Secretary of State for Communities, Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles MP, warned against “one-sided diatribe”, stating: “Given the taxpayer-funded University has a legal duty to uphold freedom of speech, I would hope that they are taking steps to give a platform to all sides of the debate, rather than allowing a one-sided diatribe.”
He added: “There is a careful line between legitimate academic debate on international law and the actions of governments, and the far-left’s bashing of Israel which often descends into naked anti-Semitism”.
Mark Hoban MP, the former Minister of State for Work and Pensions has written to the Vice Chancellor of the University, calling on him to withdraw support for the Conference.
Mr Hoban stated: “While I fully support the principles of freedom of speech and the right to question, I find it concerning that an institution as respected as the University of Southampton should host a hard-line, one-sided forum questioning and delegitimizing the existence of a democratic state.”
He added further: “Whatever one’s thoughts on the actions of its government, the State of Israel stands as the only democracy in a region blighted by political, religious and social persecution”.
Mark Hoban MP’s criticism of the conference was covered by a wide range of newspapers in the UK and Israel, including The Daily Express, Haaretz, Times of Israel, and Jewish News.
Local MP Caroline Nokes said that she was saddened by the hosting of “such an apparently one-sided event”, and that the “presence of Richard Falk, whose previous statements stray beyond the limits of reasonable discussion, is of particular concern”.
The conference, entitled ‘International Law and the State of Israel; Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism’, is set to take place in April. According to the university’s website, the forum will examine “themes of legitimacy…posed by Israel’s very nature”, and how “injustice in historic Palestine” was shaped by Israel’s creation. The conference organisers state they will also look into constitutional bases in international law that may rectify the establishment of the Jewish state.
Over 3,000 people have signed a petition calling for the conference to be cancelled by the university.
The University of Southampton is now said to be reviewing its position on the conference on Israel delegitimisation following a meeting with the Board of Deputies.