A row has erupted between the Embassy of Israel in Dublin and University College Cork (UCC) over plans to host a conference from March 31 to April 2 in UCC on the legitimacy of the state of Israel. The conference, entitled International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, was originally to be held in the University of Southampton last April but was cancelled with the university citing “safety grounds.” The move came despite legal action by the organisers for it to go ahead, in the face of opposition from a number of groups who had described it as an “anti-Israeli hate fest”.
The embassy has stated how it is “deeply concerned” over the plans for the event and expressed its fear that the event could promote an “unbalanced agenda within academic institutions, that seeks to demonise and delegitimise Israel. They added that the prejudice of activists only served to “propagate hatred of the state of Israel and its people… it is incompatible with the values of democracy and goes against the essence of academic discussion”.
The event was moved to UCC after Irish academics criticised the lack of freedom of speech in the UK, with the organisers stating that Ireland is a safer location due to its “different political culture”. The organiser, Oren Ben-Dor, who was born in Israel and raised in Gaza, had previously approached several other British and European universities after the cancellation of the event in Southampton but was met with further refusals. Ben-Dor, a philosophy and engineering lecturer in Southampton, stated that he believed other universities were “afraid of the claws of the Israeli lobby”.
Professor James Bowen, one of the organisers of the conference in UCC, rejected the embassy’s criticism stating that as they were “fearful of any debate on the issue, the Israeli lobby tries to prevent pro-Israel speakers from participating in such events”. He also spoke about the importance of defending academic freedom, especially where governments have a “vested interest in preventing examination of uncomfortable issues”.
However UCC issued a statement saying it has not yet given permission for the event to be held, saying: “The university management has issued no approval for the event, has sought information on the details of the proposed conference from the organisers and will determine its position following appropriate consideration.”