Today we learned that the University of Southampton is considering cancelling a three-day conference which is due to take place in April to debate international law and Israel.
Since the conference was announced, the university has come under intense pressure from the Zionist Federation UK, MPs and even a government minister – Eric Pickles – who have outrageously accused the conference of fomenting anti-Semitism.
Pressure has also come from other sources. Mark Lewis, a partner at law firm, Seddons, publicly stated that he would think twice about hiring law graduates from Southampton. He also told the Telegraph that two major patrons of the university – one a charitable foundation and the other a wealthy family – were considering withdrawing their financial support.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign abhors these attacks on academic freedom and the intimidation that has been employed to silence legitimate debate about Israel. We are saddened that the University of Southampton may choose to ignore a petition signed by nearly 900 academics from around the world in support of the conference and could instead bow to the pressure to cancel it.
We consider it deplorable that those who wish to keep Israel’s violations of international law out of the public eye have once again attempted to shut down the debate, and are using accusations of anti-Semitism to do so.
Discussing Israeli government policy, past and present, in the context of international law does not equate to anti-Jewish prejudice. We find the use of such smear tactics to shut down an academic conference to be repugnant and, increasingly, the last refuge of those attempting to defend the indefensible.
And Israel’s abuse of human rights and violations of international law in respect of the Palestinian people are indefensible. However much pro-Israel groups attempt to intimidate and silence those who would speak out, the facts remain – Palestinians were killed or driven in their tens of thousands from British Mandate Palestine during the creation of Israel.
In the decades since, the survivors and their descendants have lived under brutal military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, denied a state and self-determination and subjected to collective punishments, apartheid laws, random killings and, in Gaza, tight blockade and full-scale military assaults.
This is what the organisers of the conference wanted to discuss, and, as their conference literature states: “…examine how international law could be deployed, expanded, even re-imagined, in order to achieve regional peace and reconciliation based on justice.”
And this is the discussion that the likes of Eric Pickles, Mark Lewis and the members of the Zionist Federation UK have conspired to suppress, using shameful methods that should have no place in a mature and confident democracy.
It would be inexcusable if such intimidation was allowed to win at Southampton. PSC hopes that the University of Southampton will not buckle under the enormous pressure being exerted on it, and will allow this conference to go ahead.