Academic conference on Israel

 

Sir, – The Irish Federation of University Teachers is deeply concerned at attempts to block the holding of an important conference entitled “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Exceptionalism, Responsibility”, which is scheduled to take place in University College Cork from March 31st to April 2nd. We remain confident that UCC, by agreeing to host this conference despite significant political pressure not to do so, will make a strong statement in support of academic freedom and free speech.

Academic freedom is a core value of any university worldwide worthy of the title. We in Ireland can also be very proud of the fact that we are one of the very few countries which has enshrined the right to academic freedom in our laws (The Universities Act 1997).

Universities must guard with great vigilance their right (and duty) to facilitate free and open debate and discussions on all topics and subjects regardless of how controversial those topics might be.

The fact that this country in the past year allowed and facilitated critical analyses of the legitimacy and morality of the 1916 Rising (a critical event in the history of our country) shows, we can be proud to say, that we care enough about freedom of expression not to simply pay lip-service to the ideal.

There are some disturbing reports that certain sections within the management apparatus in UCC are opposed to the holding of the conference on the grounds of the cost and inconvenience of providing security and safety for the participants. To succumb to such arguments would be the equivalent of banning foreign students because of the risk of racist attacks or limiting the rights of female students as a “defence” against sexual assaults.

I intend to attend this conference not merely to show my support for the brave organisers but because I know that I am likely to learn a lot about a very important topic from listening to the superb panel of speakers who will address the conference. – Yours, etc,

MIKE JENNINGS,

General Secretary,

Irish Federation

of University Teachers,

Merrion Square,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – The proposed “academic” conference on Israel and international law was one that was always going to be academic anyway, as far as any real academic activity was concerned, such as the exchange of differing perspectives with a view to reaching some enlightened and meaningful conclusions. This was obviously never going to be possible given that around 40 of the speakers to address it were going to present solely the anti-Israel viewpoint and only a handful the pro-Israel position.

Such a proposed loaded assembly of people meeting to present an overwhelming one-sided presentation of issues regarding the international law and Israel would seem to constitute less an academic conference and more a political one, where only one country was on the menu selected for criticism.

On the other hand, had it been a balanced conference dealing with the international law as it has related to all of the countries party to the longstanding Israel-Palestine-Arab conflict – and one where there were a similar number of speakers from all of the sides – then its conclusions would not have been so foregone and would have deserved genuine credibility. – Yours, etc,

IVOR SHORTS,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 16.