UK university faces row over anti-Israel summit

Some say the conference will provoke anti-Semitic tensions

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A quarrel has erupted over a British university holding a summit questioning whether Israel has a legal right to exist under international law, with some saying the conference will be a platform for anti-Semitic views, UK-based newspaper The Sunday Times reported.

The three-day summit, to be held by Southampton University, will bring together figures such as Richard Falk, a Princeton professor and former U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, and Ghada Karmi, an Exeter University research fellow who claims that she and her family were “forced” to leave their home as a result of Israel’s creation in 1948.

But a petition on, which has amassed over 4,000 signatures, claims that the event is unbalanced, as it does not feature any experts in defense of the Israeli state.

“Israel is presumed guilty of the crime of existing, while no other state is being put on trial in this way. Southampton University — this isn’t a conference. It’s a kangaroo court. Don’t let it go ahead,” the text of the petition reads.

And others say the conference will provoke anti-Semitic tensions.

Those include Mark Hoban, a member of parliament who called it “provocative,” the Sunday Times quoted him as saying.

Open questioning

A campaigner against the event, John Richmond, said that because of the upcoming event, “for the first time in my life, I and other British Jews are openly questioning their safety.

However, organizers say that the summit, organized by an Israel-born law and philosophy professor, “constitutes a ground-breaking historical event on the road towards justice and enduring peace in historic Palestine.”

Eric Pickles, who sits on the UK cabinet as the secretary of state for communities, said that the university should try to invite speakers from both sides, adding that there “is a careful line between legitimate academic debate” and “bashing of Israel, which often descends into naked anti-Semitism.”

The controversy comes at a time when the UK coalition government attempts to move ahead with plans to block universities from hosting extremist speakers.

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