British university conference on Israel’s right to exist cancelled over protest fears

Gabe Friedman

(JTA) — A conference at Britain’s University of Southampton discussing Israel’s right to exist has been cancelled over concerns of protests.

The conference, which was described on the university’s website as “a ground-breaking historical event on the road towards justice and enduring peace in historic Palestine,” was denounced as one-sided by critics such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Conservative lawmakers Eric Pickles and Caroline Nokes, the Guardian reported.

Among the organizers of the event, which was scheduled to take place from April 17-19, was University of Southampton professor of philosophy and law Oren Ben-Dor. Ben-Dor is a former Israeli who has supported academic boycotts of Israeli universities and called Israel an “apartheid state.”

Ben-Dor wrote in a blog post that the university told him it had cancelled the conference due to health and safety reasons, meaning that the school would not be able to handle the anticipated protests outside the event.

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“It is very clear that the health and safety issue was not serious, it’s a way of creating bogus reasoning. The real reason was political pressure,” Ben-Dor wrote.

The University of Southampton’s latest statement on Tuesday, which came before the planned cancellation, said that “Any decision will be judged purely on considerations around the health and safety of our staff, students and for the general public.”

Ben-Dor organized the conference with University of California Hastings College of the Law professor George Bisharat, Southampton University engineering professor Suleiman Sharkh, and Palestinian rights activist Juman Asmail.

Richard Falk, professor emeritus of law at Princeton University who has compared Israel’s policies towards Palestinians to those of the Nazis, also was slated to attend the conference.