As a research-orientated academic I receive many invitations to present conference papers. Last October one was forwarded to me from the University of Southampton, inviting expressions of interest in making presentations to a conference to be held in mid-April 2015 entitled "International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism." As it happened, I already had some material prepared (originally for inclusion in a submission I had already made to the UN Human Rights Council) that seemed to me ideally suited. So I contacted the conference organisers and was pleased that my proposal - to address the conference on the subject of "Jews, Judaism and the Jewish State: Ethnic Rights and International Wrongs" - was accepted.
What I proposed to argue was that under international law and in principle ethnic Jews have the right of settlement throughout the area of Mandate Palestine west of the Jordan River (including what is known as the West Bank), that this right extends to Jews whether or not they are citizens of the state of Israel, but not to Israeli citizens who are not ethnically Jewish, and that the state of Israel has a legal obligation to take any step and all steps necessary to uphold this right. Now it appears that I may not have the opportunity to make this presentation because, following feverish lobbying by a miscellany of Jewish interests, and some threats of physical disruption, the university authorities at Southampton have unilaterally ordered the conference to be cancelled.
Those Jewish interests which lobbied so feverishly against the conference are no doubt congratulating themselves on a job well done. In fact, they have scored a massive own-goal.
It has been argued that the ultimate purpose of the conference was to cloak in a veneer of academic respectability the campaign for the delegitimisation of the Jewish state. Let us assume for a moment that it was. There is no subject on God's Earth that cannot be discussed in a university. Nor is it true that Israel is the only country whose legitimacy is currently being called into question. The whole purpose of the Scottish National Party is to call into question the legitimacy of the United Kingdom. There has recently been a referendum on that very subject. Are we Zionists so unsure of ourselves that we quake at the prospect of having to argue, in an academic forum, the case for Israel?
It's also being said that the conference was not genuinely academic, and that the participants were mainly anti-Israeli propagandists. All I can say on that score is that of the fifty-five presenters named in the official conference programme, no less than forty-one appear to me to hold university posts across the world, whilst others are practising lawyers. If it is true (as it is) that many of the academic presenters are known antagonists of the Jewish state, whose fault is that? Had those Jewish interests which lobbied so feverishly against the conference spent less time lobbying so feverishly and more time encouraging academic friends of Israel to offer papers to the conference, a more equitable balance might have been struck.
There is no subject on God's earth that cannot be discussed
Some terrible precedents have been created. I refer not merely to the gross betrayal of academic freedom. It will be said - rightly - that this betrayal was perpetrated at the behest and with the active connivance of Jewish interests. For antisemites the world over this is indeed manna from heaven. And what answer shall we attempt to give when anti-Jewish racists lobby against and threaten to disrupt academic conferences with an ambience more sympathetic to the Zionist viewpoint?
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.