Deal over Israel conference is a ‘waste of time’
THE JEWISH Leadership Council has been criticised over a deal with Exeter University that will see two pro-Israel academics take part in a conference on “settler colonialism in Palestine”.
Concerns were raised in the summer by the Board of Deputies and grassroots pro-Israel groups that the conference, due to take place this weekend, would be anti-Israel.
Talks between the JLC and the university’s vice-chancellor, Sir Steve Smith, led to an agreement in which the JLC agreed to nominate two lecturers to present the Israeli position, and to cohost a second academic event later in the year with the university.
But Zionist Federation chairman Paul Charney said this week: “We think the deal is a bit of a waste of time. We don’t think it will have any positive effect. It will give credence to ongoing bashing against Israel. I don’t think it will help.”
Writing in today’s JC, columnist Geoffrey Alderman describes the deal as a “misguided and irresponsible intervention”. He said it set a dangerous precedent for anti-Zionists to nominate speakers at future academic events, as well as encouraging the stereotype of Jewish influence.
“I would have been ashamed to appear at a conference as the nominee of some external body that had elbowed its way in. I am horrified,” Pro- fessor Alderman added.
The JLC nominated Alan Johnson, Bicom’s senior research fellow, and Professor Gabriel Noah Brahm, a senior research fellow at the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, to participate in the conference in order to pose questions and provide responses to speeches. Responding to the criticism, JLC chief executive Simon Johnson said: “The vice-chancellor reached out to us. There was no form of control. It was a constructive discussion with the university. Had we not been involved, no pro-Israel voice would have been heard in this conference at all.”
Prof Brahm said: “If we don’t engage then the Israel-bashers go unchallenged, yet again. I believe in the free exchange of ideas in a balanced way — the conference at Exeter is not balanced, but I hope at least to share a Zionist perspective.”
Following criticism from Jewish groups and MPs, in April Southampton University cancelled an academic conference challenging Israel’s right to exist, citing safety concerns.
‘If we don’t engage, the bashers go unchallenged once again’