General Antisemitism

Has University of Southampton’s antisemitic conference been cancelled? (Update 4)


(See updates to this post below)

A University of Southampton conference designed for the sole purpose of providing activists academic assistance in the political fight to de-legitimize Israel has been cancelled, based on a statement from conference organizers published at the anti-Zionist site Electronic Intifada (EI).

As noted on these pages, the majority of speakers at the one-sided conference support a boycott of Israel, including Richard Falk and Ilan Pappe, and material on the conference site suggests that most question both the legal and moral right of the state of Israel to exist.

Denying Israel’s right to exist is deemed antisemitic by the EUMC Working Definition.

Here’s the statement from conference organizers, again according to EI.

It is with extreme astonishment and sadness that we have to inform you that the University of Southampton has told us earlier yesterday (30 March 2015) that it intends to withdraw its permission to hold the academic conference on international law and the State of Israel.

We were told that the decision was taken on the grounds of health and safety: a number of groups may be demonstrating for or against the conference which could present risks to the safety of the participants, students and staff. The university claims that it does not have enough resources to mitigate the risks, despite a clear statement from the police confirming that they are able to deal with the protest and ensure the security of the event.

As the law stands, the university is legally obliged to uphold freedom of speech, and – unlike in some engineering projects for example where health and safety may be the only legal obligation – the requirement of minimizing risk should also fall onto the police as the agency that is entrusted with the enforcement of the law (freedom of speech) and the provision of security.

The mitigating measure should therefore include policing in addition to what the university can reasonably provide using its own security resources. We are therefore extremely dissatisfied with the risk assessment conducted by the university which seems to lack consistency; high risks remained high even when seemingly effective mitigating measures were put in place. Crucially and additionally, the risk assessment does not seem to include all possible risk mitigating measures that could be provided by the police.

A number of risks have been identified by the police but it is very clear from the police’s report that they are more than capable of policing the conference and ensuring the safety of university staff, speakers, delegates, students and property. However, instead of accepting this at face value the university decided to focus on the risks identified by the police and ignore their statement about their ability to police the event – we were told the police will never say in writing they are not able to police an event, in other words the university had doubts about the police’s ability to do their job of upholding the law!

The university claims that the police are not able or unwilling to become too involved because the university is “private property,” which we find astonishing. The university is a public space, it was established by a royal charter and it has public roles and duties including upholding freedom of speech and to that extent it should be able to resort to police assistance in order to curb security risks to enable it to fulfil its legal obligation to uphold freedom of speech.

If this is not done, if commitment to safety is not undertaken by the police, freedom of speech becomes an idle worthless notion. At no point were we given an indication that the university has indeed allowed itself the time to seek viable police assistance to supplement its own resources. Additionally, and unconvincingly, the university claims that it is now too late to put proper security arrangements in place. We do not accept that in any way as there are still 18 days left before the conference.

Given the police’s confidence in providing security and given that there are other possible mitigating measures that are yet to be explored that could be put in place to minimize the risk, a decision to cancel the conference would be grossly disproportionate and therefore may well be illegal and unconstitutional. Such an action by Southampton University will severely undermine the public’s confidence in the police’s and the in the university’s ability to protect freedom of speech.

Indeed it will have wider implications for all universities and organizations. We feel that the manner the university communicated with the police and conducted the risk assessment shows that the security argument was used to rationalize a decision to cancel the conference that has been taken under public pressure of the Israel lobby. It is quite simply unbelievable that the university cannot ask the police to handle the risk of demonstrations.

Freedom of speech inherently involves taking risks, and hence the presence of risk cannot be used to curtail it! The UK government and many other governments have refused to give in to attempts by Islamic extremists to stop the publication of pictures of Prophet Muhammad despite serious risks of violence. The correct response by the governments was to confront and contain that violence and not to cancel the publication of these pictures by Charlie Hebdo and others.

This is a sad decision for freedom of speech and for historic Palestine (which includes what is now the Jewish State of Israel and the 1967 occupied territories) and all the people who live there.

We will explore legal emergency measures to prevent the university from cancelling the conference, to reverse its decision and to properly collaborate with the police so that the demonstrations can be managed. In addition we call for the widest and most intense public campaign possible that would urgently encourage the university to reverse its decision and which would allow the conference to go ahead.

