University College Cork has decided to prevent an academic conference debating the legitimacy of the state of Israel from taking place at the end of March and has advised the organisers that they have to come up with special security plans if they want the university to host it at another date.
The conference entitled International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, was scheduled to take place at UCC from March 31st to April 2nd, featuring speakers on various sides of the debate.
But UCC's University Management Team, which is charged with management of operations at the university, decided at a meeting earlier this week not to allow individual academics working in UCC host the conference, citing that the conference is due to take place during term time.
“The conference is not permitted to proceed on the dates proposed which are in term,” said the University Management Team, adding the proposed venue, the Western Gateway Building will be in use at the time and hosting a conference there then would cause disruption for students and staff.
According to UCC’s University Management Team, security infrastructure and staffing is inadequate to deal with security required for the event given that the university is already on notice of protests. Bringing in additional security would have cost implications.
The management team, which is separate from the university’s government body and makes decisions on policy, said it was prepared to permit the conference to proceed provided the organisers fulfilled a number of conditions.
These included agreeing a revised date for the conference to be agreed with the management team which is outside of term and doesn’t clash with examinations and the submission of an Event Management Plan which covers all aspects of the conference organisation.
“No date for the conference can be agreed until the EMP has been finalised,” said the University Management Team adding that based on the management plan, the organisers must provide a budget to cover any additional costs, in particular additional security costs, to UCC.
In its statement, the University Management Team expressed “disappointment and concern” that it first learned of plans to hold the conference in UCC through discussion on social media rather than from any formal request or correspondence to UCC from the organisers.
The University Management Team also pointed out that the proposed event was not a UCC-sponsored or promoted event but has been invited to the university by academic staff holding positions within UCC.
The UCC management body also noted the proposed conference had previously been the subject of cancellation at the University of Southampton and of judicial review proceedings in the English High Court.
Attempts to make contact with one of the organisers, Prof James Bowen proved unsuccessful but earlier this week a group of Irish academics wrote to The Irish Times to express concern at reports that the Israeli Embassy was seeking to prevent the conference going ahead.
The academics pointed out “the conference is being jointly organised by Palestinian and Israeli academics and offers a vital examination of how Israel operates, particularly in relation to international law.”
They further pointed out that "the conference was scheduled to be held in the UK in 2015 but was thwarted following a high-profile campaign by the pro-Israel lobby that branded the event as 'legitimising anti-Semitism' and was pulled by Southampton University citing security reasons"
However an Irish based pro-Israel group, Irish4Israel, welcomed UCC's decision to cancel the conference in March, alleging that the conference would not be balanced and would be "only one step above an Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally with a few academic degrees thrown in."
“Since being made aware of this conference, Irish4Israel ..... has called for a balanced debate. With 47 visiting speakers, some 45 were hostile to Israel and two were pro Israel. So extreme was this conference it was even endorsed by the far right extremist website ‘Aryan Street’.”