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

92 Responses to “Thoughts on the forthcoming Southampton Conference”

  1. Avi in Jerusalem Says:

    Can someone please compare and contrast this sort of event with the Medieval disputations of the Church against the Jews? As far as I can see this is not an unbiased event dedicated to the seeking of truth or even the promotion of a just Peace between Arabs and Jews. This is agitprop by those who are only concerned with getting at the Jews in Israel by undermining our right to national self determination. This has a long and infamous history. The focus of this conference is only on Israel, no one else gets a look in; not Punjabis (occupied by both India and Pakistan), not Georgians (half occupied by the Russians), not Tibetans (no one wants to start with the Chinese) nor even the Falklands.
    As in Medieval disputations, the attack on the Jews is carried out by converts (Israeli Jews who have rejected Jewish national self determination). The Jews can either lose and be banned (BDS) or if they win or get a draw, they are forced out anyway.
    The whole event smells to high heaven.

  2. conference notes Says:

    Ben Gidley argues that,
    ‘I support universities or student unions which deny a platform to fascist speakers (such as Marine Le Pen)’
    So providing the antsemitism and racism (see below) does not come from the far-right, it falls under ‘legitimate debate’?
    Perhaps the time has come to look at what is being said rather that who is saying it.

    Oren Ben-Dor is one of the conference organisers.
    Oren Ben-Dor defends Gillad Atzmon because he thinks Atzmon gets it right about the Jews.
    Gillad Atzmon is an antisemite.

  3. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    I have argued both in these pages and elsewhere that, as a former academic, I see an attack on academic freedom anywhere as an attack on it everywhere. It is on these grounds that I oppose an academic boycott on Israeli, and only Israeli, academics and academic institutions – whatever the specious argument advanced by Tom Hickey on the supposed effect on Israelis and Jews from the Diaspora is supposed to be.

    However, I find that I am in a quandary over the proposed Southampton University conference. If the title is an accurate representation of the shape of the conference content, then this suggests that the decision is pre-ordained, if only for the lack of a question mark anywhere in the title. Incidentally, there have been suggestions in the press that the University administration might be reconsidering the advisability of allowing the conference to go ahead, following representations by the Board of Deputies.

    The posting of this article at this time is quite opportune for other reasons: today the “We believe in Israel” movement held a day-long conference in London, and the very topic of Israel’s legitimacy came up. It was argued, in more than one session, that Israel’s right to exist was probably more legitimised than most other nation-states in the world. This follows from the Balfour Declaration (made by Britain as the de facto ruling body in the appropriate geographical area, having expelled the Turks); further legitimised in turn by the 1922 League of Nations Declaration and, again in turn, by the 1947 United Nations Resolution establishing the State of Israel. Before anyone protests that Israel, like so many other states, was born in blood, it needs to be noted that at all stages of the process, the Jews accepted the various partition plans, while the Arabs rejected them.

    This particular conference should raise concern among all believers in free speech and academic freedom, because it is not the grounds on which any state might be established which is brought into question, but Israel and only Israel. It is difficult to escape the suspicion that Israel is in some sort of dock (again!), and it is not that these principles are being examined, possible legitimately, through the prism of one particular case-study. Although the use of only one case study in an academic conference is suspect in itself.

    Are there really no other cases in which the question of “International Law and the [nation state in question]: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” might be used as case studies? Does only Israel fit the definition? If the answer is no, then we are back to presuming that the conference planners are witting in their use of Israel. This puts them in the dock of having to justify the specificity of their choice. A genuine academic conference (whatever John Strawson appears to think, and he appears to have shifted his ground since his excellently argued interventions in these columns in the early days of engage’s existence) would be addressing the general and not the specific question. To do otherwise raises the quite genuine and legitimate fears that have been expressed.

  4. bengidley Says:

    If I may respond to a couple of the points raised in the comments:

    On the point about Marine Le Pen versus this conference. Perhaps my mention of Le Pen was unhelpful in muddying the water. My point was simply that my defence of academic freedom is not absolute; lines need to be drawn. We need to make a distinction between speech that should be argued against and condemned, and speech that is so unacceptable that it has no place in a university. In my view, questioning the legitimacy of any particular state does not fall into the latter category.

    Second, many of the suggestions about singling out Israel seem misplaced to me. It may be the case that some of the speakers, or more widely those who deny Israel’s right to exist, single out Israel for antisemitic reasons or with antisemitic effect. I agree that there is a general trend towards double standards in public discourse, where Israel is singled out and judged harshly for crimes that are committed by many states.

    But this is not grounds on which to cancel a conference, or to demand that it reflect “balance” in its deliberations. If Southampton University’s only activity was to host conferences on Israel’s legitimacy in international law, then these demands would be sensible. But Southampton, like all universities, hosts conferences and seminars on a whole range of extremely specific topics (this week, there are events on experimental design, barrier immunology and the shipping market, for instance). To suggest that focus on a specific case study or country is illegitimate is absurd.

    There are regular academic conferences on the Indian Partition (a topic on which Southampton’s History department has done a lot of work on) and on China’s occupation of Tibet. Should a conference on the Armenian genocide widen its brief to all genocides to avoid “singling out” Turkey? Should a conference on the history of fascism be required to have fascist speakers to achieve “balance”? Should a conference on the Arab spring be required to look at other regions too, to avoid singling out Arabs, or include representatives of the Mubarak regime to achieve “balance”? Should a conference on environmental degradation in China be required to look at environmental degradation everywhere, to avoid “singling out” China?

    Building knowledge requires specialisation, focusing on specifics. These sorts of specialisation are never neutral and accidental; we are right to be wary of the motives of those who specialise, and aware of the effects of patterns of specialisation that put one group in the spotlight and hide others. But to jump from this to demanding the conference is cancelled is an absurd and dangerous response.

    Finally, I was not aware that this conference’s main organiser was a defender of Gilad Atzmon. This is a very serious issue – clearly, Atzmon’s views have no place in a university – but this is a separate issue from the legitimacy or desirability of banning this particular conference.

  5. Larry Ray Says:

    It would be unfortunate of this conference was cancelled because this would be grist to the mill of antisemitic conspiracy theories of shadowy forces that prevent open debate about Israel. Also despite the hugely overblown claims of the conference organisers to its uniqueness, it probably won’t have much impact beyond the BDS circles who would attend these events anyway. It is indeed, as Strawson says, a ‘normal affair’ – but of everyday anti-Israelism. The conference blurb contains obfuscating rhetoric – like ‘even re-imagined’ international law (meaning? changes international law to retrospectively de legitimise Israel?) and ‘historic Palestine’ (meaning? Roman Palestine? an Ottoman province?). The implication of course is that there is a ‘historic Palestine’ with rights that trump those of Israel’s existence, and preclude even a two-sate solution – a line of argument that if followed through into action would turn Israel (and Palestine) into versions of present-day Syria. But this will all be occluded in code words and soft rhetoric about legality, imaginations and legitimacy. The conference promises engagement with ‘controversial questions’ but since any alternative view is precluded by the terms of reference of the conference there’s not likely to be much controversy and it actually promises to be pretty dull. While Gidley rightly says that no conference can be expected to include all points of view his implicit equating of a defence of Israel’s legitimacy with irrational climate change deniers is both tendentious and telling. Brian Goldfarb and Avi make good points that I will not reiterate.

    • Alan Sommerstein Says:

      The irony is that what these people call “historic Palestine” came into existence in 1923 as a British mandate with instructions from the League of Nations to foster the development in the country of a national home for the Jewish people. In the previous 1850 years there had only been one political unit with approximately the same boundaries, and that was the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem.

  6. conference notes Says:

    Ben Gidley,
    Thank you for your polite and reasoned reply.
    I should have said originally that I too would be very uneasy at calling for the conference not to go ahead. That does not mean to say that I do not also believe that something rather unpleasant lies at its heart. Finally, I find it depressing that the same acceptance that you and John Strawson (and myself) grants to this event is not granted to others merely on account of the passport they may hold. It seems to me that that is truly the real threat to the necessity of academic freedom and one that I imagine seems to be the most disposable to many (not all) involved in the Southampton conference.
    Again, many thanks.

  7. Clafoutis Says:

    I agree with what is said above in principle.

    In practice, however, the traffic is only one way.

    Israeli academics are subject to informal boycotts, and calls for formal boycotts. Israelis on campus are met with shrieking shut-downs of their speeches, and nothing is done at all by the universities to protect them, or Jewish students who are faced with a nightmarish three years at their universities.

    The fact is, no academic would ever organise a conference in which all speakers argued, for example, that Palestinians had failed to establish a state largely because their political leadership (and more generally, the population) are more anxious to destroy Israel than to create a viable state of their own. You would never have an academic conference which examined the extent to which Islamist supremacism has resulted in chaos and bloodshed in the region.

    These are legitimate subjects for a conference. But no academic I can think of would put such a conference on. It would be career suicide to advance this position. Even if such a conference was scheduled, it would be shut down by riots.

    In practice, the situation is very different.

  8. Relativity of Academic freedom Says:

    Before those involved in the organisation of the Southampton conference paint themselves as innocent and unprecedented victims of an attack on academic freedom, perhaps this should offer a timely reminder…………………..

  9. bengidley Says:

    Thanks for comments. Just to be clear, I completely agree that the traffic here is one way, that the same acceptance that John Strawson and I grant to this event is not granted to others by some of the very people who will attend this conference, some of whom have an agenda I find dangerous. But to counter their agenda with demands for cancellations is the wrong response – wrong in itself for the reasons Geoffrey Alderman, John Strawson and I tried to set out, and tactically wrong for the reason that Larry notes, that it adds grist to the mill of antisemitic conspiracy.

    It is also worth noting that, despite pressures from the pro-boycott lobby, conferences that take a “one sided” approach to this topic from the other side do take place in our universities. I recently received a CFP for a conference at Indiana University on “Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, and the Dynamics of Delegitimization”, and there was a large academic conference on the combating the delegitimation of Israel at the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research two or three years ago. Both conferences framed their issues in ways that implied they did not see the legitimacy of Israel as a topic for debate, as they should be entitled to do. If the participants at the Southampton conference campaigned against those events taking place, they’d be wrong, as we would be if we demanded the Southampton conference be cancelled.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      If I can comment in the spirit of the one by me published below, I would say of the Indiana University conference to which Ben Gidley refers (entitled “Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, and the Dynamics of Delegitimization”) that the three areas can be and often are treated as academic issues, not least because anti-Zionism and antisemitism can be seem as case studies of racism and there is no reason why the notion of delegitimisation should be confined to Israel (although in this case it probably is). However, the title doesn’t preclude the introduction of wider issues and/or other states. After all, we know that antisemitism is an issue across large swathes of the world and precedes not only the foundation of the State of Israel, but also the creation of the modern Zionist movement by a couple of millennia.

      However, the other event he mentions, the one on combatting the delegitimation of Israel at the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research sounds more like a gathering of activists, just like the one I attended yesterday (Sunday) mounted by BICOM (through its off-shoot “We Believe In Israel”), and would never be seen in the same light as a gathering purporting to be (or actually being) an academic conference. The participants yesterday certainly didn’t see it that way, despite the presence, both among the participants and among the speakers of large numbers of academics, past and present.

