A bleak insight into the state of higher learning in the British Isles today. Together with many other academics, I got an email this morning inviting me to a conference at Cork University in Ireland next month on “The State of Israel and International Law: Legitimacy, Exceptionalism and Responsibility” – an “interdisciplinary debate”, no less, with a “highly exciting programme, about one of the most pressing issues of our time”.
Really? A glance at what is known about the ten organisers listed on the conference website makes interesting reading.
Exhibit one: an “independent researcher”, co-founder of Southampton Students for Palestine, specialising in “anti-colonial movements and the universal struggle for justice.”
Exhibit two: a Southampton professor of law and philosophy, an enthusiast for academic boycotts of Israeli universities who has described opponents of this as "sophisticated accomplices to the smothering of debate" (!!).
Exhibit three: a California law professor, another Israeli boycott man and proponent of the one-state Palestine solution.
Exhibit four: a computer science professor from Cork, former coordinator of the Cork branch of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Exhibit five: another Cork academic who has publicly said that he will not accept invitations to visit or cooperate with Israeli universities, act as referee for them, or participate in any conferences connected with them, or otherwise co-operate with them.
Exhibit six: a Cork sociology lecturer with a history of working for the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, a charming outfit which denies the existence of terrorism against Israeli citizens and describes Israel’s policies as “apartheid” (besides having received money from – wait for it – the EU we know and love).
Exhibits seven and eight: lecturers in geography and applied social studies who have called for a moratorium on support for Israeli universities and pledged not to engage in any professional association with Israeli academic or research bodies.
Exhibit nine: a law lecturer whose publications include “Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.
Exhibit ten: a Southampton electronics professor and head of the local chapter of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.
This event is not only repulsive. It has form, big time. When it was first mooted in 2015, Southampton University, having agreed to take it, changed its mind and banned it (much to the disgust of that uplifting website the Electronic Intifada, which of course accused the “Israel lobby” of backroom manipulation): not on the obvious basis that it was indoctrination masquerading as education and hence unworthy of any respectable seat of learning, but on public order grounds.
An attempt in the courts to have the ban overturned, interestingly enough with the redoubtable Phil Shiner’s firm Public Interest Lawyers leading the charge, failed. Hence the switch to Cork. But however high-minded the decision of Cork to host it, one suspects this high-mindedness could have been better directed. Some might even mouth Stalin’s references to “useful idiots” – or its Arabic equivalent – in this connection.
A depressing fact. There can be little doubt that this whole project is essentially a co-ordinated and unpleasant political attack by a group of zealots on the right of Israel to exist, which has been deliberately dressed up in pseudo-respectable intellectual garb as an academic conference. Yet even though the episode as a whole has received its share of publicity, we have heard virtually not a squeak from academia complaining about it. It makes one wonder sometimes what our universities are for.
(Image: Kristoffer Trolle)