An academic conference debate the legal legitimacy of the State of Israel which was cancelled at the University of Southampton in April is now set to go ahead in Ireland.
The event, derided as a “one-sided diatribe” by cabinet ministers before it was pulled, has moved to the University College Cork (UCC), after Irish academics slammed the lack of freedom of speech in Britain.
According to a report in Times Higher Education, organisers of the conference – called ‘International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism’ – said other British universities had refused to host it, because they were “afraid of the claws of the Israeli lobby”.
Months earlier, Israel-born law professor Oren Ben-Dor from Southampton Law School unsuccessfully challenged the decision to pull the conference in the High Court, together with Professor Suleiman Sharkh, who grew up in Gaza.
Ben-Dor and Sharkh had argued that it was a matter of freedom of speech, but judges disagreed, saying that Southampton’s decision was based on assessments of public security, after protesters said they would descend on the event.
UCC professor James Bowen said the event was safe in Cork, adding that “academic freedom [in Ireland] is still fairly well protected, unlike in the UK, where it seems to have come to be regarded as a disposable luxury”.
Ben-Dor said he had approached universities across Britain and Europe with a view to hosting the conference, with no success, saying they were “afraid of the claws of the Israeli lobby”.
British Jewish groups had sought to either restructure or cancel the original conference, saying its heavy bias against Israel meant “it could not be treated as a serious or genuine”.
British Jewish academic Prof. Geoffrey Alderman however said he was “very pleased the conference is going ahead, very sorry it is not going ahead in the UK”.
He added: “I will probably be unsympathetic to most of the other arguments expressed at the conference, but so what? That is what academic freedom is about.”
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