Freedom of Speech for academics

by Oren Ben-Dor

Freedom of Speech for academics

by Oren Ben-Dor

We are judicially reviewing the University of Southampton's decision (in March 2015) to withdraw permission, on security grounds, for a conference entitled The State of Israel and International Law: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism.

on 17th March 2016
pledged by 150 people

We are judicially reviewing the University of Southampton's decision (in March 2015) to withdraw permission, on security grounds, for a conference entitled The State of Israel and International Law: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism.

Defend Freedom of Speech on Campus!

We are a group of academics who organised a three-day international academic conference entitled The State of Israel and International Law: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, which was due to take place in April 2015. 

University Blocks Conference!

In March 2015, as a result of external political pressure, the University of Southampton withdrew its permission to hold the conference. The reason given by the University for withdrawing permission was that of security and the potential for violence by by demonstrators. There was no credible evidence to support such an assertion. 

In the High Court – 6th April 2016

After a legal battle the Court of Appeal has now granted the organisers a permission to review the legality of the University's decision. The hearing in the High Court is scheduled for the 6th April 2016.

Conditions and Demands for Practicing Our Rights?

We attempted to re-launch the same conference in April 2016. After a protracted process the University initially changed its stance, but in giving a permission it was on the condition that organisers should pay security costs of nearly £25,000. This amount was required for the hire of private security and fencing. This financial demand was based on inflated risk levels (in the absence of any intelligence). The organisers do not have, nor can they have any hope of raising this money.  

Most importantly we believe that as a matter of principle, and in these kinds of conferences that are controversial, it should not fall on the conference organisers to pay the cost of security measures needed to protect their academic freedom and freedom of speech. 

The organisers are now launching a second legal action that challenges this latest decision that amounts to a constructive cancellation of the conference and as such is contrary to the University’s own Code of Practice. It is hoped that both actions will be rolled into one in the April hearing.

Freedom of speech

There are fundamental questions of academic freedom and freedom of speech. We argue that putting such a burden on organisers would mean that controversial debates could be silenced by any one, by simply threatening to hold a demonstration. 

Human Rights

The University's actions and decisions symptomise different ways of effectively succumbing to political pressure. We believe in these decisions the University has failed to comply with its European Human Rights obligations as a public body and is in breach of its Statutory Duty to secure freedom of speech. 

The University should have invited the police to protect this event – that protection is a public duty of the police.  The police should see the protection of this conference as part of their core policing duties to protect freedom of speech at academic activities rather than consider these as private events. This case constitutes an educational, political and constitutional landmark – the very stake of deciding the public uniqueness of academic space is at stake.

We have now relaunched the conference, with all speakers on board, for 7-9 April 2017, but it is crucial we win this legal case in order to uphold Freedom of Speech on campuses.  We seek to declare the unlawfulness, and therefore the invalidity, of the university decisions; to prevent the university from directly or constructively cancelling the conference again next year and to bear the differential financial consequences for the running of the conference next year as a result of its unlawful decisions. 

Our Fundraise and What it is For

The University is well resourced to fight this case. We are not – we urgently need your help. 

Given the importance of academic freedom, as a millstone in the struggle for justice and enduring peace in historic Palestine, we have applied for a Protective Cost Order to help cover our costs to the other party in case we lose.  

We are starting with a target of £5,000 but we may need to raise more as the case progresses. These funds will help give us the robustness to run the case to the Court of Appeal if necessary from the High Court.  

Without your help we can not fight this case effectively and quite possibly not at all. 

The University’s outrageously limp commitment to Freedom of Speech betrays our work as truth seekers, fails its own mission and the mission of Academia as a whole.

About the claimant

Oren Ben-Dor is an Israeli-born now Professor of Law and Philosophy at the Law School, University of Southampton, UK. He is a co-Academic organiser of the conference together with Professor George Bisharat, a Palestinian, now Professor of Law, University of California, Hastings College of the Law, US. Suleiman Shark is a Palestinian, now Professor of Engineering at the University of Southampton UK. He is the co-principal organiser of the conference. Juman Asmail, a Palestinian, a free lance researcher and activist, an LLB graduate from the University of Southampton, is an organiser of the conference together with Professors Ben-Dor, Bisharat and Sharkh.

Fast facts

**What's at stake** We're asking the court to reviewing the university's decision to withhold permission to hold a conference on Israel and International law on grounds of security; and that the organisers pay the costs of security, for conference. This is a matter of Freedom of Speech, Academic Freedom and the uniqueness of academic space especially in the context if Israel/Palestine, and who pays for freedom of speech in University? **Our legal team** We have instructed Paul Heron of Public Interest Lawyers

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Initial Target Reached

March 17, 2016

We have now reached our all-or-nothing target of £5000. We would like to thank to all of our supporters so far – you have been amazing!     

We have now stretched that target to £8000 and we will continue to stretch it once we reach it. The reasons that we need more funding are: 

1. We need to match the resourcefulness of the university to fight this case and not to be susceptible to withdraw because of funds; 

2. We need to face prospects of costs for these proceedings and for potential robust fighting an appeal by either us, or the university. 

3. We need to fund our legal team who is doing an amazing job drafting our grounds for actions and representing us in court.   

Your continuous support will enable us to withstand the long battle ahead for our conference and ensure that it runs next year as well as fighting for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom.

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