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Professors lose High Court challenge over Israel conference at university

Published 27/04/2016

The professors had argued at the High Court that
The professors had argued at the High Court that "academic freedom" was at stake

Two professors have lost their High Court challenge over the way Southampton University has handled their bid to stage a controversial conference on Israel.

The professors challenged decisions that have effectively blocked the conference being held for two years running amid fears that it could lead to disorder on campus.

Professor Oren Ben-Dor was born in Israel and teaches philosophy and law, while Professor Suleiman Sharkh grew up in Gaza and lectures in engineering.

They argued that "academic freedom" was at stake.

But Mrs Justice Whipple, sitting in London, rejected their challenges and declared: "There is no large principle at stake here."

The judge said: "From all that I have seen in this case, I believe that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are alive and well at Southampton University."

The judge said the decisions taken by the university "were motivated by well-founded concerns for the safety of people and property, and exemplify good and responsible decision-making by the (university's) officers".

In 2015 permission for the conference, entitled International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, was given, then withdrawn on the grounds that there was "an unacceptably high risk of disorder" and insufficient time to take preventive measures.

The proposed conference had been criticised by the Jewish Board of Deputies as "partisan" and protests were expected.

This year plans were made for the event to take place in April, but the professors were asked by the university to foot the estimated £24,000 bill for security costs.

The conference was again postponed with proposals to stage it in April next year.

Referring to the legal challenge related to the costs bill, the judge said it was "premature" as no final decision had been made on the issue and the application by the professors for permission to seek judicial review was "unarguable".

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