19 March 2015
The University of Southampton is said to be reviewing its position over the conference it is due to host on the legitimacy of Israel.
Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman met the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Don Nutbeam, on Wednesday to discuss concerns that the three-day event would be a vehicle for anti-Zionists to challenge Israel’s existence.
Following the meeting, Mr Wineman said: “The university is reviewing its position and is considering all the options open to it.”
Board vice-president Jonathan Arkush, who also attended, described the conference, titled “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism”, as “crossing a line”.
“We think that an event that calls into question the right of the world’s only Jewish state to exist is antisemitic,” he said.
Earlier attempts by the Jewish Leadership Council had failed to persuade Prof Nutbeam to address the community’s concerns.
JLC chief executive Simon Johnson had written to the head of the university’s law department, Professor Oren Ben-Dor, who is organising the conference.
Mr Johnson said: “It became absolutely clear that the vice-chancellor will not move on this as he considers academic freedom must be defended.”
Grassroots group Sussex Friends of Israel said it planned to hold a demonstration on the final day of the conference.
A spokesperson said: “We’ve been working closely with the JLC. We were aware of what was going on behind the scenes and kept a low profile. The JLC tried quiet diplomacy so now it is down to grassroots to do something more public,” she said.
Mr Johnson said he supported the protest. “Having done everything we could, we then decided it was time for the community to express a peaceful protest.”