Southampton University conference questioning right of Israel to exist ‘scrapped’ after protests

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A leading British university is set to scrap plans to host an controversial conference questioning the right of Israel, to exist following a wave of international outrage and threats of protests from both sides.

The University of Southampton is understood to have withdrawn permission for the three-day conference to be held on its campus in the face of criticism from opponents who described it as “giving legitimacy to anti-Semitism”.

Critics said the conference – International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism – would be a ‘one-sided’ exercise in Israel-bashing and more than 6,000 people signed a petition calling on the university to cancel it.

One of its most respected former alumni returned his degree in protest and at least one major patron of the university was said to have been considering withdrawing funding. Mark Lewis, who has represented a string of celebrity clients, said he would look “unfavourably” at CVs sent by graduates of Southampton. And Andrew Sawczenko, one of the few consultants accredited in both General Paediatrics and Paediatric Gastroenterology, returned the Bachelor of Medicine he received in 1987 to vice chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam, in protest. 

Organisers describe the conference as “the first of its kind and constitutes a ground-breaking historical event … it is unique because it concerns the legitimacy in international law of the Jewish State of Israel.” The university’s own website advertising the conference, originally planned for April 17 to 19, made no secret of the fact that the event would question both the legal and moral right of the state of Israel to exist…

But in a sudden turnaround the university has apparently told the conference’s organisers that the event could no longer go ahead on safety grounds, after fears that demonstrators would try to disrupt the event, clashing with Pro-Palestinian activists expected to demonstrate in support. 

Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society, said: “The event at Southampton University was not an academic conference but a rally of bigots. The proposed line up consisted only of people dedicated to the delegitimising and destruction of the state of Israel.

“No academic conference on Pakistan, for instance, founded just a year before Israel – would consist solely of discussion on whether it should have been created and how to end it.” 

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