      A clear distinction needs to be drawn between the two, and the Southampton event is in danger of being seen as (or in effect actually is) a gathering of activists wanting to learn how to argue for the delegitimisation of Israel. Fine. No argument with doing just that. But don’t call it an academic conference and don’t hold it on university premises – unless it’s clear that the university is charging commercial rates, just like the nearest large enough hotel would – and as the hotel which hosted yesterday’s event undoubtedly did. And if it is a genuine academic conference, then how can potential participants from Israel (or someone known to be an advocate for Israel and an academic) be refused participation and/or attendance? That’s an academic boycott. And potentially breaches UK anti-discrimination law.

      Perhaps the barred Israeli should sue. I’m sure Anthony Julius would be delighted to help, though not necessarily on a pro-bono basis!

      • bengidley Says:


        You’re absolutely right the forthcoming Indiana conference and the CIJR conference. I was wrong to refer to the latter as an academic conference. CIJR, though it calls itself “an academic institute” is more accurately an independent thinktank/campaigning organisation.

        However, I think that policing the line between the two types of conference by insisting on particular forms of balance and objectivity is both impossible and misplaced. While the purest forms of objectivity are possible in the natural sciences, as you know it is proper in the human sciences to form judgements and take sides, and unrealistic to expect conferences to present all every side, especially if spurious attempts to present balance prevent the kind of specialised focus that can take knowledge forward in a particular field. It is perfectly appropriate for academics to get together to talk about either the legitimacy or the delegitimisation of Israel or any other state without insisting that the chosen state is simply a case study in a wider area; it is perfectly appropriate to focus in on anti-Zionist forms of racism wihout looking at all other racisms.

        I agree that there is every possibility that the Southampton conference may have some of the qualities of an activist gathering, I think we should be very careful in saying that it should therefore not be hosted by a university, as this opens up very dangerous territory for those of us who work in fields that are inevitably politicised (such as antisemitism and migration, two areas I work in). Anthony Julius or Alan Johnson are campaigning activists as well as scholars – would it not be possible for anti-Zionist activists to use the sort of logic that you have used to insist they should not be hosted at universities but only at hotels off campus?

        I have not heard that an Israeli was barred from this conference. If this has occurred, clearly I would condemn that unambiguously.

  10. conference notes Says:

    Ben Gidley,
    Again I agree with you in the main. My only divergence with you (and Larry) is the reference to adding ‘grist to the mill of antisemitic conspiracy theory’. Conspiracy theory (antisemitic or not) is irrational pure and simple. It does not depend for its power of persuasion on the actions and reactions of those it targets. Indeed, I am quite sure that your (rational) defence of the conference that you have outlined could quite easily be incorporated within such an (irrational) theory. Finally, and specifically, I think we hit dangerous ground when anti-racist and anti-anti-Semitic responses is guided, even to a tiny extent, by the the so-called thoughts of racists and anti-Semites (conspiracy theorists or not), since to do so in its own way grants such ‘thinking’ a legitimacy it does not and never deserves.
    As I say, that is my only serious point of divergence with your comments.

  11. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    If I might add to my earlier comment, I would be wary, not to say suspicious of any academic conference that focussed so narrowly on any country in this manner, that is, by using a title that to my (possibly jaundiced) eye appears to close off the breadth of discussion.

    As I noted above, there is a question mark lacking (and it wouldn’t have to be actually present: the wording could make that clear). Thus if we examine the following paragraph from Ben Gidley’s comment above:

    “There are regular academic conferences on the Indian Partition (a topic on which Southampton’s History department has done a lot of work on) and on China’s occupation of Tibet. Should a conference on the Armenian genocide widen its brief to all genocides to avoid “singling out” Turkey? Should a conference on the history of fascism be required to have fascist speakers to achieve “balance”? Should a conference on the Arab spring be required to look at other regions too, to avoid singling out Arabs, or include representatives of the Mubarak regime to achieve “balance”? Should a conference on environmental degradation in China be required to look at environmental degradation everywhere, to avoid “singling out” China?”,

    then all sorts of questions are begged by his formulation. For a start, the question of the partition of the Indian sub-continent involves at least three players: India, Pakistan and the British, and it is extremely likely that the title would not focus on, say, questions of the legitimacy of Pakistan to the exclusion of all other matters. A conference on the Arab Spring has to focus on at least 4 states that have experienced successful or otherwise uprisings: Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria, and couldn’t avoid asking why other Arab states haven’t experienced the Spring, or not, apparently, to any great extent. How could a conference on environmental degradation in China avoid discussion questions of global warming, uncontrolled economic development and, perhaps, problems of command economies in all sorts of places as well as China.

    I would have the same reservations about a conference that “single-issued” on the question of the annexation/occupation of Tibet by China that, via its title, excluded considerations of other such annexations, whether in the contemporary world or historically. Could consideration of the Russian annexation (if such it be) of Chechnya, Crimea and at least parts of Georgia be excluded, other than in the manner that the title of the Southampton U conference appears to exclude consideration of any questions of the legitimacy of other new states established in the 20th century.

    This is the cause for my unwillingness to make the defence of academic freedom an absolute, in the same way that many, if not all, genuinely free societies nevertheless set limits to free speech by enacting laws on libel and slander. Freedom is not and never can be licence: that way lies chaos.

    Finally, I feel that the organisers, in their statement on the page advertising the conference, and especially in their third paragraph, “doth protest too much”.

    • bengidley Says:

      I agree that academic freedom cannot be seen as an absolute, but I don’t think this is an example of where it should be limited. My list, which Brian examines, starts with two examples given by Avi in an earlier comment. It is true that Tibet and Punjab are not included in the scope of this conference, whereas a more fruitful and interesting conference might look at them together with Israel. (In fact, a couple of the papers are comparative: in the very first session, Gabi Piterberg promises a paper precisely on “Comparative Settler Colonialism”, looking at Zionism and “American Expansionism”; while a few papers predictably seem to compare Israel with South African apartheid). But my clumsy point was that it is proper to look at Israel alone, just as it is proper to look at Tibet alone. If we heard that the Chinese community was pressuring Southampton to include papers on Israel in a conference on the occupation of Tibet or that the Russian government was insisting these papers were included in a conference on the annexation of Crimea, I think we would be right to push back strongly.

  12. Relativity of Academic freedom Says:

    Perhaps the next time some Ziophobes think of banning an Israeli academic because he or she is an Israeli academic – as at happened at Southampton – we can expect a statement by Professor Oren Ben-Dor along the lines of,
    ‘The conference organizers are grateful to the University of Southampton for ensuring academic freedom within the law and for taking steps to secure freedom of speech within the law.’ (the third paragraph mentioned above).

    Funny how for all the talk of the power of the ‘Israel Lobby’ in general and this conference in particular, the only party to succeed in getting something banned is those opposing the Israeli academic referred to above. So Southampton is to be thanked for standing up bravely against the illusory power of ‘the Lobby’, but caves in immediately when confronted with the protests of the Ziophobes.

  13. nifriendsofisraelSteven Jaffe Says:

    Why don’t I have a right of free speech to call for the conference to be called off and a right to demonstrate on campus? Personally I am proud to join those who will be coming to Southampton campus to make our voices heard very loudly indeed against demonization of Israel. That is our right and I intend to exercise it. I’ll leave it to academics to ponder whether the aspiration to destroy Israel and render 6 million Jews a minority in the Middle East constitutes anti-Semitic intent.

  14. john Strawson Says:

    I think there is some confusion in some of the posts about what academic freedom is. Academic freedom not based on guidelines such as the BBC has for balance. Academic conferences, seminars and workshops – as research projects – often focus on very narrow themes. Some may object that the Southampton conference has a very specific research agenda they do not agree with. The response to that is to organize an academic conference with an agenda that you do agree with. Academic freedom is all about thinking the unthinkable, challenging established truths and pushing the boundaries of knowledge further. This will not be the the last conference on International Law and Israel. As an event it will merely consists people giving papers and might result in a publication. Nor is there anything particular new in the conference. The ideas of Jewish nationalism, of a Jewish State, of the legitimacy of the State of Israel have been challenged continuously in both the political and academic spheres over the past century. There are entirely libraries on theses themes and its perfectly reasonable that such ideas are discussed and debated. Those who disagree with what they see as the line of the conference or with the speakers need to have more confidence in their own ideas. It is not a court of law and the ideas that it generates will be debated and challenged. Academic freedom is about the ability to participate freely in the academy without the fear of government interference or hoodlum threats.That is why I am against the boycott of Israeli universities and visiting Isrealo scholars.

    • Larry Ray Says:

      I agree with John and I think that calls for the conference to be cancelled or moved off the university campus are misguided. If we’re defending academic freedom then this has to include views we find repugnant. And as John says there’s nothing particularly new about this conference despite the hype in the organizers’ blurb. BUT Oren Ben-Dor has in the past called for an academic boycott of Israel so (unless he’s recently changed his mind) his invoking of academic freedom here is astoundingly hypocritical. We should be pointing this out very clearly to anyone who might listen.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        These two replies make the assumption that academic freedom is absolute. It is no more absolute than is the right to free speech in a democratic society, as witnessed by the existence of laws relating to libel, slander and, for example, incitement to racial hatred. The notion of academic freedom does, of course, mean that views we find repugnant can and must be permitted (providing that they are not against the law – see the previous sentence). But it also means that such views are open to challenge in the same forum and under the protection of the same right to academic freedom.

        Nothing said by those defending the right of the Southampton U conference to be staged and continue seems to me to have confronted this issue. It is apparently the case that an Israeli academic (and presumably one who would be likely to challenge any notion of the illegitimacy or exceptionalism of Israel) has been refused the right to attend. This is a blatant denial of academic freedom. If this is the case, then this is a serious matter and, prima facie, would appear to breach UK anti-discrimination law.

        I refer the two commenters immediately above (John Strawson and Larry Ray) to my response to Ben Gidley (23 March, 5.40pm, some 8 above this one, and dated 23 march, 11.23pm, and request that they consider whether the views expressed there and here have any validity. So far, no-one seems to have responded, positively or otherwise.

        • Richard Gold Says:

          Brian, while some of the people involved in the conference will support the banning of Israel academics at academic conferences, I’m not aware that any Israeli academics have been refused the right to take part in this particular conference.

        • Larry Ray Says:

          Brian – no, academic freedom is not absolute and excludes libel, incitement etc. Are you suggesting that this conference violates these limits, bearing in mind we can’t know in advance exactly what will be said? If there was evidence that people were being excluded because of their nationality or their views this would be different and would justify calls to cancel it. But if not then presumably we agree that it should go ahead.

          I’m reluctant to try to be the arbiter of what a ‘genuine’ academic conference is – some are good and some bad – and a good conference would try to ensure a diversity of views and debate. Also if Southampton is like every other UK university I’m familiar with they will be charging full commercial rates for the conference already. Conference bookings are income generators and are usually run by commercial non-academic departments that are uninterested in the subject matter.

  15. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Yes Richard, I apologise, as I misread this comment, the penultimate paragraph of Ben Gidley’s original article, “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”, as a more specific comment relating to this particular conference.

    Sadly, though, this passage (presuming the truth of it) serves to illustrate my more general point on the limits to academic freedom, at least as seen by some members of the academic community, and the threat, left unchallenged, posed by this particular conference whereby it appears that there is no “question mark” in the title and topic and no apparent concern at the failure to permit genuine debate and engagement on the threads, actual and implied, in the conference title.

