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University of Southampton cancels Israel conference, citing ‘health and safety’

March 31, 2015 at 9:00 am

The University of Southampton has withdrawn permission for a conference next month on Israel and international law, citing “health and safety” concerns.

The university has been under significant pressure from pro-Israel lobby groups in the UK to cancel the conference, despite legal obligations to protect free speech.

Conference organisers confirmed Tuesday morning with “extreme astonishment and sadness” that Southampton authorities have pulled the plug on the gathering.

We were told that the decision was taken on the grounds of health and safety: a number of groups may be demonstrating for or against the conference which could present risks to the safety of the participants, students and staff. The University claims that it does not have enough resources to mitigate the risks, despite a clear statement from the Police confirming that they are able to deal with the protest and ensure the security of the event.

In their statement, organisers say that they are “extremely dissatisfied with the risk assessment conducted by the University”, where “high risks remained high even when seemingly effective mitigating measures were put in place.”

Organisers claim that the “security argument” has been used “to rationalise a decision to cancel the conference that has been taken under public pressure of the Israeli Lobby”, calling it a “sad decision for freedom of speech.”

Conference organisers say that they will now “explore legal emergency measures to prevent the University from cancelling the conference, to reverse its decision and to properly collaborate with the police so that the demonstrations can be managed.”