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

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

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

Dear Professor Don Nutbeam,

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

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

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

  1. A Zionist Says:

    Perhaps I am naive or even stupid, but the illogicality of this letter suggests that this anti-Israel hate fest is merely an expression, a benign expression, of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. I use the term Arab-Israeli because there is the deliberate attempt to reframe the conflict as one between the powerful Israeli Goliath, to the oppressed and victimised David, the Palestinians. In other words, the Palestinians are innocent victims, without agency and responsibility. This is at best an example of a paternalistic if not a colonial mindset.

    This is not about free speech or academic boycott. It is the organiser Ben Dror who is guilty of academic boycott by refusing to allow speakers from the opposing view. This is not about academic boycott but an attempt to delegitimise Israel and to debate the very right of existence for the State of Israel.

    If Fine and Seymour were to argue that in order for this conference to go ahead then the title of the conference should be changed so that a proper academic conference could take place, that would be different. But they do not. Instead, they set up a righteous moral position whereby we should allow the very people who want to “murder” Israel to be allowed to do so with our blessing to show what jolly good sports we are! Israel may be exterminated, but we vote for free speech! It is as absurd as Churchill inviting Hitler to speak in Parliament to discuss the Final Solution as a valid point of view.

    By pleading for the conference to go ahead is a demonstration of how morally bankrupt some on the left have become. On no account must Jews and Zionists defend themselves. On the contrary, we must do as Ghandi suggested, go peacefully to the slaughter.

  2. zaccaerdydd Says:

    I have several times vigorously disagreed with Geoffrey Alderman, but he is right here, I think

    An own goal in Southampton


    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Sadly, zaccaerdydd, here I suspect not. He notes that many of the paper givers are university lecturers and numerous of the rest lawyers. Holding such positions does, per se, mean that such an individual is incapable of holding extreme views (Dr Mengele, anyone?). Indeed, an examination of the titles of papers as published by the organisers indicates that significantly over half of them would appear to have pre-judged the issues involved, to the detriment of Israel’s position in the world. Further, an analysis of the “call for papers”, as discussed elsewhere on this site, would reinforce this view: the organisers had predetermined the stance of the so-called academic conference by the choice of wording.

      For example, the cfp, when read carefully, states, unambiguously, that Israel’s Declaration of Independence was “unilateral”. No ifs, ands or buts. Where is the open-ended academic discussion in any of those? Geoffrey Alderman can choose to put this to one side, because he believes that he has a contribution to make, but that doesn’t make him right. Nor does the fact that he had material in preparation for the UNHRC give him any free passes.

      This was not, as structured, an academic conference, whatever Alderman asserts. Of course no topic is, or should be, debarred from discussion and debate, but this doesn’t mean, either, that we should therefore be expected to call a spade other than what it is and not pretend that it is, really, say, a feather duster.

      Especially when it is wielded not to enlighten debate, etc. but to cause physical harm to those in disagreement with bias of the topic.

  3. jonathanhoffman1 Says:

    Geoffrey Alderman April 2015: “There is no subject on God’s Earth that cannot be discussed in a university.”

    Geoffrey Alderman April 2010: “To argue – as an academic or in an academic setting – that the state of Israel should be destroyed seems, to me, to amount to an incitement to genocide. That is where free speech becomes hate speech.”


    So if – as was very likely – a speaker argued for ‘one state’, Geoffrey would immediately switch from supporting the event to denouncing it …

    • conference notes Says:

      Thank you for posting that. I had been looking for that article by Alderman. The only point is that the article I posted was written specifically in response to events in Southampton.