    I stand by my argument as to the non-universality of academic freedom.

  16. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Larry, I am suggesting that just because it is held on university premises does not make it an academic conference. I attended on Sunday the “We believe in Israel” event, which, despite the presence of many academics could hardly recalled (nor would the organisers wish to so call it) an academic conference. It was a gathering of activists wishing to learn more about their chosen topic – Israel – and how to better defend it against the nay-sayers.

    As I have now said several times, without an implicit question, the Southampton U conference looks like a gathering of activists wishing to learn more on their favourite topic: how to delegitimise Israel. I do notice that the web page that I have seen has no indication of detailed content, but the way the title is phrased seems to me to exclude arguments against the fact of Israel’s illegitimacy.

    Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

    On the basis of the information available to me, this does not appear to be a genuine academic conference, that is, one permitting genuine debate for and against in an area of political and other social science concern, and as such should not receive the imprimatur of an institution of higher education.

    Again, if anyone has genuine evidence to the contrary, please provide it.

  17. bengidley Says:

    If I may make one more comment: it is true many of the people involved are pro-boycott, but there does not appear to have been any boycott initiated here. There are no papers by Jewish Israelis based at Israeli universities, but there are Israeli Jewish speakers, a speaker from Hebrew University and a speaker who is a member of the Israeli bar, and Alan Johnson of BICOM was invited to participate. The organisers claim “efforts, including face-to-face meetings with leading intellectuals in Israel, were made to ensure the widest range of opinions possible”. If a boycott has been informally initiated, we should condemn this conference as we would all conferences that took such action – but that doesn’t mean we ourselves should call for the curtailment of the academic freedoms they don’t respect.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      I counted 50 presentations (including that well known international figure, Richard Falk, renowned for his neutrality towards Israel) delivering a keynote address to the assembled throng and note that 28 of them are questionable, in that the titles appear to indicate their anti-Israel direction: in most cases it’s blatant in the very title. That’s over half of them.

      At the same time, if one is counting the likes of Ilan Pappe as an Israeli Jewish speaker, then, given his well-known views as to the “solution” of the Israel/Palestine “problem”, his presence is hardly a counterweight. I still think that the dice are loaded and it is really stretching the term to count this as an academic conference, as opposed to other possible descriptions. Just because people hold a position at a recognised academic institution does not mean that they are following the usual and accepted means of academic discourse this time, any more than someone in a similar position speaking at the “We believe in Israel” event last week.

      • Abtalyon Says:

        Dr Jacques Gauthier, whose work endorses Israel’s claims to sovereignty over Jerusalem, was originally listed in the Programme but his name is there no longer. Perhaps Ben Gidley could explain what happened to him.

        • Richard Gold Says:

          Thre could be a number of reasons and there’s nothing at the moment to say he was boycotted. Also i don’t know why Ben Gidley should be called to explain.

        • bengidley Says:

          I have no idea why Dr Gauthier is no longer listed in the programme, as I have no connection to the conference and am not in correspondence with its organisers. If I understand correctly, Dr Gauthier is not based at an Israeli university (but rather in Canada, I think), so his non-presence cannot be taken as any indication of an informal boycott; his status would be similar to that of other presenters who are still in the programme who are based outside Israel but endorse Israel’s legitimacy, such as Geoffrey Alderman.

  18. john Strawson Says:

    Brian does not believe in academic freedom as being an absolute value. However, in the case of the Southampton conference he judges that this is not a academic event as he thinks that the speakers have a one-sided view of an issue. In this he mirrors those like climate-change denyiers who demand that scientific conferences on that issue need to be “balanced.” The views that many of the participants to the International Law and Israel conference might be putting forward have been advanced in academic conferences, books and articles for over 100 years. The Palestinian legal narrative which challenges the legality of the Mandate, the UN Partition Plan, the legitimacy of a Jewish State is well established. To argue that because it is one-sided it is not academic is quite absurd. Must we invite the Flat-Earth Society to all Geographical meetings? Can Kenynsian economists not have their own events without inviting the Chicago School? Does the the Association of Israel Studies have to invite experts on Palestine? It is a democratic right for academics to configure there interests in any manner that they want – as it is to collaborate with those that they wish to. Those who do not like this conference are entitled to their views, they are not entitled to try to ban it.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Now John is putting words into my mouth. I didn’t say anything about climate change conferences – Ben Gidley did, as a “for instance”, and anyway, a topic such as climate change is based on science and its interpretations. And I stand by my argument is that academic freedom is no more an absolute than is freedom of speech: if freedom of speech is an absolute, why are laws on libel, slander, defamation of character and incitement to racial hatred? Why do the same limitations not apply to academic freedom?

      As to “The views that many of the participants to the International Law and Israel conference might be putting forward have been advanced in academic conferences, books and articles for over 100 year”, odd that, the State of Israel has only existed for 67 years and until 48 years ago few outside the immediate locality considered that there was any serious question to be raised over Israel’s legitimacy. That the views that many participants, etc, bears no relation on the nature of the event. Anti-Semites have been proclaiming their views for 2 or more millennia: does that make them legitimate?

      I repeat that holding an event at an institution of higher education does not it an academic event. The event looks astonishingly like a gathering of activists (I do not include all participants in that category) looking to indulge their favourite pastime: finding both new ways to pursue their favourite political pastime and to reinforce their morale in the company of like-minded people. Just as I was doing last Sunday at a pro-Israel non-academic conference.

      It is not absurd to argue as I have done, and I am not denying the right of those attending to argue as they will (within the law). I am disputing that it, at best, treads on (at worst, over) a genuine academic, as opposed to an outright political, event.

      And when John continues on about the flat earth society, et al, then he is turning this into the theatre of the absurd, and continuing to put further words into my mouth.

      Please respond to what I am actually writing. I am responding to what others are actually writing, and not (or at least attempting not) to stretch their words and put other words into their mouths.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        This sentence “I am disputing that it, at best, treads on (at worst, over) a genuine academic, as opposed to an outright political, event.” should have read “a genuine academic line, as opposed to being, in practice, an outright political event”

        Sorry about that.

  19. Relativity of Academic freedom Says:

    I agree with John Strawson (and Ben Gidley) on this thread. More generally, I think it is a worrying trend that we should call on academic or academic conferences to be either ‘cancelled’, ‘balanced’ or ‘objective’. As we know, many are concerned about the fate of the university at the present time; its forms of management, the conformity of research and the stress on ‘impact’; and, more contentiously, the emergence of ‘safe spaces’ which some see as a limitation of open teaching and debate. As in Israel and other states, so too in the UK, universities need to be constantly defended from those outside its walls who (with good or ill will) would seek to limit what can and cannot be deemed a legitimate topic for debate. I think here that for those who wish to see the event cancelled, the maxim of ‘be careful what you wish for’ may stand as an ever-present warning.

  20. Maya Says:

    I agree with Ben Gidley that it would be wrong-headed to ban the conference and with John Strawson that academic freedom does not imply an obligation to “balance”. Still to defend this event in terms of free pursuit of knowledge is seriously flawed. The conference pretends to explore the issue of legality and legitimacy of the state of Israel – not its actions but its very existence – under international law. The thing is that were the conference organizers and indeed interested in the issue at hand, their conference would have been remarkably short. There is nothing in the general international norms and practices of state-making to suggest that the State of Israel is either illegal or illegitimate. It does not take two days of discussion and 13 panels to express this simple truth. Subsequently, one cannot help but wonder what is it that the conference organizers and the majority of the speakers in fact hope to achieve in their many papers and panels?

    Incidentally, I wrote a dissertation, in a rather respectable UK university, on the principle of self-determination, also in the context of the post-World War I peace treaties. This is the moment of history when the Continental European Empires, including the Ottoman Empire, broke up and their territories were divided, by and large into the states and territorial units that we know today in Europe and in the Middle East. One of them is the State of Israel. This case was not the focus of my research but the general norms and approaches to ethno-national territorial conflicts were certainly something I had to familiarize myself with for other cases. I can say with sufficient certainty that indeed there is nothing there to indicate illegality or illegitimacy in the Israeli case.

    To be sure, the “morality” of international law is very bounded. It is a “law” made by states and that evidently reflects the interests of the powerful among them. But even looking beyond the international legal norms to more ideal morality of international affairs, there is no indication that the wrongs attributed to Israel serve in any known case to render the existence of a state morally wrong or illegitimate. If the purpose of the conference is to advance new norms in this regard, then it is a fatal methodological error to limit the discussion to one single case – in particular to one single case that a number of the speakers are so emotionally implicated in, as evident in their many previous statements and contributions on the matter.

    In sum, the conference’s statement of purpose and its programme strongly suggest that the free pursuit of new knowledge is not what this event is about. In view of the relentless enmity expressed by the organizer and by some of the prominent speakers towards their case study, Israel, it is a prima facie plausible alternative explanation that their resentment is what the conference is about. It saddens me that a respectable academic institution chose to grants support and legitimacy to an event, of which the likely raison d’être is the dislike of a nation or a people. As said above, I am not favour of banning the conference, but a strongly worded statement of the university to distance itself from the event is in order, joined by all faculty members that believe that academic freedom should not be used for the purpose of disseminating prejudice against other nations and peoples.

  21. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    I must stress in the strongest possible terms that in none of my comments on this thread have I suggested, recommended or demanded that this event should be cancelled, banned or somehow censored or “re-organised”, which is the implication of comments aimed at me. Beyond that, words have been put in my mouth to imply that this is what I have said. Please reread my comments more carefully.

    I must stress, also, and also in the strongest possible terms, that what I am and have been saying – and I thought very clearly – is that merely holding an event on the premises of an institution of higher education does not make it an academic conference. These people can say what they like (within the law) where they like, if they can get someone to provide the premises. I will say again that this event, to me, looks much more like a gathering of activists to reinforce their activism on the subject of Israel. In this regard it it resembles the event I attended last Sunday (the “We believe in Israel” event) which made no pretence to be an academic conference but proclaimed itself as what it was: a gathering of activists to reinforce their activism on the subject of Israel.

    I am arguing that we call a spade a spade not “an implement manufactured for the purpose of insertion into a malleable substance in order to test its efficacy for this purpose in the presence of experts on the subject and to decide whether we need to manufacture alternative methods of insertion into malleable substances”, or some such claptrap along those lines.

    This does not look like an academic conference as I, as a retired academic, would normally understand that term.

    And academic conferences have no more absolute right to say what they like and how they like than does a believer in the freedom of speech.

  22. bengidley Says:

    I don’t think there is a substantive disagreement between Brian and myself, or indeed between most commenters here. I don’t think anyone here has argued that academic freedom is an absolute; like all such principles it is relative and contingent. It is probably proper to question the motivation for academics who focus incessantly on the legitimacy of Israel in a way that makes it exceptional among all the states of the world; it is certainly proper to be vigilant about the potentially pernicious effects of this focus, not least on the security of Jewish faculty and students on British campuses. But it is also perfectly proper for academics to choose what topics they focus on and to make normative judgements about their topics, and it is both wrong and dangerous for universities to place limits on this beyond the most exceptional circumstances, wrong to think of academic conferences as analogous to debates like Question Time which are required to present a level playing field, and wrong and strategically counter-productive for Jewish communal organisations to demand universities insist on this.

