those of us who take antisemitism seriously – and who want the broader anti-racist movement as well as the wider academic community to take antisemitism seriously – need to make sure that we are robust but also measured in calling out antisemitism.

In an example of an accusation of antisemitism that is far from measured, Douglas Murray – in an op ed in the Express – has accused Southampton University’s forthcoming conference, International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, of “vile and routine Jew baiting.” This kind of reckless accusation (he calls the conference “a rally of hate”) devalues the concept of antisemitism and undermines the difficult struggle to get it to be taken seriously.

Most criticisms of the conference, however, have not accused it of antisemitism directly. Rather, the accusation has been that it “is likely to result in an increase in antisemitism and tension on campus” (Vivian Wineman) or may “give credence to anti-Semitic views” (Mark Lewis). It is possible that these latter allegations may be well-founded, but if they are, I do not think that this is sufficient grounds to stifle academic debate.

The space of the university should be one in which a range of views are expressed, in which academics and students are free to criticise and indeed question the legitimacy of any or all states. The spirit of free inquiry and free debate is essential to scholarship and the pursuit of knowledge. As Geoffrey Alderman has said, “The core purpose of a university is to pursue the truth and the core methods by which truth is pursued are dialogue and disputation. These methodologies presuppose the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to promote these ideas – no matter how controversial or unpopular they may be – without fear or favour.” This is why I think that Southampton University is right not to cancel this conference organised by its Law Department, and wrong for communal institutions or donors to pressure the university to cancel it.

Those calling for the cancellation of the conference appear to fundamentally misunderstand the role of a university and the principle of academic freedom. “Given the taxpayer-funded university has a legal duty to uphold freedom of speech,” Eric Pickles wrote, “I would hope that they are taking steps to give a platform to all sides.” ““This is a one-sided conference, not a debate,” said Mark Lewis, continuing: “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.”

Such criticisms seem to confuse what goes on in the classroom – where multiple perspectives on issues should be presented – with what goes on in a conference, where scholars should be free to take a position. It is wrong to expect universities to ensure that conferences “give a platform to all sides”. For example, a conference on climate change should not be required to give a platform to climate skeptics, and a philosophy conference should not be expected to give a platform to every school of philosophy.  In fact, universities are legally obliged by the Education Act of 1986 to protect their members’ freedom of speech within the law.

To curtail the right of scholars to criticise Israel – even to deny its right to exist – without giving a platform to opposing views opens up a dangerous precedent too. The same arguments could be extended, for example, to conferences which take a critical stance towards other states and governments, including states and governments which persecute Jews or other minorities.

I would not argue that all academic speech should be defended. I am suspicious of the pious fetishisation of academic freedom or freedom of speech as an absolute right (as in the statement by the MP for Fareham, Mark Hoban, that “academic freedom is sacrosanct”, prefacing his call for that freedom to be curtailed). Thus, for example, I think racism (including antisemitism) and fascism have no place in a university; I support universities or student unions which deny a platform to fascist speakers (such as Marine Le Pen, recently hosted by students at the university where I work, I am ashamed to say.) But these cases are the exceptions and not the rule.

I am sure that I would strongly disagree with the views expressed by many of the speakers at the conference. It may be that some speakers may contribute to a climate in which antisemitism is not taken seriously. These positions, however, should be challenged through argument, and not by banning an event.

I do, though, have sympathy with Jewish scholars and students at Southampton who feel that this conference may contribute to a climate that will be uncomfortable for them – as expressed in the statement by Joachim Schlör, Director of Southampton’s Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations, that the conference “could potentially damage the spirit of dialogue and cooperation that James Parkes brought to Southampton”.

Calls for this conference to be cancelled pose a threat to academic freedom. But this threat is matched by the threat to academic freedom posed by some campus anti-Israel activists. Last year, a talk at the same university’s Optoelectronics Research Centre on the apparently un-contentious topic of optical sensors was cancelled after protests by anti-Israel activists against the Israeli scientist due to give the talk. When protests can effectively make a university a hostile environment for Israelis, even when they are there to talk about something as harmless as optoelectronics, this makes Jewish students feel vulnerable.

Intimidation, boycotts and threats to withdraw funding are all very unhealthy practices in a university. They stifle debate and prevent the production of academic knowledge, and damage community relations on campus. If we take antisemitism seriously we should criticise forms of academic speech that can encourage these practices. But we also need to think very carefully before promoting these practices ourselves in our attempt to combat antisemitism.

John Strawson:  

The Southampton Conference – A Normal Affair

I was very pleased to be asked to participate in the conference organized by the Law School of the University of Southampton, “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism.” It brings together academics and activists from Israel and Palestine as well as Europe and North America. The program contains scholars from a variety of disciplines and with radically different approaches to Palestine and Israel. That is exactly what universities should be doing in creating agendas for discussing complex and controversial issues. I was surprised to find that the conference was controversial. All the participants have specialist knowledge and experience of the issues, which they are talking about.  I am sure it will contribute to our understanding of the role of international law in the conflict: an issue of the upmost importance in the light of the diplomatic and legal initiatives of the PLO. The conference forms part of the everyday business of universities.

John Strawson

Co-director of the Centre on Human Rights in Conflict, University of East London

March 21 2015

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