Finally, we must make it clear that we have made several attempts to meet with the vice-chancellor to consult him on the organization of this conference, and to invite him to open the conference but we have never been given the opportunity to do so. On the other hand, the vice-chancellor has met with pro-Israel representatives without ever calling us to attend meetings and we, as professors in the university, feel disempowered and marginalized by this disrespectful behavior.

  • Professor Oren Ben-Dor, University of Southampton.
  • Professor George Bisharat, University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
  • Professor Suleiman Sharkh, University of Southampton.
  • Ms. Juman Ismail.

Conference organizers

We’ll update you when we can confirm the veracity of this EI report.

UPDATE 1:

The statement from confederence organizers appears to be legitimate, per this page on a pro-conference website. 

UPDATE 2:

A tweet from Sussex Friends of Israel suggests that reports of the event’s cancellation may be premature.

UPDATE 3: 

We were in touch with a spokesperson for the university, who directed me to the statement pasted in the Sussex Friends of Israel tweet seen above. Here’s a snapshot of the email.

reply

 

UPDATE 4: The event has officially been cancelled. See this official statement by the university. 

25 replies »

  1. They are afraid of the mass of Jewish suicide bombers and Jews randomly attack the university. The organizers have a very simple solution – to relocate the conference where it belongs – to Wannsee, Germany.

  2. “As the law stands, the university is legally obliged to uphold freedom of speech” – and again, this mendacious Orwellian claim. The university has no legal or other obligation to permit the use of its premises for any kind of conference, let alone a racist one. Either they don’t understand what the concept of freedom of speech means, in which case they are too stupid to be academics, or they understand but deliberately twist it to mean something it is not and never has been intended to mean, in which case they are evil. Take your pick.

    • @Anne Sinclair –

      You say: “The university has no legal or other obligation to permit the use of its premises for any kind of conference, let alone a racist one.”

      You’re wrong. The relevant part of the Education Act 1986 – Section 43: Freedom of speech in universities, polytechnics and colleges – states:

      (1) Every individual and body of persons concerned in the government of any establishment to which this section applies shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers.

      (2) The duty imposed by subsection (1) above includes (in particular) the duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the use of any premises of the establishment is not denied to any individual or body of persons on any ground connected with —

      (a) the beliefs or views of that individual or of any member of that body; or

      (b) the policy or objectives of that body.

      http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1986/61/section/43

      If the University of Southampton has adjudged the conference’s content to be illegal (i.e, in breach of laws against racism and thus not covered by freedom-of-expression legislation), let it say so and ban the event on those grounds. If, however – as the organisers claim – the reason given for the ban is “risks to the safety of the participants, students and staff”, the cancellation is an utter disgrace.

      The latter can mean only one of two things. Either that such serious threats of violence and/or damage have been issued by objectors to the conference as to make the holding of it “not reasonably practicable” – in which case, this ought to be made fully public and the makers of those threats named, shamed, and (ideally) prosecuted. Or that the university is grossly exaggerating the extent of the risk and banning the event in cowardly capitulation to mere noise.

      As the statement from the conference organisers points out:

      “The UK government and many other governments have refused to give in to attempts by Islamic extremists to stop the publication of pictures of Prophet Muhammad despite serious risks of violence. The correct response by the governments was to confront and contain that violence and not to cancel the publication of these pictures by Charlie Hebdo and others.”

      Anyone applauding that spirited Je suis Charlie Hebdo’ stance while simultaneously demanding that Southampton University refuses a platform it’s OBLIGED BY LAW TO ENSURE to speakers whose “beliefs or views … [or] policy or objectives” some find objectionable is a hypocrite of quite shameless dimensions.

      • Miranda
        sometimes I think you have lost the trees from the forest .The conference content was reprehensible . It should be cancelled and its a travesty that they abuse UK free speech principles and democracy and centres of learning to try and abolish the legitimacy of a nation .
        Let them go to Tehran or Damascus which holds them kind of events . They will get funding aplenty .