    While I agree with Brian that some of the speakers take positions I find odious (including at least one non-academic speaker who is a supporter of Gilad Atzmon, whose inclusion in the conference would be hard to defend), where I differ from Brian is simply this: I don’t think it is possible to draw clear lines between an academic conference and an activist conference. In the human sciences, it is impossible to disentangle the normative from the descriptive. For better or for worse, in conferences across the social sciences and humanities today we would find particular political positions are dominant while others are marginal; for better or worse, in conferences across the social sciences and humanities today we would find several papers whose titles suggest that they are polemical and partisan in content; and across all disciplines we would find conferences devoting several days to questions that common sense might suggest require little discussion. It is not sensible to imagine we can draw clear borderlines around academic content and political content, and it is a very dangerous precedent to ask universities to start invigilating these borderlines. (And for these reasons, I don’t think Maya’s proposal, that the university disassociates itself from the event, is sensible either.)

    The fact is that most of the speakers at this conference are bona fide academics talking about topics on which they have conducted research. Most of those who are not (including the lawyer Jacques Gauthier, who I notice is actually still on the programme) have other credentials for their expertise. Therefore, re Maya’s point, it is irrelevant whether other experts think there is no debate to be had in this field. Our job is not to close down the debate, but to argue forcefully our own positions.

  23. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    “Our job is not to close down the debate, but to argue forcefully our own positions.” Providing space is provided for this.

    Is it?

    • bengidley Says:

      “Our job is not to close down the debate, but to argue forcefully our own positions.” Providing space is provided for this.

      Is it?

      Well, in this conference – perhaps unusually – I think a little bit of space is. John Strawson, Geoffrey Alderman and Jacques Gauthier, for example, will provide perspectives rather different from those of the organiser; Alan Johnson had a slot which he is unable to take up.

  24. Conference season is upon us Says:

    As John Strawson and Ben Gidley have said, even if there was no ‘space’ at this conference for those mentioned, it would still be irrelevant. Conferences are free to decide on who and what is to be contributed. This conference is no different. Indeed for some conferences (usually those discussing one or two specific topics) the absence of countervailing voices to its main theme can be a positive boon. It allows participants to speak to like-minded people and delve deeper into their field of interest in a supportive and collegiate environment. That is not to say that there is no opportunity for critique; on the contrary. I should think that papers from this conference, like many others, will appear in some form of publication in the near future. There is nothing to stop those not attending the conference (as well as disagreeing with the theme of the conference itself) to comment on those proceedings either formally or informally or, indeed, at a conference of their own design where they will free to invite whoever they want and not invite whoever they don’t want.

  25. jonathanhoffman1 Says:

    You are wrong. The ‘call for papers’ effectively excluded speakers who do not believe Israel is an apartheid state. That was a restriction of free speech. It contravened the university’s duty to enable freedom of speech (Education (No 2) Act 1986, section 43).…block/…/call_for_papers.pdf

    The conference must be cancelled and if Professor Ben-Dor wants to rearrange it he must issue a call for papers which does not effectively exclude many academics. It’s called free speech.

  26. jonathanhoffman1 Says:

    An International Interdisciplinary Conference will be hosted by the Law School at the University of Southampton, United Kingdom, 17th-19th April 2015.
    International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism.
    This conference seeks to analyse the challenge posed to international law by the Jewish State of Israel and the whole of historic Palestine – the area to the west side of River Jordan that includes both what is now the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.
    For its initial existence, the State of Israel has depended on a unilateral declaration of statehood in addition to both the expulsion (some would say the ethnic cleansing) of large numbers of non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs in 1947-49 and the prevention of their return. Furthermore, the Jewish nature of the state has profoundly affected the economic, constitutional, political and social life of those non-Jewish Arabs who were allowed to stay. To the present day, as recently confirmed by its Supreme Court, Israel does not recognise an Israeli nationality but officially has a list of 139 ‘nationalities’, of which only the Jewish nationality bestows some vital privileges. This fact generates the possibility of the exclusion of non-Jewish citizens of Israel by racial gerrymandering and the existence of two layers of Israeli citizenship and an inherent differential between Jews and non-Jews.
    Legal scholarship on Palestine-Israel and international law, involving issues of self-determination, human rights and constitutional law, has largely focused on the Israeli occupation since 1967 of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza and on the illegality of Israel’s settlements and apartheid colonisation in these territories.
    Alongside these debates, there has been a persistent, if marginalised, scholarship examining and analysing problems associated with the creation and the nature of the Jewish state itself and the status of Jerusalem. This research has combined historical scholarship and legal analysis of the manner by which the State of Israel came into existence as well as what kind of state it is. The issues explored hitherto linked reflections on the relationship between international law and: identity and injustice; violence and morality; nationality and citizenship; self-determination and legitimacy, responsibility and exceptionalism.
    The motivation for this interdisciplinary conference is to examine the role international law can play in political struggles. The search is for certain steps which would enable movement and dynamism and allow ongoing critical reflection about transitional justice
    and the tension between political pursuits and international law. The conference will seek to overcome doctrinal limits and contradictions by bringing to light ideological and existential fetters that perhaps render international law to be the very instrument of rationalisation of violence and suffering. The question to be debated is what international law demands with respect to any envisioned constitutional basis for historic Palestine. This basis must constantly be subjected to the dynamic constitutional challenges of equal citizenship for all through a framework of equality and liberty as well as through social, economic and cultural rights.
    The organisers will invite a range of legal perspectives, and in turn, disagreements, in international law regarding the Israeli state including, of course, whether such a focus is itself legally justifiable and defensible in the context of the emergence of legal and political entities more generally. In organising this conference it is felt that there are enough questions that justify rigorous academic exploration and public debate without partisanship.
    Given the urgency of responding to – indeed the urgent responsibility to answer for and to avert – the persistent suffering in historic Palestine, it is time to give a scholarly, academic platform to the exploration of pervasive disagreements regarding the legitimacy in international law of the Jewish State and the status of Jerusalem. Given recent developments in international law, particularly on the dynamic nature of its self-understanding and in turn, its responsibility, radical disagreement and arguments have become possible which defend a conception of the kind of protection international law ought to be offering. It is thus time to bring together leading scholars in international law, in both doctrine and jurisprudence, some of whom do not necessarily write on Palestine, and ask them to explore architectures of arguments that could respond to the suffering that afflicts historic Palestine.
    The conference will thus include focus on the legality of the State of Israel rather than merely on whether its actions, either within its borders or in the Occupied Territories, comply with international law, human rights law and humanitarian law. The conference will, however, consider the relationship between the nature of these actions and the nature of the state itself.
    The conference will be the first of its kind because it links three main pillar-themes:
    1. The legality, validity and legitimacy in international law of the Israeli state – a state whose very nature, indeed its raison d’être, is based on constraining both the egalitarian, transformative potential that constitutes the impulse of international law as well as any free internal constitutional reflection; giving as it does constitutionally entrenched, privileged citizenship to Jews.
    2. Responsibility: the conference explores the challenge posed by Historic Palestine to ethical reflections on legal principles that demands the accountability of and action by actors in international law.
    3. The question of exceptionalism and the law is a key theme in legal and constitutional reflection, and Israel serves as a place within which to explore this notion of ‘exception’. “On the one hand, Israel compels us to consider whether and how to address its inbuilt non-egalitarian basis but also, on the other hand, raises the possibility of a moral exception that allows toleration of some of the
    injustice as ‘reasonable injustice’. The suffering of European Jews is often cited as a justification for the existence and nature of the state in the geographical location of historic Palestine, thus eschewing structured suffering inflicted on the non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs by that state. In a related context, debates will ensue as to whether there is any ground to hold the State of Israel as exceptional in comparison with other unjust regimes, especially given the fact that many states, including the United States and Australia, were established as a consequence of extreme violence towards indigenous populations.
    The conference will link legal, ethical, political, historical and philosophical issues that follow from these pillars. In so doing it will have to consider the extent to which the legal challenge posed by historic Palestine necessitates a meditation on the nature of international law itself: what it is, what it is for, and to what extent the state is an essential actor with a duty to respond to and avert structural and systematic injustice and suffering. Depending on the views taken on these questions, legal arguments can overcome conventional limits of many of its doctrines including self-determination, international criminal law, peremptory norms of international law, states’ and United Nations responsibility, state recognition and indeed the whole basis for norm creation and enforcement in international law.
    Self-interpretation of international law, moreover, will be linked to some argumentative possibilities within it, for instance concerning the challenge posed by historic Palestine to international law’s dependence on the intrinsic notion of ‘a state’. Nothing short of the contestable limits, and thus potentialities, of international law is at stake. The conference will include a detailed examination of Israel’s domestic law, the reflexivity of Israel’s constitutional structure with reference to its own domestic law, and its structural ability (or inability) to observe international legal obligations.
    In considering these issues, complex questions arise concerning the relation of law and morality, the philosophy and history of international law, and wider subjects ranging from the history of Palestine to general philosophy. The conference will therefore be highly inter-disciplinary, enabling the formation and contestation of appropriately informed legal arguments. Last but not least, the connection between the constitutional Israeli municipal law and international law demands critical and refined exploration and debate.
    A Platform for Debate
    Recognising the moral as well as legal complexities these issues raise, and the intensity of emotions involved, the conference’s purpose is to open up and serve as a platform for scholarly debates rather than positing an activist aim of adopting a firm normative position. In exploring possible legal arguments and disagreements that relate the jurisprudence of international law to its various doctrines, the conference will provide a wide range of perspectives and outlooks. These can explore and contest radically different views concerning the legal duty and capacity of international law, jurisdictionally and in terms of institutional responsibility, to enforce a reasoned position with regard to the prima facie case for asking the question of the legal validity and legitimacy of the Israeli state. In turn, it can examine the condition of validity for any future polity that can be envisioned in historic Palestine.
    Dedication of Conference and Book
    The conference and the book of its proceedings will be dedicated to Henry Cattan (1906-1992), a leading Palestinian international lawyer, indeed a legal prophet, who long ago mounted a challenge to the validity of the state of Israel and the legal and moral authority of those institutions that brought it about.
    Papers and Panels
    The conference will be plenary and will consist of invited keynotes and panels. Each consists of three or four 20 minute papers. Substantial time will be given for audience participation.
    Please send a title and 250 word abstract along with a 150 word biographical note to: Please include personal details, institutional affiliation, contact telephone number and email address.
    Deadline for panels and papers: Friday 17th October 2014
    The conference will have its webpage linked to Southampton Law School Website from April 2014.
    For general inquiries concerning themes and nature of the conference please contact:
    Professor Oren Ben-Dor, Law School, University of Southampton, UK,
    Professor George Bisharat , University of California Hastings College of the Law, US,
    For General inquiries regarding organisation, registration and accommodation, please contact:
    Ms Joanne Hazell, Event Administrator, Faculty of Business and Law, University of Southampton,
    The proceedings of the conference will be published as an edited collection and the whole conference will be documented and filmed.
    Fees and Funding
    We will be able to either fully fund, or to substantially assist with the funding of, contributors’ expenses who will give papers and keynote addresses.
    There will be a conference fee of £50. Concessions: students £30 and free entrance for the unwaged. Payment will be made with the online registration, please follow the webpage for alternative method of payment.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      A couple of years back, I was the author of a review of Benny Morris’s book “One State, Twos States…” on this website. In the course of that, I noted that there was a sentence in the final chapter which contained (I paraphrase myself) a number of contested and contestable statements: I counted 7 at one reading. Given that he made a significant contribution to the comments thread, John Strawson might well remember this.

