Tony Greenstein | 01 April 2015 | Post Views:

The decision by Southampton University to cancel a
conference on Israel and International Law, of all subjects, is an act of sheer
cowardice.  Universities have a duty, not
only legally but morally, to uphold academic freedom, the cut and thrust of
debate, the right to present alternative ideas to those of the mainstream. 
A Police State University
It also demonstrates the hypocrisy of the state.  It was less than 3 months ago that 8
journalists and cartoonists from Charlie Hebdo were murdered in their
offices.  World leaders, including those
from the most repressive states such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, attended a
march dedicated to upholding the values of freedom of speech.  David Cameron also attended but that hasn’t
prevented his Communities Minister, the loathsome Eric Pickles from adding his
(considerable) weight to the call to ban the Conference.  Tory MPs have also weighed in to support the
call from the misnamed Board of Deputies of British Jews and various other
Zionist front groups.
The loathsome Eric Pickles MP – Called for the Conference to be Banned
 The pretext is ‘health and safety’ because the Zionists have
promised a demonstration.  If Southampton
University’s administration cannot protect its conferences from a small
demonstration then it should collectively resign and make way for those who
A University of Cowardice
 There is an appeal later today and the Vice-Chancellor
Professor Don Nutbeam will make the final decision, however it is likely to be
a charade as this decision is likely to have already met with his
approval.  There is the promise of legal
action, either in the form of judicial review or an injunction, though our
judiciary are not known for their upholding of the right to academic freedom,
other than when the rights of fascists such as Patrick Harrington at NE London
Polytechnic some years ago, are concerned.
My own view is that we should hold a demonstration at
Southampton University to ensure that the Administration is left in no doubt as
to our anger.

Tony Greenstein

Statement from Organisers

The March of the World Hypocrites and Tyrants 1

It is with extreme astonishment and sadness that we have to
inform you that the University of Southampton has told us earlier yesterday
(Monday 30 March 2015) that it intends to withdraw its permission to hold the
academic conference on International Law and the State of Israel. We were told
that the decision was taken on the grounds of health and safety: a number of
groups may be demonstrating for or against the conference which could present
risks to the safety of the participants, students and staff. The University
claims that it does not have enough resources to mitigate the risks, despite a
clear statement from the Police confirming that they are able to deal with the
protest and ensure the security of the event.
Southampton University – Where Freedom of Speech Carries no Weight
 As the law stands, the University is legally obliged to
uphold freedom of speech, and – unlike in some engineering projects for example
where health and safety may be the only legal obligation – the requirement of
minimising risk should also fall onto the Police as the agency that is
entrusted with the enforcement of the law (freedom of speech) and the provision
of security. The mitigating measure should therefore include policing in
addition to what the university can reasonably provide using its own security
resources. We are therefore extremely dissatisfied with the risk assessment
conducted by the University which seems to lack consistency; high risks
remained high even when seemingly effective mitigating measures were put in
place. Crucially and additionally, the risk assessment does not seem to include
all possible risk mitigating measures that could be provided by the police.
A number of risks have been identified by the police but it
is very clear from the Police’s report that they are more than capable of
policing the conference and ensuring the safety of university staff, speakers,
delegates, students and property. However, instead of accepting this at face
value the University decided to focus on the risks identified by the Police and
ignore their statement about their ability to police the event – we were told
the Police will never say in writing they are not able to police an event, in
other words the University had doubts about the Police’s ability to do their
job of upholding the law! The university claims that the Police are not able or
unwilling to become too involved because the University is ‘private property’,
which we find astonishing. The University is a public space, it was established
by a Royal Charter and it has public roles and duties including upholding
freedom of speech and to that extent it should be able to resort to police
assistance in order to curb security risks to enable it to fulfil its legal
obligation to uphold freedom of speech. If this is not done, if commitment to
safety is not undertaken by the police, freedom of speech becomes an idle
worthless notion. At no point were we given an indication that the University
has indeed allowed itself the time to seek viable police assistance to
supplement its own resources. Additionally, and unconvincingly, the University
claims that it is now too late to put proper security arrangements in place. We
do not accept that in any way as there are still 18 days left before the
Given the Police’s confidence in providing security and
given that there are other possible mitigating measures that are yet to be
explored that could be put in place to minimize the risk, a decision to cancel
the conference would be grossly disproportionate and therefore may well be
illegal and unconstitutional. Such an action by Southampton University will
severely undermine the public’s confidence in the Police’s and the in the
University’s ability to protect freedom of speech. Indeed it will have wider
implications to all Universities and organisations. We feel that the manner the
university communicated with the police and conducted the risk assessment shows
that the security argument was used to rationalise a decision to cancel the
conference that has been taken under public pressure of the Israeli Lobby. It
is quite simply unbelievable that the University cannot ask the Police to
handle the risk of demonstrations.
The March of the World Hypocrites and Tyrants 2
 Freedom of speech inherently involves taking risks, and
hence the presence of risk cannot be used to curtail it! The UK Government and
many other governments have refused to give in to attempts by Islamic extremist
to stop the publication of pictures of Prophet Mohammad despite serious risks
of violence. The correct response by the governments was to confront and
contain that violence and not to cancel the publication of these pictures by
Charlie Hebdo and others.
This is a sad decision for freedom of speech and for
historic Palestine (which includes what is now the Jewish State of Israel and
the 1967 Occupied Territories) and ALL the people who live there.
We will explore legal emergency measures to prevent the
University from cancelling the conference, to reverse its decision and to
properly collaborate with the police so that the demonstrations can be managed.
In addition we call for the widest and most intense public campaign possible
that would urgently encourage the university to reverse its decision and which
would allow the conference to go ahead.
Finally, we must make it clear that we have made several
attempts to meet with the Vice Chancellor to consult him on the organisation of
this conference, and to invite him to open the conference but we have never
been given the opportunity to do so. On the other hand, the Vice Chancellor has
met with pro-Israel representatives without ever calling us to attend meetings
and we, as Professors in the University, feel disempowered and marginalised by
this disrespectful behaviour.
Professor Oren Ben-Dor, University of Southampton.
Professor George Bisharat, University of California,
Hastings College of the Law.
Professor Suleiman Sharkh, University of Southampton.
Ms. Juman Ismail.
Conference Organisers

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