Freedom of Speech: The right to disagree with others

The fact that the controversial three day conference on Israel’s right to exist within international law has been cancelled is an extremely unfortunate conclusion to the decision to host such a […]


The fact that the controversial three day conference on Israel’s right to exist within international law has been cancelled is an extremely unfortunate conclusion to the decision to host such a conference in the first place.

Southampton University

Vice Chancellor Don Nutbeam explained that University took the decision due to ‘health and safety risks’. In fact, the cancellation of the conference poses grave ‘health and safety risks’ to our freedom of speech.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the right to freedom of speech has taken centre stage, and millions have come out in support of such a fundamental right of our society.

The very nature of freedom of speech means that controversial subjects- subjects that are very close to people’s hearts and that they believe passionately about- can be explored.

To suggest then that the state of Israel’s existence is more sacred to those who support it than the image of the prophet Mohammed is to the vast Muslim community is in itself hypocritical and dare I say, anti-Islamic.

The argument is that the conference was to be a one sided ‘Israel bashing’ is refuted by its organiser Oren Ben-Dor, who, to The Guardian, declared he had invited many supporters of Israel to speak and some were scheduled.

Another core argument against the conference is that Israel’s right to exist cannot be questioned. Yet Israel’s existence was the result of such questions on how to deal with the Jewish population in British Palestine, which had previously been a part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries.

The very nature of Israel’s creation gives credence to the idea that nations can be dissolved. Therefore it is not an absurdity to entertain a process of creation and destruction which has been continuous since man’s inception.

The conference itself sought to apply international law to its debate, giving academic legitimacy to opinion and not absurd anti-Semitism, which leads tidily onto the final point.

The event has been labelled by some of its critics as anti-Semitic, which is perhaps the most gravest of mistakes by the Jewish community.

An article in The Guardian details how anti-Semitism in the UK is on the rise, and I fear that such acts by the Jewish community and supporters of Israel to prevent  conferences like the one planned at our University only serves to exacerbate the situation.

The conference offers an opportunity for those in the academic community and students a podium for rational debate on the issue of Israel, by denying such a podium we give validity to irrational debate which would argue of Zionist conspiracy theories and Jewry’s plans for ‘world domination’.

If we censor the secure and stable channels to vent frustration, then such angst is allowed to back up into unsecure, unstable, pure anti-Semitism, which I believe nobody in the academic community wishes for.

It is worth mentioning that I firmly support the legality of Israel to exist as a nation. Hypothetically, if it were down to a yes/no vote, I would vote yes in favour of Israel.

But I believe in democracy, such as that which Israel enjoys, and I believe in freedom of speech. I would argue against the illegality of Israel, but I would defend the right of those to argue for it.

What are your views on the Israel conference? Let us know in the comments below.