Former minister voices concerns over Southampton conference on Israel legitimacy


A university has been criticised over its plans to hold a conference on the legitimacy of Israel.

The three-day event will be hosted by the University of Southampton’s Law School and is due to take place next month. It will focus on “themes of legitimacy, responsibility and exceptionalism; all of which are posed by Israel’s very nature”.

Richard Falk, the former United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, is due to speak at the event, as are anti-Zionist Israeli academic Ilan Pappe and Palestinian activist Ghada Karmi.

Former Conservative minister Mark Hoban, whose Fareham constituency is near the city, wrote to the university’s vice-chancellor this week expressing concern about a “hardline, one-sided forum questioning and delegitimising the existence of a democratic state.

“The university should reconsider its sponsorship of a debate that will simply further polarise the academic and public debate”.

The conference is organised by the university’s law and philosophy professor Oren Ben-Dor.

Mathematics professor Tim Sluckin, who works at the university and is secretary of Southampton Hebrew Congregation, said: “It is a political meeting masquerading as academic activity. Their purpose is to delegitimise Israel. This is not appropriate for a university.”

He claimed a number of the expected panelists did not have suitable credentials to speak on the topic.
Prof Sluckin said: “It makes me feel uncomfortable as a Jew, with Israeli family, that I have to take a public as opposed to a private position on Middle Eastern politics.

“The university management has mishandled it, and failed to understand the political issues involved.”
An online petition run by the Zionist Federation calling on the university to cancel the conference attracted more than 3,000 signatures this week and the backing of Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes.
She said the university would “potentially bring itself into disrepute by hosting such an apparently one-sided event.

“The presence of Richard Falk, whose previous statements stray beyond the limits of reasonable discussion, is of particular concern to me”.

Prof Ben-Dor rejected the concerns, describing them as “ludicrous”.

A spokesman said the university “very much values its relationships with students, staff, visitors and invited speakers from Israel and the Jewish community. “We will do all we can within our statutes and ordinances to ensure that any distress or upset is addressed.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive