Monday, March 16, 2015

Letter to Southampton University

Some days ago, I sent a letter by e-mail to Professor Hazel Biggs, Head of the Law School in Southampton University, where an anti-Irael conference is due to take place next month. A copy was also sent to the university's Vice Chancellor. Neither has had the courtesy to acknowledge receipt.

Here is a copy of the letter, accompanied by a detailed analysis of participants by David Collier. I have placed several phrases in bold type in order to emphasize the radical nature of those taking part and the clear purpose of the conference. This is not a free speech matter, but a concern about academic integrity and balance. That such a distorted mockery of academic scholarship should take place under the auspices of a modern British university is a disturbing sign of how far rational and unbiased debate in academia is being hijacked by politically radical individuals and groups.

FAO Prof. Hazel Biggs
Head of the School of Law
Southampton University

Dear Professor Biggs,

I hope you will not object to my writing to you out of the blue, but I do want to address you as Head of Southampton University’s prestigious Law School, with regard to the “International Law and the State of Israel : Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” conference (<>) to be held over the weekend of 17-19th April. The conference is advertised as a project of Southampton University, where it will take place, it is co-organized by one of the professors in your school, Professor Oren Ben-Dor, and its Southampton organizing committee is made up of Professor Ben-Dor, a Professor Suleiman Sharkh from Southampton’s school of engineering, Ms Juman Asmail, a recent graduate of your school, a political activist, and co-founder of the Southampton Students for Palestine, and Ms Jo Hazell, who appears to be an administrator based at your school.

My interest in and concern about this conference comes from my own academic background. I have two 4-year MAs from Trinity College, Dublin and Edinburgh University, and a PhD from Cambridge (1979). I have lectured at the University of Fez in Morocco and at Newcastle University, where I taught Arabic and Islamic Studies. Currently, I am a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the New York Gatestone Institute. My research involves Islamic issues, Iran, Shi’ite Islam, the development of Islamism, and issues relating to Israel and the Palestinians. Despite all this, I shall not attend the conference. My reason is simple: it is the most blatantly biased and unacademic event I have ever come across, certainly in this country. A conference in which all the participants represent one political view, where the conclusions are foregone, and from which anyone with even a mildly defensive position towards Israel would face ridicule or insult from the majority of those present is not, for me at least, something that any university school, let alone with an international reputation like yours, should consider endorsing or hosting. This is not a matter for polite debate: the egregious bias of the participants alone places this event well outside the norms of academic discourse.

I have pasted in below my signature a long list of the participants (and I have placed many phrases in bold type). Someone called David Collier (whom I do not know personally) has taken considerable effort to check the activities and affiliations of those planning to take part in the conference. I was shocked when I read through the list with his annotations. I for one, as someone who supports Israel’s record, know I would not be welcome there. It does not read like a balanced list of academics, but like a roll-call of extremists and political activists. Not one speaker listed takes a pro-Israel or even middle-of-the-road stance. Almost every single name is recorded as participating in the deeply unacademic boycott of Israel, through which any form of dialogue or academic cooperation with Israeli academics and students is forbidden, with a minority of individuals dictating how their colleagues should behave. This is not by any stretch of the imagination an academic conference, but a joint gathering of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement. The participants represent a hardline group of academics who have never called for a boycott of countries like Iran, whose human rights record is abysmal and where young members of its largest religious minority are banned from entry to colleges and universities; or Saudi Arabia, where a liberal journalist was recently sentences to 1000 lashes, ten years in Prison and a huge fine for writing things we might see as utterly unexceptional, and who now faces retrial on a charge of apostasy, which may lead to a death sentence. Where are the academics calling for boycotts of these and numerous other places where there is no free speech and no freedom to debate issues in the university sector. There are no restrictions on free speech in Israel as a whole and certainly not in the universities, yet British academics boycott it and even work to destroy the country entirely.

I do not want this to sound like a rant, and I trust I have not expressed myself in ranting terms. But as someone with a lifelong involvement in academic pursuits, I am concerned that modern British campuses have become much less open to honest speech and debate than they were when I was a student. Pro-Israel speakers have been hounded out of lecture theatres in more than one place, anti-Semitism has become common on many campuses, and frank discussion on Islamic issues is rare. These are general problems, not yours; but this proposed conference definitely falls within your remit, which is why I feel it proper to write to you in these terms. Having recently published a lengthy paper exploring the question of whether Israeli troops committed war crimes in 2014, and finding that they almost certainly did not, and did not do so overall, I would be interested to take part in a conference that deals in part with this matter. But I barely need say that I would be afraid to set foot in the hall and to deliver my paper there, knowing that I would face a storm of condemnation merely for expressing support for the despised ‘Zionist entity’. Rationality has taken flight in all public discussion of Israel, in the media, on university campuses, within political parties. Academia should be free from that, and no academic should be frightened of taking part in a university-hosted conference.