        The University grounds are private property . The University chooses who to admit/refuse entry . The University has an obligation for health and safety risks of all people on its property . Holding an extremely contentious and provocative meet up of the worlds anti Semites can be seen as contingently incurring risks . How is the University expected to manage Nazis from around the world wandering about , spraying swastikas , Zieg Heiling in the common rooms , lynching Jews Gypsies and Slavs .

        • @Lemon Curd –

          Read the law I quoted, LC. That’s what governs the extent of the university’s powers to “admit/refuse” entry to speakers co-opted or invited by its own staff and students. (NB: It is a publicly-funded, licensed institution with legal DUTIES to ensure freedom of speech – it’s not “private property”.)

          However “reprehensible” the conference’s content, this was irrelevant to the issue of banning it. (The university didn’t cancel for this reason, but on “health and safety” grounds.) If you don’t want to keep a clear line between “reprehensible” and “illegal”, fine – but then bear in mind that some causes/speakers you support may be seen as “reprehensible” too …

          “How,” you finally ask, “is the university to manage Nazis … wandering about, spraying swastikas, Zieg Heiling … lynching Jews, Gypsies and Slavs”? Well, I guess, this would best be done by calling in a fantasy army, imposing fantasy martial law, and organising fantasy mass-jailings that live up to your fantasy predictions!

            • @Lemon Curd –

              “oh Miranda
              “wrong again….
              “the University were concerned about Nazis and protests and counter protests . Who is the one living in fantasy land ?”

              At no point ANYWHERE does the report you link mention Nazis! All it does is confirm exactly what the university had earlier told conference organisers was the reason for its decision:

              “It was made on the basis of information from the police who say, it is probable there will be a high number of demonstrators at the event, the consequences of which could lead to incidents of public disorder.”

              And what comes next in the report, LC? Well, blow me down with a feather – it’s a direct echo of the conference organisers’ earlier claim that the police had raised NO such objections to the event with them! And who is the person being quoted this time? Crikey – it’s “Fiona Sharpe from Sussex Friends of Israel, the grassroots group which was planning to demonstrate outside the conference, [who] said she had been in close contact with the police over the protest and that no concerns had been raised”.

              The only people, it seems, who are raising spectres of swastika-daubing Nazis running riot in pitched battles against Zionist protesters are….er … totally fantastical characters like you.

  3. Damn the Police State . Unwilling to intervene and beat up students who protest against the event .
    Is that what prof Ben-Dor whinging about ?

  4. Freedom of speech inherently involves taking risks, and hence the presence of risk cannot be used to curtail it! The UK government and many other governments have refused to give in to attempts by Islamic extremists to stop the publication of pictures of Prophet Muhammad despite serious risks of violence. The correct response by the governments was to confront and contain that violence and not to cancel the publication of these pictures by Charlie Hebdo and others.

    Clearly, ‘free speech’ is of immense importance to the organisers of this ‘conference’. So much so that I wonder that they didn’t emphasize this by printing the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ cartoons on their publicity pamphlets to demonstrate clearly their unrestricted and enduring commitment to the full implementation of free speech.

    • Nahliele (@Nahliele)

      Re. “Clearly, ‘free speech’ is of immense importance to the organisers of this ‘conference’. So much so that I wonder that they didn’t emphasize this by printing the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ cartoons on their publicity pamphlets…”

      The conference’s theme wasn’t “Free Speech”. So printing Charlie Hebdo cartoons on its pamphlets would have been as much a baffling red herring as printing Charlie Hebdo cartoons on a pamphlet publicising a protest against council plans to build houses on the village green.

      PS: Supporting free speech doesn’t equate to an obligation to REPEAT things one finds offensive – it’s only a defence of OTHER people’s right to spout crap.

      • Miranda is there any genocide inciting group or ideology on this planet which doesn’t deserve your sympathy and your pathetic attempts to justify their actions?

          • @Fritz Wunderlich –

            “As retired lecturer on media ethics she must have had a tremendous success, among people who incite hate against Israel…”

            Certainly more success than you, Fritz. At the very least, any pro-Israel student of mine would have learned that bombarding opponents – whether with hype-laden propaganda, grossly offensive insults, or live ammunition – does absolutely nothing to transform hatred of Israel (somehow … miraculously … against all knowledge of human nature and the lessons of history … ) into a position of understanding, sympathy and respect.

