Israel’s ‘right to exist’: MP condemns ‘hardline, one-sided’ UK university forum

Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez
The University of Southampton is hosting a conference next month to debate whether the State of Israel has a legal right to exist. A Conservative Party MP and former Treasury minister has called on the vice-chancellor to withdraw sponsorship.

The conference will focus on issues surrounding the Israel's legitimacy in international law and marks “a ground-breaking historical event on the road towards justice and enduring peace in historic [sic] Palestine,” according to organizers.

Titled ‘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 and asks what role International Law should play in the situation,” organizers said.

Conservative MP Mark Hoban wrote to the university’s vice-chancellor, Don Nutbeam, calling on the university to reconsider sponsoring the conference, which is scheduled for April 17-19.

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“While I fully support the principles of freedom of speech and the right to question, I find it concerning that an institution as respected as the University of Southampton should host a hardline, one-sided forum questioning and delegitimizing the existence of a democratic state.”

Hoban, a former minister of state for work and pensions and MP for the southeastern town of Fareham, added, “Whatever one’s thoughts on the actions of its government, the State of Israel stands as the only democracy in a region blighted by political, religious and social persecution.”

Scholars of law, politics, philosophy, theology, anthropology, history and cultural studies will attend the conference.

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In Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence. Palestinians remain to this day de facto stateless.

Anti-Semitism, meanwhile, has reportedly grown in the UK. In January, a survey revealed nearly half of Britons hold anti-Semitic views. Analysts believe the rise is linked to opposition to Israel’s assault on Gaza last summer.

A poll of 2,230 British Jews found 56 percent felt anti-Semitism now echoes the 1930s, 45 percent felt their family was threatened by Islamist extremism and 63 percent thought British authorities let too much anti-Semitism go unpunished.