I can only ask you, in the spirit of fairness and academic freedom, to confer with the appropriate people in your university in order to decide whether a conference as thoroughly biased and academically unsound as this has any part to play in the advancement of scholarly debate or whether you are prepared to host an exercise in hate speech, discrimination, and the politicizing of academia. A group of extremists has clearly hijacked your school and Southampton University. If there was ever a sound case for the banning or total restructuring of a conference, this is surely it. If you can respond to me (and to the many people I know who stand behind me) and let me know your thinking about this contentious issue, I shall be most grateful.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin


(I have tried wherever possible to ensure maximum accuracy in this listing. Given the size of the list and the nuances involved, it was a large undertaking. Language was also a barrier, with some academics producing little or no work in English – I apologize in advance if any errors have been made.) (David Collier)

PANEL 1 –  History(s) of Palestine and International Law

Prof. Gabi Piterberg from the University of California at Los Angeles. Piterberg has called Israel’s system akin to Apartheid and actively supports the boycott. <>   More on his perspective here <>

Professor Nur Masalha, St. Mary’s College, University of Surrey. Frequently described as a Palestinian activist <>  online. Supports the general divestment and the academic boycotts <>

Professor. Ilan Pappe, Department of History, University of Exeter. Hardly needs an introduction <> , also described as an activist.  He is the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006). Firmly believes Israel is racist, apartheid, an ethnically cleansing state and so on. Actively supports the boycott <>

Dr. Victor Kattan, Law Faculty, National University of Singapore. Actively supports the Palestinian position. <>  Called for papers  <> on BDS and actively supports the boycott <> .

Professor Nadim N. Rouhana, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Spoken on the one state solution (which would involve the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state and lead to an Islamist state under Hamas). <>   And spoke during Israeli Apartheid week. <>

After lunch speaker – Professor Richard Falk. Professor of International Law, Princeton University. Another one that needs little introduction, with his own personal wiki section  <> on the conflict.  Has compared Israel’s policies to the Nazis and wrote an article called “Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust <> ”. Actively supports the boycott, calling it a ‘civic duty’. <>

PANEL 2 – Political Philosophy and Political Zionism

Professor Yosefa Loshitzky, School of Oriental and African Studies. Loshitzky is currently writing a book  <> called ‘Just Jews? Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Contemporary Culture and Beyond’. Make of that what you will. Talks about how Israelis enjoy <>  the suffering of Palestinians, uses Nazi metaphors  <> to describe the conflict and actively supports the boycott <> .

Professor Brad Roth <> , Wayne State University. Less writing available online, but actively supported a boycott <> .

Dr. Sylvie Delacroix, University College, London. The first of the panellists who I could not place on any boycott list. Has spoken about <>  the Palestinian constitution (the YouTube title is misleading). An article she wrote on the subject was titled in deference <>  to a Mahmoud Darwish quote. Her only reference to violence was to suggest the first Intifada <>  which “may never have managed to be completely non-violent”.  An interesting description of a 6 year fight that saw 200 Israelis killed, 3000 injured and an extraordinary 1000 Palestinian lives lost to intra-Palestinian violence. Having said that, credit where it is due, Delacroix seems to take the most balanced academic approach of all those referenced to this point.

Dr. Ronit Lentin, Retired Associate Professor Sociology, Trinity College, Dublin. Wiki states  <> Lentin “has published extensively on racism”, described by BDS Sydney  <> as an ‘activist’,  Lentin has said “Israel is determined to eliminate the Palestinians <> ”, “a logic of genocide”. Actively supports the boycott <>

PANEL 3: Apartheid as an International Crime – the legal implications for Palestine

Dr. John Reynolds, Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway. Reynolds participation in a 2013 paper ‘Apartheid, International Law <> , and the Occupied Palestinian Territory’. States elsewhere that Israel is a colonial power <> , the resistance is understandable, the rockets are understandable and supports the boycott  <>

Dr. Anthony Löwstedt, Webster University Vienna. Lowestedt claims that 98% of “all gross human rights <>  violations so far committed in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are sole responsibilities of the Israeli Jews, and talks of Israeli apartheid. <>  In that piece Lowestedt claims that “the Israel lobby does not take it well that students are still to some extent being told and taught the truth about Israel and Palestine”. He references  “The Israeli state death squads” and claims that ““In many cases, it is enough for a Palestinian to get killed if s/he even looks at a military installation or a soldier the wrong way”.  He claims “the supreme goal is to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from  <> Palestine” although whilst in Israel he “did not get to discuss this matter in detail with Israelis”. Riddled with inaccuracies such as “you must be a Jew to serve in the Israeli army and if you are not a Jew you cannot serve in the army”, distortions and statistical headstands, these pieces show that Lowstedt’s opinion is driven fiercely by his internal clock rather than through some academic process of research.

