Southampton conference - should Zionists take part?


YES - says Geoffrey Alderman

On April 17 I shall be making a presentation to a gathering of academics convened under the auspices of the University of Southampton. There is nothing remarkable about this. The core purpose of a university is to pursue the truth and the core methods by which truth is pursued are dialogue and disputation. These methodologies presuppose the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to promote these ideas - no matter how controversial or unpopular they may be - without fear or favour. The presentation I shall make will lie firmly within this tradition.

I am, of course, aware that much has been said about the presumed ulterior motives of the conference's organisers, which are alleged to be to lend academic credence to the campaign to delegitimise the state of Israel. If that is indeed the case, it seems to me important that an alternative voice is heard. My presentation will challenge the delegitimisers, but in arguing that under international law Jews are entitled to settle virtually anywhere in the territory of Mandate Palestine west of the Jordan river, it may make uncomfortable reading even for some diehard Zionists. In the pursuit of academic freedom, that is a price I am prepared to pay.

Professor Geoffrey Alderman is a historian and JC columnist

NO - says Fiona Sharpe

The conference at Southampton University is the latest in a campaign to use academia as a tool for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The aim is clear - to delegitimise Israel. Both Ed Miliband and David Cameron have spoken out against those who question the existence of Israel, and a growing number of politicians and columnists have denounced the event, and the university for hosting it.

It is this delegitimisation that we must refuse to justify. The question of Israel's existence is not one that should be dignified with a response or defence. I am aware that there may be one or two speakers attending the conference to speak in support of Israel. In a programme of over 80 speakers, this is pure tokenism. I have the utmost respect for those willing to step into the lion's den, but this is not the time to do it. To try to talk down hatemongers such as Richard Falk, Ilan Pappe and Ghada Karmi only gives their arguments credence. If there are those who wish to hold a one-sided hate-fest against Israel, let them. Israel and the Jewish people have survived far worse. But it should not be under the guise of academic discourse. And Israel supporters should not allow ourselves to become pawns in their game.

Fiona Sharpe is co-chair of Sussex Friends of Israel

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