  4. jonathanhoffman1 Says:

    … and sure enough, look who one of the speakers was …

    Ms. Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, writer, Journalist, Jaffa, member of Jaffa One State Group, “The Israeli Liberal Elite and Their Fixation on the Jewish state”

  5. conference notes Says:


    As a technical matter, I am not sure that the ‘State of Israel be destroyed’ is the same as those arguing for one state (a state for Israeli Jews and Palestinians). I am opposed to such a state for a number of reasons, but I hardly think it is a call to genocide (it has never claimed to kill Israeli Jews after all). It is a call for the end of a state for the Jews, which is not the same as the end of Jews.
    Perhaps, and again I cannot speak for Alderman, he is referring more to the truly genocidal threats that emerged from Iran at the time and who wished to wipe ‘Israel from the map’ than those who would rather Jews and Palestinians live in what they term as a ‘democratic secular state’.
    I would argue that Alderman thinks the same. After all, I am sure he has had access to the programme prior to the event. He had the opportunity to switch his opinion when he saw the type of talk you refer too, Yet he concludes his article with the following,
    ‘Since it became known that I was to make a presentation, a number of well-meaning people have offered to publish my paper so that I needn’t feel I’ve been gagged. But that’s not the point, is it? My paper was directed to a specific audience, and for a specific purpose. Hopefully arrangements will be put in hand for the conference to be held in a more secure location.’
    I think his position on the Southampton conference is quite clear.

  6. jonathanhoffman1 Says:

    “One State” means the end of Israel as a State with a Jewish character. It would be the destruction of the State of Israel and could not be achieved peacefully. I am certain Geoffrey would agree.


    Here’s a Professor who disagrees with Geoffrey.

  7. conference notes Says:

    Hi Jonathan,
    It seems that you would like to open a debate and discussion on the questions on what a one-state solution would look like and whether it could be achieved peaceably or not. In the present context, I trust you see the irony in that.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      One must bear in mind that Mahmoud Abbas has stated, categorically (though whether in both English and Arabic is unclear to me) that the State of Palestine would have no Jews in it, certainly not as citizens. Visitors, possibly, maybe even as dhimmi. Interesting, therefore, that Israel has 20+% of its citizenry as other than Jewish (whether religious or seeing themselves “as a people”). So, conference, what do you think a one (binational) state would finish up looking like? And why do IsraeliJews (and, come to that) a significant majority of the Muslim-Israelis prefer to live in Israel, rather than Palestine, even at the cost of not having de facto (as opposed to de jure) equality?

  8. conference notes Says:

    A further contribution………….

  9. conference notes Says:

    I think it is also worth noting that the British Board of Deputies did not call for the cancellation of the conference. According to the link, they met with the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton to express concerns of how the conference could lead to a climate of antisemitism. They may be right and they may be wrong. The point is that the call for cancellation came not from that source, but from unelected, recently formed self-selecting non-representative groups who seem to have appointed themselves spokespeople for matters that they really seem not to know anything about. The result will be a whole host of negative consequences that we now are all going to have live with in the forthcoming months ahead.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Nor did many of those commenting on this issue. Many of us were arguing that whatever else this was, it was not an “academic conference” and should be labelled as such. Say what you want (within the law), wherever you want, to whoever is prepared to listen to you.

      That’s freedom of speech.

      But academic freedom is supposed to allow for vigorous debate and dissent. That doesn’t happen when the publicity for the event closes off debate before it begins (as did Ben Dror’s statement of the purpose of the conference), which was made worse by the “call for papers” – which has been analysed by a number of us in these columns.

      I’m not pleased that the event has been cancelled, just pleased that Southampton U. appears to have noticed that this is not an academic event and therefore shouldn’t be labelled as such and possibly not held on university premises, to give it credibility it doesn’t deserve.

  10. conference notes Says:

    Brian Goldfarb,

    You wrote,
    ‘So, conference, what do you think a one (binational) state would finish up looking like?’
    Not sure, Brian. Maybe we should have a conference on that topic?

    As for me, I stated my view quite clearly,
    ‘I am opposed to (a one state solution) for a number of reasons.’

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Fair enough. I shot from the hip, without bearing in mind your other comments. I apologise for making unwarranted assumptions about your views.