Professor George Bisharat, University of California. Bisharat is a Palestinian-American professor <>  of law who clearly supports a one state solution <> . He believes Israel is committing war crimes <>  and calls for a boycott of Israeli apartheid <> . Bisharat continually uses Nazi references <> , talks of massacres and master plans <>  and frequently addresses complex historic events with simple sound bites <> , one sided propaganda, and outright distortions.

Professor Oren Ben-Dor, Law School, University of Southampton. One of the organisers and ‘hosts’ for the event, he has claimed “Israeli Apartheid is the Core of the Crisis <> ”, going on of course to claim “Only when this realization sinks in will it be possible to envision a stable political solution–a single state over all historic Palestine”. Ben Dor actively supports the boycott <>   and another piece against the silencing of Gilad Atzmon, <>  provide a wonderful insight into the hypocrisy and double standards <>  of leading academics who promote the Israeli boycott.

The panel is followed by ‘Unmade Film’ an exhibition by Uriel Orlow which parallels the Holocaust and Deir Yassin. Orlow recently spent an evening with the Hackney Branch of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign <>   and has frequently signed up <> for anti-israeli petitions. The closing act of the day is Elias Khoury <> , A Lebanese author.  Khoury ‘spent years gathering from refugees their personal histories of the mass expulsions that attended the creation of Israel. He felt the stories should be given to an Arab Tolstoy <> , and imagined himself in the role’

PANEL 4: Legitimacy, Self-Determination and Political Zionism

Professor John Strawson, University of East London. Strawson held a previous post at Birzeit University <>  and appears as a signee on anti-Israeli declarations <> .  Strawson is the first academic on the list who seems to reject the label Apartheid, which in turns raises the question – why wasn’t he on the Apartheid panel?

Dr. Ghada Karmi, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies University of Exeter. Writes frequently on Palestinian issues in newspapers and magazines.  According to the Wiki page <> , Karmi clearly believes that “Israel does not deserve to continue as a state”. In favour of a one state solution she notes “would be the end of a Jewish state in our region”. Karmi openly calls herself an activist <> , describing Zionism a “loathsome” ideology. <>  Karmi incredibly declares in the same piece that the radicalization and extremism of Arab societies “can be traced back to Israel.” Apparently another academic with a mental block, she declares there were no pogroms in Arab lands, and actively promotes the boycott <> .

Dr. Blake Alcott, Unaffiliated Researcher, London. Alcott’s article  ‘a two-state solution is a Zionist solution’ <>  clearly states his position as he declares that the Zionist goal is for ‘eretz israel’ to be ‘Araberrein’, which again sees Nazi terminology used in descriptions of Zionism. Calls Noam Chomsky a ‘soft zionist’ and actively supports the boycott <> . Hypocritically, Alcott finds bias uncomfortable  <> when it doesn’t suit him.

Ntina Tzouvala, Doctoral Researcher, Law School, University of Durham,UK. Still working towards a PHD <>  and not much to find on Tzouvala in English

PANEL 5 Israel’s Domestic Law: Inbuilt Limits of Constitutional Reflection?
Lea Tsemel, an Israeli lawyer <>  and leading human rights activist. Described by the BBC <>  as “the woman who defends suicide bombers”. Has stated the country took a cue from Nazi Germany <> –“the same racism, the same hatred, the same ideology of super race. Tsemel has supported the boycott <>

Sawsan Zaher, Senior Attorney at Adalah. <>  Stated that ‘discriminatory policies are one thing but when you have discriminatory laws, this is apartheid <> ‘.

Dr. Valentina Azarov (Al-Quds University). Quite an academic backstory <>   but hardly one that suggests academic even-handedness. Actively supports the boycott <>  and believes the solution to the issues  <> are to be found in the international criminal courts.

Dr. Mazen Masri, City University, London. Has served as legal advisor to the Negotiations Affairs Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Masri is active in supporting the boycott  <>  and uses parallels of apartheid <>  to describe the israeli system.

PANEL 6: Israeli Citizenship and Israeli Nationality.

Dr. Jeff Handmaker, the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus <> . Suggests companies such as IKEA are complicit <>  in a serious human rights violation, lending support to the settlement enterprise. Apartheid, war crimes, cover-up’s, quite the collection. Handmaker has argued that ‘true humanity’ <>  will be found when “the Israeli regime is held accountable for decades of repression, dispossession and regional destabilisation.”

Yoella Har-Sheffi (sp?). Har-Sheffi is apparently not a practising University Academic, so beyond understanding she is in the legal field, there is little to find on her in English. She did argue for the ban of Wagner to be lifted, <>  was ‘fired’ from her mainstream paper as a journalist for her beliefs and openly deplored Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians <> . Called on  the UK government to recognise Palestine <> .

Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, writer, Journalist, member of Jaffa One State. Yeshua Lyth says that a secular democratic state is actually a call for the annihilation of Israel <> , a call she supports. Claims Israel built an apartheid state on the basis of religion  and ethnicity. <>  Actively supports the boycott. <>

Noura Erakat, Assistant Professor, George Mason University. Described as a  <> Palestinian American legal scholar. Goes beyond Apartheid  <> to declare Israeli policies are “ethnic cleansing”. Erakat’s party pieces are pure propaganda, full of distorted facts and out of context responses <> . Erakat actively supports the boycott. <>

PANEL 7: Israel’s Regime of Property Rights, Labour, Education and Housing

Dr Uri Davis, Al-Quds University, Jerusalem Abu Dis, and University of Exeter, UK. Although an academic, the wiki page <> , refers to him as an activist, who was the ‘founding member of the Movement against Israeli Apartheid in Palestine’. Actively promotes the boycott <> .

Mia Tamarin. Israeli who studied in the UK and applied for conscientious objecter status and became an activist on her return to Israel. Beyond doing the rounds, being held aloft by those on the other side of the great divide and clearly suited to the agenda <> , one can only ask academically, what she is doing there.

Dr. Haitam Suleiman, al-Quds University, Jerusalem, and Prof. Robert Home, Law School, Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, United Kingdom.  Have worked together on a paper <>  that suggests Israel’s story now lies ‘within a colonial and postcolonial narrative’ and explains the article is the outcome of field research undertaken by a Palestinian Arab living in Israel (Suleiman).

Claris Harbon, Doctoral Researcher, McGill University. Specialises mainly on subjects concerning the subordination of subaltern minorities  <> and disempowered groups such as Mizrahis (Jews of Arab/Muslim Descent), women, Arab- Israelis and children. Works on another aspect of a discriminatory Israel, specifically from an Asheknazi /Spharedi <>  angle.

PANEL 8: Palestine in Comparative Re-thinking of International Law

Dr. Monika Halkot, Department of Communication Arts, American University of Beirut, Lebanon.  Unable to locate via the English university website <> , despite the comprehensive listings. Unable to locate on Google.

Dr. Marcelo Svirsky. Wollongong University, Australia. Only need to read this piece ‘From Auschwitz To Sderot: The Decline Of Our Humanity <> ‘ to understand his position. Actively supports the boycott <> .

Dr. Michael Kearney, School of Law, University of Sussex, UK. International Law speech that deals with Israeli ‘apartheid’ <> , an article on Israeli ‘war crimes’ <> .

Professor Ugo Mattei, Distinguished Professor of Law <> , and Alfred and Hanna Fromm Chair in International and Comparative Law, University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Signed the ‘One State Declaration’
>  (the end of Israel).

PANEL 9: Assumption of Responsibility for the Suffering in Palestine

Dr. Regina Rauxloh, Associate Professor in Law, University of Southampton. Israel does not  <>  appear to be Rauxloh’s field, so I assume if her associate, Professor Oren Ben-Dor was not holding this on this own home turf, Rauxloh wouldn’t be present.

Professor Kevin Jon Heller, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS),London. Another academic from <>  SOAS, he states here he is “generally wary of academic boycotts <> “, so it would be interesting to know how he voted in the recent SOAS wide boycott vote that saw a 60-40% split  <> amongst ‘SOAS staff’. Heller not as rabid as his colleagues, but still maintains a clear fascination <>  with tweets such as “Israel doesn’t need tunnels. It sows #terror through bombs, artillery, missiles, tanks, ground troops”.

Prof. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Hebrew University, Jerusalem <> . Talks of policies of fear and colonialism, <,%20Fear%20and%20Israeli%20Colonialism>  politicises the internal violence against Palestinian women by suggesting “Colonialism is empowering killers <>  and sustaining internal crimes through bureaucratic and legal means”. Is part of the pro-Palestinian speaking  <> circuit, incredibly suggests here that ‘ Rape and other forms of sexual violence against Palestinian women <>  have always been an element of the settler colonial state’s attempts to destroy and eliminate indigenous Palestinians from their land’.

