The University’s website describes the conference as “the first of its kind and constitutes a ground-breaking historical event on the road towards justice and enduring peace in historic Palestine”.
It added: “It is unique because it concerns the legitimacy in International Law of the Jewish state of Israel.
“Rather than focusing on Israeli actions in the 1967 Occupied Territories, the conference will focus on exploring themes of Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism; all of which are posed by Israel’s very nature.”
But the event has caused outrage, ex-Treasury minister and MP for Fareham, Mark Hoban, has written to the university’s Vice Chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam to express his concern and has dubbed the conference “provocative” and “unhelpful.”
He described the conference as a “hard-line, one-sided forum questioning and delegitimising the existence of a democratic state”.
Mr Hoban urged the university to “reconsider its sponsorship of a debate that will further polarise academic and public debate on this complex issue”.
In a statement to the Zionist Foundation, the MP for Romsey and Southampton North said: “While academic freedom is sacrosanct, it saddens me that Southampton University would potentially bring itself into disrepute by hosting such an apparently one-sided event.
“The presence of Richard Falk, whose previous statements stray beyond the limits of reasonable discussion, is of particular concern to me.”
A petition pleading with the university to cancel the symposium has so far gathered almost 3,000 signatures.
The petition reads: “To schedule a conference on the legitimacy of a state that was established over 60 years ago would be strange enough.
“But by blaming the ‘suffering and injustice in Palestine’ on Israel’s creation and continued presence, this goes beyond being an academic discussion.
“Instead, it will legitimize the harmful message that Israel’s very existence is up for debate.
“Enough. This has to stop.
“But how can you discuss anything with people who don’t even recognise your right to have a voice?
“At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout Europe, it is a disgrace that a respectable university would provide a platform to legitimise the idea that the Jewish homeland – of all the countries in the world – is somehow abnormal.
“Israel is presumed guilty of the crime of existing, while no other state is being put on trial in this way.”
It added: “This isn’t a conference. It’s a kangaroo court.”
A University of Southampton spokesperson: “The University of Southampton is committed to academic freedom, free speech and opportunities for staff and students to engage with a wide range of opinions and perspectives. Discussion and critical thinking are fundamental to our institution.
Our academics have freedom within University regulations to question and test received wisdom and put forward new ideas and explore controversial issues, whilst at the same time giving due regard for the need to respect others.
The conference ‘International law and the state of Israel’ aims to examine the role international law can play in political struggles and to act as a platform for scholarly debate, welcoming academic contributions from a range of perspectives.”
Source: Daily Express