There are many reasons why the April 17 – 19 conference at Southampton University is wrong. Just read the title: International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism. Are they planning on debating the legitimacy of any other sovereign state or is it just Israel that is fair game for such scrutiny? Look at the resumes of the speakers, from Richard Falk to Ilan Pappe, each one renowned for their anti-Zionist views and belief that Israel is a racist state.
But more than all of this, we believe that this conference is not just anti-Zionist but that it is antisemitic by its very nature and in accordance with the working definition as set out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. To deny the Jewish people a homeland by delegitimising the State of Israel is to deny us our right of self-determination. And to continually compare Israel to the Nazi regime attacks the Jewish community at our very core.
We respect and defend freedom of speech and the pursuit of vigorous yet balanced academic debate. We are not afraid of legitimate scrutiny. But that is not what this conference is offering. There are no speakers defending Israel. There are no varied viewpoints. This is a demonisation of the State of Israel. Freedom of speech is not to be confused with freedom to incite racial hatred.
There is sadly no middle ground regarding this conference. Changing its name will not change the hatred of those involved with it. The possible inclusion of one or two token pro-Israel speakers will only go to highlight the hypocrisy of this hate-fest. There is no balance to such virulent antisemitism. To include representatives of the Jewish community just gives the hate legitimacy. We cannot and should not appease this kind of attack on the State of Israel and our Jewish community.
We know that the leadership of the Jewish community has been working quietly and tirelessly to have this conference cancelled – the only acceptable outcome. Sadly, the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University has shut down all representations from the Jewish community by hiding behind the freedom of speech argument while ignoring his obligation to provide a “safe space” for both students and academics alike.
We therefore are now exercising our communal freedom of speech in organising this demonstration and asking for you to show your support for the legitimate State of Israel. We are pleased to be working in co-operation with the Jewish Leadership Council, showing that grassroots organisations and communal leadership can and should work together.
We are aware that many people will be supporting the Yom HaShoah commemorative service in London on the same day. We will be there with them in spirit. But it is our belief that the best way to honour the past and the memory of the Holocaust is by ensuring that mindless hatred and those who peddle Holocaust denial and revisionism are not allowed free reign in academia or anywhere on British soil.
It is our view and the view of many that this conference represents one of the greatest threats to our community for many years. A debate on the very right of Israel to exist, supported by one of the most respected Universities in the UK is a threat we can not allow to go unanswered. If we fail to fully show our concerns at this gathering, this could be the beginning of many more high profile events that will continue to erode our community and feed the flames of hate.
We need a strong, united, cross-communal response. Amazing efforts have been made to have this event stopped by the BoD , the JLC, Ambassador Gould, Baroness Deech, Community Minister Eric Pickles, local MPs Caroline Nokes and Mark Hoban. However, as it stands today this hate fest will proceed and now we, the community, must stand as one
No ‘if, buts or maybes’. We must stand behind one banner:
“Israel is…and always will be. No debate.”