      On the “call for papers” reproduced by Jonathan Hoffman above (and thank you, very much, Jonathan, for taking the trouble to copy and paste the whole item), I found the following contestable (let alone contested) statements in the first 7 lines after the title of the “conference”:
      “This conference seeks to analyse the challenge posed to international law by the Jewish State of Israel…” (the continuation is irrelevant at this time); “For its initial existence, the State of Israel has depended on a unilateral declaration of statehood in addition to both the expulsion (some would say the ethnic cleansing) of large numbers of non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs in 1947-49…” (this ignores all the arguments about the call by the surrounding Arab nations to the – not yet defined as – Palestinians to leave the area to the partitioned land to return when the Jews had been swept into the sea, as well as the history of the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence: to whit, the Balfour Declaration, the 1922 league of Nations Resolution and the 1947 UN Resolution of the General Assembly, all very unilateral, of course, on the part of the “Jews”); and this “Furthermore, the Jewish nature of the state has profoundly affected the economic, constitutional, political and social life of those non-Jewish Arabs who were allowed to stay.” This, at least, is a true statement: Arab-Israeli citizens of Israel (that is, those who stayed) have a significantly higher standard of living than those who left or who found themselves under, initially, Egyptian or Jordanian rule, as well as equal civil and judicial rights, equal access to education and the rewards thereof in the State of Israel.

      I could, and would be delighted to, continue to deconstruct this call for papers, but will now leave it to those who continue to insist that this is, truly, an academic conference, as opposed to a gathering of activists, as I have been arguing pretty well all along.

      If you believe otherwise, please elucidate, or do I need to continue taking this “call for papers” apart?

      And please don’t put words into my mouth: I am not calling for this event to be cancelled, just called what it really is…and that is not “an academic conference”, irrespective of the premises on which it is held.

      • Mirror, mirror Says:

        Now, where have I heard these arguments before?
        Ah, I remember,…………

        Here is Ben White commenting on a conference on antisemitism; “What is the role of Yale/academia in this kind of exercise?” – See more at:

        Here is someone else,

        And like Ben White and associated anti-Israel boycotters, Brian and Jonathan too want to ban things they don’t like and find obnoxious all in the name of freedom of expression.

        You couldn’t make it up if you tried.

        • bengidley Says:

          Brian has made it very clear that he DOESN’T want to ban this conference, simply that it is not an academic conference. I agree that similar arguments were deployed against YIISA, contributing to its closure. I suspect that many, many CFPs, for conferences on antisemitism and on Israel but also on plenty of other topics, would be easy to deconstruct and contain several contestable statements. This CFP is pretty blatant, but again I think we would end up with a bland and pointless academy if we demanded all CFPs to be free of any contestable language.

      • wigs and hunters Says:

        ‘wigs…will note that nowhere does Jonathan Hoffman call for the conference to be banned or anything like it.’
        Hoffman writes,
        ‘The conference must be cancelled’
        I think John Strawson nails this whole debate with the following,
        ‘To combat it will need a rather smarter strategy than obsessing over a perfectly normal academic conference.’ which can be paraphrased as,
        Get over it!
        To be perfectly honest, for those of us who are serious about stuff like this, Hoffman’s bull in a china store approach is frankly stupid, ignorant and arrogant.

  27. wigs and hunters Says:

    I can see it all now……………….

    Hoffman v Southampton University.

    Claimant: Our case is that this conference questions the legal validity of the State of Israel. It does so, moreover, in a manner that opens up to question the grounding assumptions of international law. We therefore demand that in its present form its be ‘banned’ (to quote the claimant) and that those who firmly disagree with the tenets of this conference be afforded an opportunity to present their views.
    Judge: Reading the ‘call for papers’ and the conference programme, I note that there are speakers who disagree with such views. Is that correct?
    Claimant: Yes, m’lord, at the very least two or three.
    Judge: And they have been excluded from so presenting?
    Claimant: No M’lord.
    Judge: So, these presenters were not ‘excluded’ either intentionally nor ‘effectively”?
    Claimant: It would appear not M’Lord.
    Judge: And can you tell me how many papers were offered and were refused that did indeed challenge the tenets of this conference. Did you yourself seek to present your views at this conference?
    Claimant: No M’Lord
    Judge: I see. So you have no evidence to indicate to me and to this course that, in fact, presenters have been ‘effectively excluded’ because of their point of view on the matters for discussion?
    Claimant: No M’lord.
    Judge: In fact, you have agreed evidence to the contrary that there are those present who it would appear to not share the grounding assumption on which the conference is organised.
    Claimant: Yes M’Lord; that would appear correct.
    Judge: And was this call for papers readily accessible for all academics working in this field?
    Claimant: Yes M’Lord
    Judge: I see. Now, even if evidence of offers of presentation were to be found, do not those organising conferences not have a right to reject such papers on the grounds of lack of academic rigour?
    Claimant: Yes, M.Lord, they do have that right.
    Judge: And to they not retain the right of rejection if they feel that the paper to be presented is not in keeping with the spirit of the conference, and that acceptance of such a paper would undermine the very purpose of the conference; to wit, the question of Israel’s legal validity and the International Law on which it is premised?
    Claimant: That is for you to determine, M’Lord.

    Judge: Now, moving on to the general principle that is raised in this case. Am I correct in believing that your argument implies that all conferences, in this instance, academic conferences, need to be governed by the principle of ‘balance’? That all academic conferences can – in the absence of any evidence of exclusion, intentional or otherwise, a point we have just discussed – must needs include an entirety of all perspectives relating to the matter at hand?
    Claimant; Yes M.Lord
    Judge: I see. So an academic conference on, say, Marxist political economy, one in which the ‘call for papers’ states explicitly its dissatisfaction with the present state of things, must – in the in the absence of any evidence of exclusion, intentional or otherwise – include a Keynsian, a disciple of Freidman, an anarchist, and so forth?
    Claimant: Of course not M’Lord.
    Judge: Likewise, do you think that a conference discussing what they see as the ‘evils’ of the welfare state on the character of citizens of Britain be obligated not only to accept, but to go out of their way to ensure that members of,say, the Freedom Association, are present at the conference?
    Claimant: No M’Lord
    Judge: Likewise an academic conference on the harm that a change on the law of abortion may have on women in society not only must include, for example, a spokesperson from SPUC or religious groups of all denominations, but ensure that, despite a general call for papers available via all the usual means, such bodies are specifically notified?
    Claimant: No M’lord.
    Judge: Yet you believe that such ‘balance’ needs be present – in the in the absence of any evidence of exclusion, intentional or otherwise – on an academic conference that questions the legal validity of the State of Israel through the lens of a broader investigation of the tenets of International Law?
    Claimant: Yes. M’Lord.
    Claimant: Potentially, M’Lord
    Judge: So, despite what appears as a fundamental disagreement with the tenets of the conference, there appears to be a meeting of minds between them and yourself on the question of Israel’s ‘exceptionalism”; that despite the chasm that exists between the parties, both agree on the point that Israel and debates on Israel form an ‘exception’ to the normal run of things?
    Claimant: Potentially, M’Lord
    Judge: It would appear that we have finally reached a common point of agreement!
    Finally, I do not discuss the relevance of the application of s.43 to claims, not made in this case, for the exclusion of academics and others from speaking at Universities solely as a result of their country of origin. There appears in the present case to have no exclusion, intentional or effective, made upon those grounds.
    I find for the respondents.

    Good luck with that, Jonathan!

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      wigs…will note that nowhere does Jonathan Hoffman call for the conference to be banned or anything like it. All he has done is post the “call for papers”. I’m the one (albeit not the only one) who has been calling for this event to be labelled for what it is: a meeting, for the most part, of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist activists.

      Perhaps wigs and hunters would care to comment on what I have argued in my last comment and stop misrepresenting what Jonathan Hoffman and I have been doing, and quite seriously so misrepresenting us. Even if the comment is very witty. But sadly misses the point.

      So, I’ll just have to boringly repeat myself: the Southampton U. event is not an academic conference as conventionally understood, but a meeting, for the most part, of people, irrespective of their employment status, in or out of the academy, intent on furthering the deligimitisation of Israel.

      Fine, they have every right to do that, as I have consistently stated.

      Just don’t call it what it isn’t.

      • bengidley Says:

        With respect Brian, Mr Hoffman has called for this to be banned or something like it. His opening comment said “The conference must be cancelled.” The Zionist Federation petition is entitled “Cancel Your Upcoming Anti-Israel Conference” and closes with the words “Don’t let it go ahead.”

  28. john Strawson Says:

    Brain does not want the conference called off. But he does want the re-classified as non-academic. He offers no definition of what he means by academic except by implication that (1) there must be some sort of balance (2) he deems this to be an activist event. Jonathan on the other hand does want the conference called off. Both views unfortunately exhibit a type of authoritarian thinking that use to characterize the old Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe. Neither really subscribe to the freedom of speech or academic freedom. I do belief that everyone should be able to say what they want, research and publish what they want – and collaborate with whom they want in the academic field. The only limits on the freedom of speech should be using speech to propose imminent violence or to defame others. I can see no grounds for limiting academic freedom at all.

    As it happens the inferences that Jonathan and Brain draw from the call for papers are contestable. I did not and do not draw those inferences. What is said is quite true, the legal basis of creating a Jewish state and then Israel itself has been contested in legal literature for the last century. Equally there is a legal literature which argues the opposite. This is just a statement of fact. My book Partitioning Palestine sets out to examine this and to argue that these legal narratives – on both sides – have become an an obstacle to resolving the conflict. I have to say there are large number of conferences which deal with the Israeli legal narrative; less so with the Palestinian one. As a result the Southampton conference is merely “a” contribute to a debate. I do think that the entrenchment of these legal narrratives is a problem . But you cannot ignore them and need to engage with them.

    On the wider point, it do think those who want to gripe about the call for papers or suggest that the conference should not go ahead do need to get some sense of proportion. The Middle East is in turmoil: ISIS is at the gate, there is an Arab-Iranian proxy war in Yemen. These events will fuel the growth of anti-Semitism in Europe. To combat it will need a rather smarter strategy than obsessing over a perfectly normal academic conference.

