London High Court to Review Legality of Southampton's Nixing of anti-Israel Event

University says conference canceled due to health and safety concerns; but organizers suggest free speech being curtailed.

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Entrance sign at the University of Southampton.
Entrance sign at the University of Southampton.Credit: Screenshot

The London High Court will review a legal challenge over the legality of the University of Southampton's move to cancel a conference on Israel's right to exist, the Southern Daily Echo reported on Saturday.

The British university, whose law school was to host the event which was labeled 'anti-Semitic' by some of its critics, said it was doing so due to health and safety concerns, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.

But the debate's organizers say the local police had maintained it could control any protests and ensure the security of the event.

Called "International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism," the conference "aims to explore the relatedness of the suffering and injustice in Palestine to the foundation and protection of a state of such nature," its organizers say on the conference website.

The University of Southampton pulled the plug on the three-day event after it attracted harsh criticism from more than 6,000 people and politicians.

"The University should reconsider its sponsorship of a debate that will simply further polarise the academic and public debate on this complex issue," Conservative MP Mark Hoban wrote in a letter to the university's vice chancellor, before the event was canceled. "Surely, such a highly-regarded academic institution should seek to avoid such provocative and unhelpful activities."

After news of the cancelation broke, David Gurnham, the director of research for the University Of Southampton School of Law urged the vice chancellor to reconsider his decision.

“Cancelling the event in this way makes the university look weak, spineless and reactionary. I am proud to be a member of academic staff here, but your decision to withdraw support for a conference in this manner makes me, and I’m sure very many others like me, seriously question the university’s commitment to open and free debate,” he wrote, according to The Southern Daily Echo's report.

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