See 10 March 2015 update here.
The University of Southampton is funding a three-day event in April devoted to searching for ways to use international law to deny the world’s only Jewish state the right to exist (the ZF has a petition about it). A friend of mine has written to the Vice Chancellor of the University (see correspondence below, which is very interesting). The latest update is that the programme for the event is now available and it is even worse than anybody could have imagined. There are 58 speakers and, contrary to what Southampton University said in response to my friend, every single one appears to be an anti-Israel activist (see the excellent Open Letter to University of Southampton).
1. Email sent 20 Feb 2015
Dear Professor Don NutbeamCan you please explain why the University of Southampton is funding a three-day event in April devoted to searching for ways to use international law to deny the world’s only Jewish state the right to exist? I am referring to this:Are you aware that the member of your academic staff behind this event (Prof Oren Ben-Dor) actively supports well-known anti-Semites such as Gilad Atzmon and is in turn supported by former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke who has praised Ben-Dor as “perhaps the bravest and clearest thinking person of Jewish descent in the world.”You must surely be aware that the recent massive increase in anti-Semitism is being fuelled in part by lies and propaganda directed against the tiny Jewish State. I find it incomprehensible that, in such a climate, your University is actually funding such anti-Semitism under the ludicrous guise of academic debate.YoursXXXXXX
2. Response 24 Feb 2015
Dear XXXXXXThank you for your email dated 20 February to the Vice-Chancellor concerning the conference on International Law and the State of Israel. Professor Nutbeam has asked me to reply on his behalf.The University of Southampton is legally obliged under Section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986, to 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 University as well as for visiting speakers.Our ordinances state that academic staff “have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, with due regard for the need to respect others and promote the best interests of the University and academic learning, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges.”The title of this conference raises an important question, but the conference itself takes no explicit perspective, and academic contributions from all interested parties are most welcome. The conference is designed to have a multi-cultural emphasis, and speakers and delegates have been invited from all perspectives. Their participation has been actively encouraged in relation to the presentation of individual papers and the running of dedicated panel sessions.Details about the conference can be found at:Separately from the conference, this University is very proud to host the Parkes Institute, the world's oldest and most wide-ranging centre for the study of Jewish/non-Jewish relations across the ages. The Institute was founded by James Parkes, a tireless fighter against anti-Semitism, who transferred his extensive library and archive to the university in 1964. The Parkes Institute carries out a range of activities. As well as teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, and an extensive research programme, the Institute has a rapidly developing outreach programme which includes adult education classes and cultural days, schools and colleges visits, as well as public seminars and lectures.Our academic staff from Parkes - and across the university - have a range of education and research collaborations with colleagues in Israel.Yours sincerelyGavin CostiganGavin CostiganDirector of the Office of the Vice-ChancellorUniversity of SouthamptonRoom 4035, Building 37, Highfield CampusSouthampton SO17 1BJ
3. Second email sent 25 Feb 2015
Dear GavinThank you for your response.Unfortunately, there is a fundamental and demonstrably obvious error in your response. You said“The title of this conference raises an important question, but the conference itself takes no explicit perspective, and academic contributions from all interested parties are most welcome.”The conference website very clearly contradicts this.Whereas the title is ambiguous, the theme is not since in the opening paragraph it says“(The conference) is unique because it concerns the legitimacy in International Law of the Jewish state of Israel.”It then says“The conference aims to explore the relatedness of the suffering and injustice in Palestine to the foundation and protection of a state of such nature and asks what role International Law should play in the situation.”To suggest, as you do, that this takes “no explicit perspective” is an insult to my intelligence, since the perspective is very clearly one that rejects the legitimacy of the Jewish State – a view very forcibly and openly known to be held by BOTH of the listed academic organisers of the conference, as well as all the other academics on the Southampton Organizing committee. As the conference website STILL does not list any of the speakers how can you possibly know that “academic contributions from all interested parties are most welcome.”? Perhaps you can let me know of speakers who will be presenting the unequivocal case for Israel.There are other aspects of your response that I find deeply insulting. By stressing your commitment to freedom of speech and academic freedom to raise controversial issues, you are clearly implying that I am somehow against these principles. In fact, I was asking why Southampton University was providing FUNDING support for an event that is clearly an anti-semitic hatefest of lies and propaganda under the cover of simply being just ‘anti-Zionist’. I recognise that these people are perfectly entitled to hold their views and even run events using their own funding, but not that of a tax-payer funded institution. I would also like to point out that I suspect your University would not, for example, support an event that challenged the legitimacy of any one of the 58 Islamic States (including, for example, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan which was only recognised by the UN in the same year as Israel).I was also insulted by your reference to the Parkes Institute – this actually reminded me of the classic “Some of my best friends are Jewish” response to complaints of anti-Semitic behaviour. What on earth is the relevance of the fact that Southampton has a research centre on “Jewish/non-Jewish relations” got to do with my complaint. The Parkes Centre clearly has no input or relationship to this conference, and I was not accusing the University of institutional anti-semitism. I was asking why it was funding a demonstrably political anti-semitic event under the ludicrous guise of academic debate. And you have not answered that question.I would, of course, welcome Professor Nutbeam’s comments on the above points.I would also like to know how much funding support (including the time of support staff) that the University is providing for the conference.Yours sincerelyXXXXX
4. Follow-up sent 2 March 2015
Dear GavinI was wondering if you or the V-C were going to respond to the attached follow-up letter I sent on 25 Feb.If not I will be taking the matter up with the University Council.Perhaps I need to stress that Professor Ben Dor’s fundraising letter asking to support the conference notes explicitly that the “conference is fully hosted, and supported by the University of Southampton. The university enables us to use its hospitality services, event organisation, marketing network and financial administration for the organisation, delivery, recording of the conference. It is a remarkable achievement in itself that such a conference will be help [sic] in UK academia.”What I am asking for is the real cost of the above-stated University services.XXXX
5. Response 2 March 2015
Dear XXXXXThank you for your email, and I do apologise in the delay in responding. We have received a number of queries about this conference and we are currently preparing answers to questions that you and others have raised.I hope to be able to respond by the end of this week.With best wishesGavin Costigan
6. Followup email 5 March 2015
GavinWhile I await your response, I think it is important to know that I have learnt that one of the speakers is going to be Richard Falk, a former UN advisor whose career has been marked by outrageous claims and statements. These include:
- Publishing an anti-Semitic cartoon, for which he was condemned by the US.
- Promoting 9/11 conspiracy theories, for which he was condemned by Ban Ki-Moon
- Describing Israel as 'genocidal,' for which he was condemned by Canada.
- Blaming the Boston Marathon bombings on American foreign policy, specifically her relationship with Israel. This was not only condemned by the US and Ban Ki-Moon, but the British Foreign Office specifically described his comments as being anti-Semitic.Yours
7. Response 6 March 2015
See 10 March 2015 update here.Dear XXXXXI am writing to let you know that I will not now be able to provide a full response to your email until Monday or Tuesday next week, for which apologies. However, you asked about speakers and I wanted to let you know that the conference programme is now on the website and can be found here:http://www.southampton.ac.uk/israelpalestinelaw/programme/index.page?I will respond more fully next week.With best wishesGavin