Professors lose High Court case over university Israel conference
Naomi Firsht, Jewish Chronicle (UK), Apr 27 2016
Two professors have lost their High Court challenge over the way Southampton University handled their proposed conference on Israel. Professor Oren Ben-Dor, who was born in Israel, and Professor Suleiman Sharkh claimed decisions made by the university had effectively blocked the conference for two years. They argued that “academic freedom” was at stake. But a judge named Ms Whipple, sitting in London on Wednesday, rejected the claim. She said:
There is no large principle at stake here. From all that I have seen in this case, I believe that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are alive and well at Southampton University. (Decisions made by the university) were motivated by well-founded concerns for the safety of people and property, and exemplify good and responsible decision-making by the (university’s) officers.
The conference, titled “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism”, had originally been due to take place in Apr 2015, but was cancelled by the university over security concerns. Profs Ben Dor and Sharkh lost a judicial review to overturn the decision in the High Court last year. The profs rescheduled the conference to take place this year, but the university has demanded they pay an estimated £24k to cover security costs. Concerns over the conference presenting a biased view and questioning the legitimacy of the Jewish State were raised last year by the Board of Deputies and other Jewish organisations. The then Communities Secretary Eric Pickles also spoke out against the plan.