A High Court judge has backed the University of Southampton’s decision to cancel a conference challenging Israel’s right to exist .
Organisers of the event, which was due to be held this weekend, applied for a judicial review after the university said it would not host it, citing concerns over security in the face of planned demonstrations.
But Judge Robinson rejected the application at the Administrative Court in London on Tuesday.
She said: “This was obviously a very difficult decision for the university. Nobody could be in any doubt there had been very careful scrutiny of the duty to protect freedom of speech, but for security reasons the decision was reluctantly taken to withdraw permission for the conference.
“Whether or not security can be dealt with by the university was a matter for the university. The event assessment makes clear that it was a private event and that it was for the university to put in place adequate security measures.”
The university withdrew its permission after consulting police over plans by grassroots group Sussex Friends of Israel to stage a protest which sparked concerns of counter-demonstrations.
The court heard that according to police and intelligence sources the university expected anywhere between 300 to 1000 protesters.
Lawyer Mark McDonald, who represented organisers Oren Ben Dor and Suleiman Sharkh,argued that local police were well equipped to handle any security concerns and that the university was denying the conference organisers freedom of speech by cancelling.
Edward Capewell, who represented the university, said the decision taken by the university vice chancellor, Professor Don Nutbeam, did not constitute a ban. It was rather a “postponement decision” as the university did not feel it could provide the sufficient security measures necessary in time for the start of the event.
Judge Robinson also ordered the claimants to cover some of the university’s costs.