Bar-Ilan University has postponed indefinitely its annual archaeology conference in protest over a police complaint lodged by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) against Dr. Hanan Eshel, a senior member of the school's archaeology department.

The IAA submitted the complaint after Eshel allegedly failed to turn over a rare artifact in his possession. According to the IAA, an indictment is to be issued shortly against the archaeologist.

The Archaeological Council, Israel's senior professional body of archaeologists, which advises the IAA, objected to the authority's move. It said disciplinary procedures might have been opened against Eshel before a police complaint was lodged. Dozens of archaeologists signed a petition recently condemning the IAA action.

The rector of Bar-Ilan University, Prof. Yosef Yeshurun, announced the postponement of the conference, which focuses on new research in the study of Jerusalem and is considered the most prominent scientific conference in the field. The IAA, many of whose staff were to have lectured at the conference, said it was shocked at Bar-Ilan's decision. "The IAA views gravely any attempt to interfere in its considerations and to influence procedures that are being implemented in accordance with the law," an IAA spokeswoman said.

Bar-Ilan called its move "delicate and minimal" in light of "the harm the IAA has done to academe in Israel by treating a senior scholar like a common criminal."