  29. jonathanhoffman1 Says:

    To clarify: I am not suggesting the conference be cancelled for all time. Rather that the April conference should be cancelled on the basis of a flawed Call For Papers and a new Conference convened – if the organisers wish this – on the basis of a Call For Papers which does not restrict free speech (the section 46 obligation).
    The existing Call For Papers restricts free speech because it effectively excludes speakers who support the State of Israel. To see this look at the very high (well over 60%) proportion of speakers who support a boycott:
    Example: The Call for Papers says “For its initial existence, the State of Israel has depended on a unilateral declaration of statehood in addition to both the expulsion (some would say the ethnic cleansing) of large numbers of non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs in 1947-49 and the prevention of their return. Furthermore, the Jewish nature of the state has profoundly affected the economic, constitutional, political and social life of those non-Jewish Arabs who were allowed to stay. To the present day, as recently confirmed by its Supreme Court, Israel does not recognise an Israeli nationality but officially has a list of 139 ‘nationalities’, of which only the Jewish nationality bestows some vital privileges. This fact generates the possibility of the exclusion of non-Jewish citizens of Israel by racial gerrymandering and the existence of two layers of Israeli citizenship and an inherent differential between Jews and non-Jews. Legal scholarship on Palestine-Israel and international law, involving issues of self-determination, human rights and constitutional law, has largely focused on the Israeli occupation since 1967 of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza and on the illegality of Israel’s settlements and apartheid colonisation in these territories.”
    1. The initial existence of Israel was based on UN resolution 181 on partition. The subsequent declaration of independence can hardly be termed ‘unilateral’
    2. The term ‘racial gerrymandering’ is hardly appropriate for a society where those who are not Jewish have rights guaranteed under the Basic Law.
    3. Israel left Gaza in 2005.
    4. There is no body of law which states that the settlements are illegal (see Rostow and the Levy Report for example) – the US does not consider them ‘illegal’.
    5. The term ‘apartheid colonisation’ does not reflect the various peace offers (Camp David, Olmert for example) and the Oslo division of Judea/Samaria into Areas A,B and C with varying degrees of Palestinian autonomy.
    There are many more examples in the CFP which I could deconstruct. You might disagree with my #1-5. That is your right. But the Call For Papers broaches zero scope for disagreement. It therefore breaches the Section 46 obligation.

    Brian Goldfarb is right. Whatever this is, it is not an ‘academic conference’. But with a rewritten Call For Papers which does not restrict free speech, it could become one.

  30. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Okay, so I was wrong about Jonathan Hoffman. But as Ben Gidley kindly points out, I have not called for this event to be cancelled. Nor have I called for it to be “balanced” in any sort of way, indeed, I have said possibly most forcefully here “I must stress in the strongest possible terms that in none of my comments on this thread have I suggested, recommended or demanded that this event should be cancelled, banned or somehow censored or “re-organised”, which is the implication of comments aimed at me.” (March 26, 11.25 pm). However, John, immediately above, says that I offer “no definition of what he means by academic except by implication that (1) there must be some sort of balance (2) he deems this to be an activist event.” No, I have not said that there must be some of balance, but that there needs to be, even implicitly, a question. The items I quoted from the “call for papers” show there to be no such question. Again, words put into my mouth.

    Thus, the critical lines I quoted at 12.30 am this morning (at the time of writing) were: “This conference seeks to analyse the challenge posed to international law by the Jewish State of Israel…” (the continuation is irrelevant at this time); “For its initial existence, the State of Israel has depended on a unilateral declaration of statehood in addition to both the expulsion (some would say the ethnic cleansing) of large numbers of non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs in 1947-49…”

    Where are the “questions in these lines? The first part of the extract assumes that the “Jewish State of Israel” (why the need for the word “Jewish”? Are those likely to be attracted to this event unaware that Israel is the “Jewish State”? Further, is its existence a challenge? If so, to whom? And does the existence of no other state pose a threat to international law? The nature of a (or the) challenge is foreclosed. Should anyone seek to question this at the event, they are going to be ruled, effectively, out of order: it is not up for discussion. The second sentence also explicitly assumes the conclusion to be reached: the Declaration of Independence was unilateral. How so? Was the UN General Assembly vote unlawful? Out of order? Again, not up for discussion.

    I could (and will, if asked) continue on through the CFP to illustrate just how many contestable assertions, masquerading as academic starting points, there are in this document.

    I say again, these people can talk about what the hell they like, providing they are not breaking the law by so doing, and do it wherever the hell they like (with the permission of the premises owner). But it isn’t an academic conference, because the possibility of free and frank debate is not on the table. I say again, this is an activists event: the converted preaching to the converted.

    If any believe otherwise, please argue for that, not on what I have or haven’t said.

  31. jonathanhoffman1 Says:

    Section 43 (not 46)

  32. john Strawson Says:

    Jonathan has now provide a list of his detailed critique of the Call for paper for the conference. It is now we see who is playing politics – and with apparently little knowledge of the issues.

    Jonathan claims that the Israel’s Declaration of Independence was not unilateral. But that is factually wrong. The declarations was issued in the name of the Peoples Council on May 14 1948. The Peoples Administration (the Executive of the Peoples Council) had had an intense debate about whether to declare the state or not on May 12 – and vote in favor was narrow, 6-4. The actual declaration is justified by reference to both UN General Assembly resolution 181 and by virtue of the historical claims of the Jewish people. Indeed the section UNGA resolution 18i states, “On the 29th of November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling of the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel: the General Assembly required the inhabitant of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of the resolution.” As can be seen the framers of the declaration are working within the framework their view of the Resolution 181 but are aware that is they who are taking the steps to create the state. The debates within the Peoples Administration 2 days early indicate that the issue was being decided, not by the UN, but by the representatives of the Yishuv.

    Resolutions of the UN General Assembly are only recommendations and not as such enforceable. That meant that the resolution was a recommendation to the international community and in particular to Britain and the inhabitants of Palestine. From its adoption there has been political and academic discourses which argued that the resolution was ultra vires and unlawful. I disagree with that position and will be arguing why at the very conference under discussion.

    Jonathan also is legally incorrect on settlements. There is consensus amongst international lawyers that they are unlawful both under the doctrine of self-determination and under the 4th Geneva Convention 1949. If he is any doubt I suggest he reads the opinion the International Court of Justice on the Wall in 2004. By the way Israel did not leave Gaza in 2005. I suggest Jonathan reads the Israeli disengagement law which states explicitly that Israel will remain in charge of land and sea borders and air space – a neat definition being in ‘effective control,’ the legal requirement of occupation. I suggest that the critics of the academy take a course.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Now who’s playing politics: following the UN Resolution, the British announced their withdrawal from what was still Mandate Palestine to take place the following May.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        And I should have added to that (sorry for not doing it sooner) in line with the Labour Government’s policy of a start to the retreat from Empire: India was already independent, for example, and the British decided that they were well rid of Palestine. So, the Resolution may well have been ” a recommendation to the international community and in particular to Britain and the inhabitants of Palestine,” but the Brits took it as a golden opportunity to wash their hands of the whole mess(as they saw it). To an extent that legitimised the Declaration of Independence. And while we’re on the subject, who rejected the Partition Plan?

        My word, this comments thread is far more open than the “conference” threatens to be!

    • jonathanhoffman1 Says:

      John is wrong and has simply proved that this is not an academic conference but a publicly financed rally of academics who traduce Israel. I did not say that the Declaration of Independence was not unilateral. I said it ‘could hardly be termed unilateral’ since it was based on UN resolution 181.

      He is incorrect on settlements. There is no “consensus” that they are unlawful both under the doctrine of self-determination and under the 4th Geneva Convention 1949. The 4th Geneva Convention does not apply because East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza strip were not previously the territory of any High Contracting Party to the Convention (ie not sovereign territory). As part of Mandatory Palestine, Judea and Samaria never belonged to any sovereign state, but were occupied and administered illegally by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967, after the Arab war of aggression against Israel in 1948. And East Jerusalem was captured by Jordan in the war of 1948.

      Article 49(6) of the 4th Geneva Convention does not apply because Israel and the PLO agreed in the Oslo agreements that the final status of Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Israeli settlements were to be addressed in final status negotiations, with no provisions in these agreements prohibiting the construction of settlements or of buildings within towns or settlements in the meanwhile by either side within the areas under their respective administrative control. Israel has as much right to build housing in Jerusalem as the Palestinian Authority has to build housing in Bethlehem pending a final resolution of their status.

      Article 49(6) of the 4th Geneva Convention does not prohibit the voluntary movement of Israelis who wish to live in Jerusalem or the West Bank, since this does not constitute a deportation or transfer within the meaning of that provision. The Geneva Convention was designed to prohibit the forcible transfer of population into occupied territories, such as was practised by the Nazis and USSR before and during the second world war. But the Israeli settlers in the West Bank made a free choice to move there. And as a country that was attacked, Israel is entirely within its legal rights to retain territory that continues to be used as a base for attacks against it.

      Article 49(6) of the 4th Geneva Convention does not apply to Jerusalem and the West Bank because they remain subject to the special provisions of the League of Nations Mandate, including in particular its article 6, which requires the encouragement of “close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes”. The rights of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland, recognised by this and other provisions of the Mandate, were expressly preserved by article 80 of the UN Charter. This was the view of Professor Eugene Rostow, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Johnson administration, 1966-9, who participated in the drafting of Resolution 242 and was influential in the Reagan administration,

      Article 49(6) of the 4th Geneva Convention does not prohibit the construction of housing in a mixed city, such as Jerusalem, with an Israeli and Palestinian population, particularly as any permanent resident of Jerusalem, Israeli or Palestinian, is entitled to purchase or rent a flat anywhere in the city.

      John suggests I read the opinion the International Court of Justice on the Wall in 2004. I have of course read this. The ICJ opinion is purely advisory and carries no legal weight. Furthermore the ICJ is a creature of the United Nations General Assembly which has a built in anti-Israel majority. Israel has no representation among the ICJ Judges.

      The bottom line is that there are differing opinions about the facts. As Brian says, “this comments thread is far more open than the “conference” threatens to be!”

      It only serves to emphasise that the Call For Papers assumes the answers – which vilify Israel – as opposed to genuinely asking the questions, in the spirit of academic enquiry. It is far from a genuine academic conference and should be reconvened with a genuinely open and unbiased CFP. The current CFP is simply a thinly disguised rallying call to those who traduce Israel.

  33. Avi in Jerusalem Says:

    I have been following the comments thread from the beginning. I can only echo Brian’s comment that the exchange of views is much more open than the conference threatens to be.
    My problem is the veneer of respectability that this, and other conferences give to the agitprop activists whose aim is to strip the Jewish People and the State of Israel of any legal and moral legitimacy. As in any other marketing activity, the protagonists want to control the framing of the discussion. They are not interested in a discussion. The aim of the conference is not to examine the question in a detached and academic manner, but to act as a sounding box for the involved activists.
    As has been said a number of times in this thread, that in itself is something which is sacrosanct as freedom of speech. It is part of the very core of democracy as we understand and preach it. However, this veneer of respectability and academic stamp of approval by the Law Faculty of the University of Southampton stinks to high heaven. In future, people will be able to refer to papers de-legitimising the right of national self determination of Jews as having been presented at a University conference and at the faculty of law yet. This gives them more power than they deserves. This is another step in the “long march” of those, who, for whatever reasons, have opposed Jewish self determination in the last 150 years. They keep returning from the dustbin of history.
    When it comes down to brass tacks, the aim of the organisers of this event is to cause the forced disappearance of the only democratic state where the Jewish people have self determination. If this was part of an overall effort to negate all such states, then good luck to them, but their framing excludes everyone else and just concentrates on the Jews.

  34. soupyone Says:

    I have followed the extended discussion here with interest.

    Generally, I am leaning towards Brian’s position. But irrespective of this worthy and lengthy debate on the merits or demerits of academic arguments, agitprop, etc might we shortcut this?