Salma Karmi Ayyub, Criminal Barrister, UK. Is or has been an external consultant  <> for the Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq. Writes frequently about possible Israeli war crimes, <>  taking Israel to the ICC <>  is described as a leading Palestinian activist <> who discusses and defends BDS <>  in this video.

PANEL 10: Responsibility for Return

Dr. Salman Abu-Sitta, Land Society Palestine. Abu-Sitta is a Palestinian researcher <> . He writes about Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian right of return. States “Palestine is the patrimony <>  of Palestinians. No amount of spin, Hasbara, or Za’bara, myths, bombs, F16s, roadblocks, siege, walls, ethnic cleansing and Apartheid will change that. Remember that”.  Supports a boycott.

Dr. Ruba Salih, Reader in Gender Studies, SOAS, London. Palestinian academic, has written and researched Palestinian issues, including this piece on the refugees <> . Opposes sanctions against Iran <>  as sanctions hurt the children and the weak, supports boycott against Israel <> .

Dr. Catriona Drew, School of Law, SOAS. Unsure of her academic  position as only has one article listed on the SOAS <>  site. Called on the UK to stop <>  the violence in Gaza. Does not publicly appear to participate in BDS.

Dr. Mutaz Qafisheh, College of Law, Hebron University. Wrote on Palestine in the UN. <>  Was a Legal Advisor and Project Manager  <> for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

PANEL 11: Responsibility and Belonging, Religion, Politics and Law.

Dr. Hatem Bazian, Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. A Palestinian activist, Bazian’s ‘reading list’ <>  for Palestine highlights how he views balance and  integrity in academic research. From an online search, Bazian seems one of the most extreme of the ‘esteemed academics’ on display at the conference. Talks of Apartheid, Ethnic Cleansing, Murder and Oppression. <>   Called for an international day of action for Palestine <> , is an activist on Twitter <>  and Facebook <>  and actively calls for a boycott <> .

Professor Yakov Rabkin, Professor of History, University of Montréal. Author of a book A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism <> . Claims Israel’s ‘turn to the right’ <>  is now termed fascist by ‘the mainstream’ and Israel has “become a beacon for right-wing movements around the world thanks to a gamut of ideological, political, economic and military values contained in political Zionism”. Active against Zionism, fights against the anti-Semitic label of the boycott and promotes the legitimacy of the boycott <> , if not the boycott itself.

Professor Haim Bresheeth, School of Oriental and African Studies. Another scholar who is a self-described activist. In a piece that I am sure even he may consider foolish  <> today Bresheeth states that Israel can only be explained by the many decades of instrumental colonialism, a place where to be ‘pro Israeli’ is to be foolish. That Israel will only relent under the most intense political, financial and cultural pressure from the world community. That pressure is now developing swiftly, and is now more likely than ever to lead to the collapse of the apartheid state  <> in the Middle East. Actively supported the boycott <> .

Professor Gil Anidjar, Department of Religion, Columbia University. Another academic whose name seems to be tied in with anything that is against Israel. Saw the Geneva Accord <>  as too bad a deal for Palestinians, agreed with a statement that calls the current situation apartheid <>   and actively supports boycott. <>

PANEL 12: Responsibility and Belonging: Palestine as Political, Ecological and Legal Space

Professor Joel Kovel, Unaffiliated Researcher. Another academic referred to as a ‘political activist’ <> . Kovel’s 2007 book Overcoming Zionism argues that “the creation of Israel was a mistake”.  Argues that Israel practices  ‘state-sponsored racism’  fully as incorrigible as that of apartheid South Africa and deserving of the same resolution. Has been active in calling for a boycott of Israel. <>

Eitan Bronstein Aparicio. Described as  a ‘de-colonizer’ <>  and in that video says the system meets the definition of Apartheid. One of the founders of Zochrot <> . Bronstein Aparicio Actively supports the boycott <> .

Mr. Walaa Sbeit, musician, Iqrit, Palestine / Mr. John Assi, Director of the UNESCO Chair on Human Rights and Democracy at al-Najah University. Sbeit is a Palestinian musician <>  whilst Assi, from a University in Nablus, is active in calling for a ‘nuclear free Israel’. <>

Professor Virginia Tilley, Department of Political Science, Southern Illinois University. Wrote a book called ‘the One State Solution’ <>  and led a research team that “found that Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are consistent with colonialism and apartheid <> ”. This piece is a must read <>  to understand Tilley’s mind-set and Tilley actively supports boycott <> .

PANEL 13 / A round table is planned with new speakers expected to be added.