  11. conference notes Says:

    Thanks Brian, civility is a rare commodity these days; it is appreciated.

  12. Academic boycotts and anti-Jewish racism | Anne's Opinions Says:

    […] yet another long screed about this, but, rather, refer you once again to Engage Online, where the first 5 articles are all about this. Three of them have long comments threads, where we can see free […]

  13. conference notes Says:


    ‘The judge made it clear this was not really a freedom of speech or expression argument. Nobody was saying the papers could not be published nor the conference held. Nobody gagged anyone – it was simply a case of not ‘here, today and in this way’.

    ‘There were no legal grounds for the conference organisers case to hold up.’

    ‘The Judge made it clear there was no evidence whatsoever to suggest anything other than security concerns caused the ‘postponement’. The accusation of ‘Zionist lobby’ pressure was thrown aside.’

    ‘The conference organisers attempted to discredit Sussex Friends of Israel. Firstly by stating they are not a Jewish group (and therefore imply they could not be a target for a terror attack) and secondly by continually connecting them with the EDL as two groups ‘working together’. SFoI were the only referenced element of the Jewish protests. It was a dirty tactic they repeated several times.’

    ‘This means any comments to suggest the Zionist lobby were responsible for this cancellation are the usual anti-Semitic attacks that suggest Jewish conspiracy at every turn. Even the idea that we would somehow disrupt it was discredited. This was cancelled because no one could guarantee the safety of the Jewish protestors.’

    • zaccaerdydd Says:

      ‘University of Southampton tried to both find an alternative venue and offered the possibility of holding the conference at the University at a later date after sufficient security arrangements could be made. The organisers consistently refused any alternative arrangements.’

      I suppose they were taking a stand. And the security concerns do seem to me to be pre-textual, however Ben Dror et al. smeared SFoI as ‘EDL’.

  14. conference notes Says:

    The organisers appear to have ‘smeared SFoI as ‘EDL’, they also seem to have used the fairytale of the ‘Zionist Lobby’.

    What is interesting is that both of these ‘arguments’ are common coins in the currency of some factions of the anti-zoinist movement. Funny that when they try to present them as if they were real to people who don’t buy into archaic forms of conspiracy theory and who do not equate zionism with (neo-) nazism, sensible people simply ignore them.
    I was and still am opposed to the calling for the cancellation of this conference, but good to see the court refusing to countenance antisemitism even when framed as a legitimate legal argument.

  15. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    A very interesting article on the Southampton Uni “conference” judicial appeal from comment is free watch, crossposted in turn from ukmediawatch, who have taken it from David Collier’s blog(!):

    Note, in particular, among much else, bullet point 9.

    It would appear that the conference organisers were on a hiding to nothing from the word go (presumably as advised by their legal team), so much so that they are required to pay some of the defendants costs.

    Serves them right.

    And I’ll explain that last comment more fully if asked.

  16. Porky Scratchings (@ibngibril) Says:

    When did two states become three? Transjordan was part of the British Mandatory territory until it was granted independence in 1946…state one. Israel’s independence , state 2, followed in 1948.

    Liberal and left wing minded Jews continue to parrot the drivel of antisemites and Moslem fundamentalists whose shared ambition is the destruction of Israel and annihilation of Jewry.

    It is time to take the hardline. You want 2 states, you have two states.

    By the way, for those who haven’t bothered to take the time so to do, may I urge you to read the Proto Constitution of the PA…these are the cuddly moderates, who, in Article 1 of their own “constitution” say..there is no such place as Palestine and no such people as Palestininians…just Arabs seeking to build a united Moslem Greater Arabia…Palestinian nationalism is by their own admission, nothing more than an Arab Moslem colonial and expansionist staging post.

    Jews, Israelis and Zionists who allow themselves to be vilified as colonialists need to see through this vicious and duplicitous fascism, get off their knees and recover the pioneering spirit that allowed Israel to flourish from the dung heap of history.

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