    Two thoughts occur to me, as an antifascist:

    1. Isn’t it far better to point out who at the conference actually likes racists or is soft on racism?

    I mean that, in part, as a sociological exercise. To study these types of conference, its participants and how it allows the entry of respectable racism into the mainstream discourse?

    My cursory scan of participants reveals that many are supportive of Gilad Atzmon. Some are incredibly naïve as with Blake Alcott, see below:

    2. My gut feeling is that such events are to give the façade of respectability to bigotry, and in that way not too dissimilar from “conferences” held in Tehran, albeit nowhere near as crude.

    Whatever my reservations I feel that any nonracist academic who is foolish enough to attend, should be allowed to.

    Later on, much like the few non-neofascist participants of events in Tehran Southampton attendees will have the opportunity to reflect on their naivete in the company of bigots, fanatics and the friends of Gilad Atzmon.

    But they could have done that, before the event!

    • conference notes Says:

      I would tweak soupyone’s comments what I said earlier,
      ‘Perhaps the time has come to look at what is being said rather that who is saying it.’
      I think that the issues soupyone mentions will probably come to light after the conference when the papers are published. (If Ben Oren is an editor of the collection then it is likely his admiration of Atzmon, or rather for his views on Jews will appear even if for no other reason than a provocation).
      Again I stress my opposition to any ‘cancelling’, any postponement, any new call for papers, etc. for this conference (what John Strawson said in his final paragraph below)

      • soupyone Says:

        Tweak by all means.

        As an antifascist, I have watched many academics make fools of themselves by association with Holocaust deniers or their friends. In this modern age Google there is no reason for naivete towards these “activists” or their flirtations with racists.

        I suppose my point comes down to, do legitimate nonracist academics wish to lend credence to such questionable individuals?

        They can, but should they?

        In the end It’s a question of judgement, or lack of it.

  35. john Strawson Says:

    I am sorry to inform Jonathan but the League of Nations is no longer with us. This was decided the United Nations (created as a military alliance January 1 1942) at the Tehran conference in 1943 and finally dissolved on April 19 1946. Article 79 of the UN Charter deals with the transfer of Mandates to the UN system. As you should know the US delegation to the UN General Assembly was actively seeking to gain a majority in favor of transferring Palestine into a trust territory under the UN in the spring of 1948.

    The Declaration of Indepdence states quite clear its basis is “by virtue of the natural and historical right and the strength of the Resolution of the United Nations.” The only state that knew in advance was the USSR, which had to approve Mier Vilner, the Communist Party leader’s signature. As can be seen the text, the drafters of the Declaration are not basing the claim on the basis only of the UN resolution. It was a unilateral act.

    On the question of settlements as I have pointed out the League of Nations Mandate of 1922 has been superseded – not least the creation of the State of Israel and its recognition as state and membership of the UN since 1949. The other arguments derive from Julius Stone’s work (1981), which found little favor at the time and in any event the situation has now changed with the chain of UN Security Council resolutions, the Oslo accords and the Wall opinion. I do not think Stone would have those opinions today.

    Jonathan is of course wrong about the relationship between the UN General Assembly and the International Court of Justice, as both are principal organs of the United Nations. It is not a creature of the General Assembly. The judges are elected on the nomination of the Security Council by the General Assembly. It is true that there has never been an Israeli judge but that goes for the majority of members of the UN. Nor is it true that opinions of the International Court of Justice ‘carry no legal weight” they are of course authoritative. Indeed supporters of Israel should read the text properly as they would see that its dicta fully supports the legitimacy and legality of the State of Israel – within its borders.

    The Palestinian people have been recognized as a people with the right to self-determination since 1947 and this has been renewed in the most clearly in 1974. The Israeli colonial regime in the occupied territories has denied them this right since 1967 and has treated the territory as their own – through building settlements. This is explicitly forbidden in UN General Assembly resolution 2625 (1970). A resolution entitled the “Declaration on International Law” and part of customary international law.

    I have to say that having been to academic conferences on the Middle East and on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for at least three decades on four continents – including in Israel – the views put forward in this discussion by Jonathan and those who support him would be considered eccentric. I am talking of mainstream conferences such as the Middle East Association and the World Congress of Middle East Studies. However, I am happy for him and his collaborators to offer papers and panels in future.

    The argument that the Southampton conference will open the floodgates for future papers delegitimizing Israel and Jewish self-determination is far off the mark. Those floodgates opened a long time ago. The issue is whether you engage in debate or leave the field open to you opponents. As a long-time opponent of the boycott of Israeli universities and scholars I am not going to join the boycott of an academic conference just because I might encounter views that I disagree with. I leave that sort of thing to the BDS people.

  36. jonathanhoffman1 Says:

    John informs us that “the League of Nations is no longer with us”. That’s not relevant. Its decisions have the force of international treaties and remain binding. They can be found on the UN website. It is not legally possible for an international treaty to be ‘superceded’.

    John suggests that Julius Stone “would not have these opinions today”. How on earth does he know? Howard Grief – who died less than two years ago – certainly had ‘those opinions’ until the day he died – and plenty of legal experts have ‘those opinions’ now. See the Levy Report.

    I am not “wrong about the ICJ”. The ICJ has no binding legal authority unless States involved in a dispute agree to be bound by its decision.

    The 2004 decision regarding the Security Fence was advisory only.

    John mentions UN Resolution 2625. 2625 places a general prohibition on the use of force. In order for use of force to be legitimate, it must fall under one of the exceptions. These are right of self defence and enforcement actions mandated by the United Nations Security Council. In 1967 Israel was forced to resort to armed force because the Arab military build-up on its borders had reached a phase where it was “imminent” that it would most surely be a victim of armed attack. So its use of force was legitimate and did not violate 2625.

    John says “The Middle East is in turmoil: ISIS is at the gate, there is an Arab-Iranian proxy war in Yemen. These events will fuel the growth of anti-Semitism in Europe. To combat it will need a rather smarter strategy than obsessing over a perfectly normal academic conference.”

    This point is not relevant to my point that the conference should be reconvened with a CFP that does not violate the s43 ‘free speech’ obligation. However it surely needs a response. Why should it be assumed that the advance of ISIS (for example) will necessarily fuel antisemitism in Europe? The murders in Copenhagen and Paris earlier this year were of both Jews and non-Jews. Jihadi terrorists are a threat to all – including other Muslims – and not just to Jews.

    John suggests that my views would be considered “eccentric” at “mainstream conferences such as the Middle East Association and the World Congress of Middle East Studies.”

    Please look at the countries included in the Middle East Association. Which one is missing? QED I think.

    I repeat – an academic conference about Israel does not assume that the country is a rogue state in the Call For Papers, before the Conference has even started. Such an event is not a genuine ‘conference’ and therefore has no place at a UK University. The CFP violates the s43 ‘free speech’ obligation because speakers who support Israel are clearly discouraged relative to those who wish to boycott Israel – witness the over 60% of speakers who have advocated a boycott.

    This non-‘conference’ should be put on ice and reconvened with a truly balanced Call For Papers which does not violate s43.

  37. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    John continues his insistence that the Israeli Declaration of Independence “was a unilateral act.” So was the US Declaration of Independence: are we now to bring this into question? The USSR was born of a violent revolution: shall we retrospectively declare it illegitimate? There are numerous other states around the world, members in good standing of the UN, against which such accusations could be levelled: The People’s Republic of China, for one, born of a revolution…and so on.

    I don’t notice anyone calling a conference to question their legitimacy, only that of Israel, the Jewish State. Whether John Strawson or Ben Gidley like it or not, there is a distinct whiff of antisemitism in the air over this “conference”.

    I have always taken it for granted that historians and social scientists always took account of the context. I would have assumed that lawyers would to. But apparently not necessarily in every case…

    So, the context. There is strong historical and archaeological evidence that there have been Jews in the Land of Israel for 3000 years or so (there is also DNA evidence, but that’s for another time, even though it makes the point that jews are most definitely “a people” and thus entitled to self-determination). Even the historically recorded exiles brought about by the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Romans left some Jews behind. From the 1870s, when Zionist Jews began entering the Ottoman Empire province of Palestine, this was with the permission of the Empire, and local Arab land-owners were not averse to selling land to Jews. There is even evidence that Jerusalem had a Jewish majority from some time in the 19th Century and certainly from early in the 20th. The Jews settled or attempted to settle peaceably, but there were Arab uprisings and revolts in 1921, ’29 and ’32 which took, at least in part, the form of attempted pogroms. The difference was that, unlike in Czarist Russia and Poland, the local rulers (here the British) didn’t encourage these events.

    Further, although John wishes us to be aware that the League of Nations is no longer with us (thank you, but we had noticed), this does not, per se, mean that any action that body took is therefore null and void, even retrospectively, possibly especially retrospectively. That body established the British Mandate over Palestine, which built in turn on the Balfour Declaration, and required the British Government (at some unstated time in the future) to establish a Jewish State in all or part of the British Mandate territory of Palestine. This was followed by the November 1947 UN Resolution 181. It is worth noting that the Jewish Agency (the Sochnut) accepted the Partition Plan, as they had accepted the Peel Plan of 1937.

    However, continuing their intransigence of earlier years, segments of the Arab population of the area “between the river and the sea” violently objected to this, and Arab militias, from the passing of the Resolution until March 1948 or so, sought to at least reduce the are the Jews controlled, at best, to drive them into the sea. They failed miserably, so that the Jews finished up controlling more territory than hitherto. As with the invasion of the 5 Arab national armies after the Declaration of Independence, the Jews decided to defend themselves, and not to add a further million to the 6 million lost in the Holocaust.

    What were the Jews of the Yishuv to do? The British had announced that they were withdrawing from Palestine as of May 1948 and were thus going to leave them defenceless if they did nothing. Is John saying that this is what they should have done? They chose otherwise and looked to their deep history of self-defence. Further, most of the Jews in Palestine were there legally (there were some illegal – as decided by the British – immigrants) and an increasing number of them were Holocaust survivors. If John and others think this is irrelevant, then they need to re-examine their assumptions and think again. As far as they were concerned, the Declaration was a logical, natural and legitimate response to the UN Resolution and the response of the Arab militias and the Arab national armies.

    It is being conveniently forgotten that the Kingdom of Jordan came into existence at this time, with the abandonment by the British of their Mandate. It is also being conveniently forgotten that both Lebanon and Syria came into existence at this time with the French abandonment of _their_ Mandate from the League. No-one is demanding an academic conference on University premises to question _these_ countries legitimacy.

    In the words of Maureen Lipman, in an only slightly different context, “It’s always the Jews, isn’t it?” And I repeat my claim (goodness, I’m beginning to sound like Cato the Censor of ancient Rome, with his final statement to every speech: “Carthage must be destroyed”) that this is not an academic conference but a gathering of anti-Israel (with some exceptions) activists, and should be labelled as such. It is irrelevant that it is on university premises: that does not, per se, make it an academic conference. And I also accept that the participants are entitled to make whatever points they wish, within the law.

    But if it walks like a duck, if it sounds like a duck and if it looks like a duck…

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Of course, the organisers could do what Jewish organisations are forced to do (I wonder why it’s essentially only Jewish ones that have to do this?), which is book a venue, decide on the maximum number the venue will hold, etc, then only announce it is to be held a day or two before the event takes place, to reduce the risk of disruption.