            They would have learned that all a website like UK Media Watch does is CONFIRM the view among Israel’s haters that her supporters are aggressive, manipulative, intolerant, repressive, and racist – and that’s because almost every comment it features contains one or more of those hallmarks.

            They would have learned that combating “inciters of hate against Israel” is not achieved through scattergun accusations of “hatred” and “incitement” and “antisemitism” at each and every opponent, since these only injure and inflame potential converts to Israel’s cause while leaving incorrigible haters and inciters completely unscathed.

            So – yes, Fritz, I’d say with complete confidence that even if I’ve scored just one single, lonely success over my lifetime in defusing irrational, ill-founded hatred, and encouraging instead the conduct of rational, persuasive debate, that’s one hell of a lot more than your belligerent, badly-targeted taunting has ever achieved.

            • So – yes, Fritz, I’d say with complete confidence that even if I’ve scored just one single, lonely success over my lifetime in defusing irrational, ill-founded hatred, and encouraging instead the conduct of rational, persuasive debate, that’s one hell of a lot more than your belligerent, badly-targeted taunting has ever achieved
              Well, that`s what I call an Orwellian mind, inciting hate against Israel and call that defusing irrational, ill-founded hatred which means that your hatred of Israel you consider well-founded, antisemite.
              They would have learned that combating “inciters of hate against Israel” is not achieved through scattergun accusations of “hatred” and “incitement” and “antisemitism” at each and every opponent, since these only injure and inflame potential converts to Israel’s cause while leaving incorrigible haters and inciters completely unscathed.
              Calling antisemites ‘antisemites’ injure and inflame antisemites, whom else.
              They would have learned that all a website like UK Media Watch does is CONFIRM the view among Israel’s haters that her supporters are aggressive, manipulative, intolerant, repressive, and racist – and that’s because almost every comment it features contains one or more of those hallmarks.
              Neglecting the antisemitic hate in the Arab world, the war crimes against Israel even before the founding of Israel is quite typical of fanatics like you, just hinting to that in your world the war crimes of firing mortars and rockets from civilian areas at civilian areas are a normal defence act , to drive cars into a waiting line of civilians are an act of resistance for you, qualifies you as totalitarian mind, probably you are a stalinist like the deceased Hobsbawm.
              At least your racist tweet.

              White upper-middle class …
              People working for income you obviously despise.

              Thanks for proving your hate of Jews and the middle class wich forms the backbone of democracy and working economy. Under rational circumstances antisemitic and racist ideologues like you wouldn`t have the permittance to lecture, disinform and seduce young people as antismeitic conspiracy nerd.

            • What a sad woman you are, Miranda. If only one child of yours grows up to be a disgusting, Jew hating, Israel bashing moron, then you have saved the world.

              Way to go, MB. Never, ever give up your right to rewrite history for the sake of the children.

              Gag.

        • @peterthehungarian

          “…is there any genocide inciting group or ideology on this planet which doesn’t deserve your sympathy and your pathetic attempts to justify their actions?”

          Yes, there are plenty. And if you hadn’t framed this question in such a ludicrously loaded and hostile way, I might have replied with a list.

  5. Anti-semitism is active on college campuses around the world, and this strife is directly linked to BDS.

    For a college to be unaware of the fallout from a conference of such loaded bullshit is a bit much. But, then, we are dealing with a people (the Western anti-Israel contingent) who did care one squat that Arafat rejected peace (and then died with $1 billion in his Swiss bank account) nor the 19,000 missiles that have been shot at Israel since those offers of peace were made.

    So, yeah, cry to me, Intellectual Lecturers and their Lemmings. I really give a fuck about your speech rights.

  6. It seems the University of Southampton was caught between a rock and a hard place. If they cancelled the conference they would face heavy criticism and if they didn’t cancel heavy criticism from the opposite direction. So they did what any good public servant does. They found a technicality which allows them to plausibly claim they are not taking sides.

    As an Israel advocate, I’m OK with this. By taking place the conference does damage.