      This is what the “We believe in Israel” event organisers did. This arrangement can even allow for accommodation for attendees. Of course, this is likely to make the costs higher than if it were held on university premises, but, surely, this is a price worth paying to maintain freedom of speech.

      • Larry Ray Says:

        No satisfaction should be drawn from this, which I perhaps detect in Brian’s response. Universities seem badly equipped to deal with these highly politicized issues and need to get a grip on them. It is outrageous that (some) Jewish events and Israeli speakers are subject to this kind of bullying and obstruction but it does not help us at all that this conference has also been cancelled, which as as said in an early post, will fuel further attempts to deny academic freedom to voices sympathetic to Israel and of course Israelis themselves. Not all Jewish events are forced to do this BTW – as a past President I can tell you the British Association of Jewish Studies holds an annual conference at a UK or Irish university with many Israeli attendees so far without a hint of objection or disruption.

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          No satisfaction is felt, Larry, whatever you think you have read into my comments. I have said all along that, to repeat myself, “I must stress in the strongest possible terms that in none of my comments on this thread have I suggested, recommended or demanded that this event should be cancelled, banned or somehow censored or “re-organised”.” Indeed, my contention has been all along that this is not an academic conference but a meeting of mostly activists against Israel and should be seen as such. They can say what they like, where they like (within the law), but must expect (intellectual) attack from all sorts of directions, especially if they do not permit debate through closing it off by virtue of the manner in which the “questions” are framed.

          What of the above paragraph is expresses satisfaction? This would not have happened if the convenors of the event had not had the hubris to believe that by calling it an academic conference and holding it on academic premises, they would be given leave to go about their business. But they did and they weren’t.

          That’s the other side of freedom of speech: the right to protest, however stridently.

        • Larry Ray Says:

          It is less clear now that the conference has been cancelled. But I understood Brian to be calling for it not to held at Southampton Uni but on commercial premises elsewhere, which this morning looked like what might happen. Hence I thought there might be satisfaction. But my point was a general one – if the conference is cancelled this is not cause for satisfaction. Events with Israeli speakers are also cancelled on ‘health and safety’ grounds. Universities seem to have problems dealing with politically contentious events.

    • bengidley Says:

      This is a very bad outcome for everyone. This will be perceived as the university bowing to pressure from what the organisers call “the Israel lobby”, so that the organisers become the victims here. The university has not acknowledged any of the criticisms made of the conference as legitimate, so those opposing the conference cannot claim to have won any argument. Although the university appears to be saying that pro- and anti-demonstrators contribute to the security risk, casual readers will infer that a security risk to an anti-Israel conference comes from pro-Israel demonstrators, so now Israel defenders will appear as the bullies. In short, the Zionist Federation and others who have pressured the university have scored a big own goal: the appearance is that, instead of winning a debate on Israel’s legitimacy they have closed down the debate through their pressure.

      More generally, although this is not the first recent debate on a university to be cancelled on safety grounds because of the threat of protest (I think the cancelling of the feminist comedian Kate Smurfwaite, due to appear at Goldsmiths, was on safety grounds because of the likelihood of protest against her by other feminists), it contributes a dangerous precedent whereby safety is used as a justification for avoiding controversial debate. This is a major blow against free debate in British universities.

      • Larry Ray Says:

        Ben is quite right in my view. Also regarding soupyone (below) as the footnote shows Lipstadt was talking about conferences of ‘revisionist historians’ ie Holocaust denial. I too would oppose a conference of Holocaust deniers as I imagine we all would.

        • soupyone Says:

          Indeed Larry.

          I had assumed that most readers would not need it pointing out.

          However, my lengthy experience of many “activists” suggests that you’re more liable to find a unicorn in the street than engage in rational debate with them.

          Rather I was trying to draw out a broader point and hoped that the academics here would not need it belabouring

          Merely, genuine academics do have the choice, they could attend. But is it wise?

          The fact you have the freedom to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do it.

          Do you honestly, seriously, believe that any of those zealots would be persuaded by one argument?

          My own view is, that it shows very poor judgement for nonracists to lend credence to bigots, their allies or mates of antisemites. I don’t believe we should aid or assist such people.

          Nevertheless, I accept others are free to make their own poor choices.

      • TeaCup Says:

        Taking into account the disproportionate over-representation of anti-Israel contributors and participants, perhaps you could supply your assessment of the chances of the few pro-Israel speakers ” winning a debate on Israel’s legitimacy” had the event gone ahead. I reached my own conclusion at the start of this whole pseudo-academic “debate.”

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        The organisers would have called it “pressure from what the organisers call “the Israel lobby”,” whatever the outcome. Had the event gone ahead, they would have boasted of having withstood (immense?) pressure from the Israel lobby and dared to speak truth to power.

        • TeaCup Says:

          This is meant for Ben Gidley but posted here as no “reply” link was provided. ( not shutting down debate are we? )
          And to continue using the sports analogy, I see no virtue in losing a match where the result has already been rigged in the opponent’s favour. It does make yet another dent in the much lauded British sense of Fair Play I keep hearing about but never really see.

    • David Seymour Says:

      wrong, wrong, wrong.
      A deeply disappointing and depressing outcome.
      Wrong because this conference, as with any conference, should have gone ahead unimpeded.
      Wrong because of the reasons Southampton offered. Now any conference going ahead can be stymied by the threat of protest (even if peaceful) – and not just those related to Israel and Palestine.
      Wrong because Universities should be fearless in their demand that even the most controversial topics be open to discussion, even if, or especially, if the agenda itself takes a position others find problematic (again, not just those related to Israel and Palestine). If universities cannot provide that space, I really do not who can.
      Wrong because those of us who oppose the boycott do so on universal grounds of the rights of all to express their views no matter who or how many find them unpalatable. In these instances, exceptions do not prove the rule, they set a dangerous precedent.
      This is a sad day for academia in the UK, for those of us concerned about the current state of Universities and for those of us concerned with the free exchange of ideas.
      On a personal note, I know participants who take varied and differing opinions on the issues to be discussed.
      I know them to be deeply thoughtful and knowledgeable scholars. It is not only a missed opportunity that a conversation between them will now not take place, but will now leave the terrain clear for less reflective voices to fill the vacuum.
      A sad day indeed.
      David M. Seymour

  38. soupyone Says:

    I must say it’s been a fascinating discussion, wide-ranging and open.

    Nevertheless, in the rush to pile argument on argument much was lost.

    A thought experiment:

    1. let’s assume we are all in the US, and this type of topic came up (as it has hundreds, if not thousands of times).

    2. I suppose the net result would be along the lines of “yes, they are entitled to freedom of speech as long as they do not indulge in incitement or violence” .

    3. Soon followed up by “it’s fairly obvious that they are trying to put an academic veneer on their predetermined views of prejudice”.(1)

    Academics in America then had to decide should they participate in such conferences?

    Sensible ones and thoughtful ones tended to avoid them, and with reason.

    Previously, an academic commented:

    “They camouflage their extremist and antisemitic agenda in the trappings of scientific investigation and scholarly discourse. They hold conferences that are structured as scholarly gatherings. They design their journals to appear, at first glance, to be academic publications. In their publications, they often adopt the language and form of academic inquiry.” (2)

    That was Deborah Lipstadt.

    Her wider point that you lend credibility and credence to such individuals when you debate them is still valid.

    Again, you can argue history from Basel onwards, with suitable detours around 1948 and the UN. Even rehearsing (ad nauseam) freedom of speech argumentation, but that all tends to pale when it comes down to the question of judgement, what to do now?

    To attend and aid such bigotry? Or think about Lipstadt’s approach and why it is broadly sensible.

    The latter point is something academics here should be thinking about.

    (1) This can be seen from the statement, “to hold the academic conference on International Law and the State of Israel.”


  39. Avi in Jerusalem Says:

    One of the points which is not clear to me is where is this threat of violent disruption coming from? Not from the Jewish community I’ll be bound. From what I have seen, it is pro Israel events which are threatened with violent disruption if not actually disrupted up by the right on BDS crowd. The synagogues and Jewish schools are the ones which need barbed wire and guards. Any moves to blame the Jewish community for attacking free speech are at best cynical and at worst in contradiction to reality.
    My argument is that an event like this can take place, but not get the veneer of respectability which the School of Law at Southampton University automatically gives it.
    OT or not, what is this English obsession with Health & Safety? I am certain that it began as a joke and like many other things, morphed into the politically correct default excuse for not doing anything.

  40. Wigs and Hunters Says:

    ‘Here’s an idea: how about all sides stop calling for censorship and instead have the cojones to challenge their opponents in the public realm, with words and ideas rather than bans and boycotts?’

  41. jonathanhoffman1 Says:

    ” …. the University is obliged to withdraw permission for the conference”

    • s4r4hbrown Says:

      This seems a particularly bad result. The complaints of bullying and censorship will continue, now that it’s definitely been cancelled (or banned from campus at least) but the University has done nothing to distance itself from the conference, rather the opposite.

      • Wigs and Hunters Says:

        People have every right to protest the conference. People have every right to support the conference.
        It has already been distorted as the work of the ‘Israeli Lobby’. Had it gone ahead it would have been distorted as ‘bravely standing up to the Israeli Lobby’. For those opposing the conference, it is a no-win situation.

        The fact is that the responsibility for not allowing the conference should and does lie squarely and solely with Southampton University. It does not lie with the conference’s opponents, nor, should another decision have been reached, with its supporters.

        Neither of the reasons offered by the University are valid.
        Their argument regarding freedom of speech is contradicted by their support of the conference where they state that the organizers have sought a wide variety of speakers.
        Demonstrations for or against of themselves are not a breach of freedom of speech, but an exercise of it. It is an extremely worrying development in general terms that peaceful demonstrations are being treated as issues of ‘health and safety’. It is yet another weapon in the growing anti-democratic arsenal of our times.

        The statement issued by the University will come back to haunt us all. It will haunt those of us opposing a boycott of Israeli academics and others. It will haunt those who wish to discuss a topic deemed controversial by some.
        It is a poor decision and derogation of the responsibility we demand from Universities in the UK and elsewhere.

        For those who see the cancelling of the conference as some kind of ‘victory’, it is nothing more nor less than a Pyrrhic victory.

    • soupyone Says:

      Anyone with a sense of history should appreciate that such “activists” often have their cake and eat it. Any slight opposition to them is characterised as “Zionist interference”, any counter-argument as “hasabra” and reason is seen as irrelevant.

      Equally, anyone following such antics will see that certain “activists” in this field love playing the victim, yet are quick to put the boot in or threaten legal pressure if it suits**

      All in all it is a case of damned if you do, damn give you don’t?

      And frankly, I don’t give a damn about them.

      [** I can provide a list of examples.]

  42. Larry Ray Says:

    Whatever our views on the merits or otherwise of this conference it is a dangerous precedent withdraw permission on these grounds and could be open to challenge under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to freedom of expression). As I have said before the outcome is ominous not least for its obvious implication for Israeli academics coming to speak at UK campuses.

  43. Miriam Elman: Cancelled Southampton anti-Israel conference was academic fraud | 171bus Says:

    […] Oxford University professor Ben Gidley notes, “When protests can effectively make a university a hostile environment for Israelis, even when […]

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