A new approach to the debating of issues on campus pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whilst upholding the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech has been announced.

Jewish Leadership Council and University of Exeter announce new approach to debating issues pertaining to Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), Board of Deputies, Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and The University of Exeter can today announce a new approach to the debating of issues on campus pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whilst upholding the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech.

In the lead-up to the academic conference on Settler Colonialism in Palestine & Workshop on the Naqab Bedouin” the University and the JLC have worked together to adopt a plan which, it is hoped, will form the basis of an approach for future similar conferences.

In a constructive engagement, the JLC raised the issue that the call for papers and conference timing could give the appearance of a lack of opportunity to submit opposing views on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The University understands this concern, and has worked with its academics to address it, while keeping at its heart the principles of academic freedom and freedom of enquiry.  The conference will go ahead as planned on the 3rd and 4th October.

Therefore, on this occasion:

The JLC has been invited to nominate two academics to attend and participate in the conference in its current form which is scheduled for the beginning of October.

  • An academic event will be held later in the year and co-hosted by the University of Exeter and the JLC, which will provide an opportunity for further academic debate, ensuring that many topics are covered from a range of speakers on both sides of the debate.  The JLC and the University will jointly agree the title, format and content.
  • The principles of academic freedom and open enquiry are fundamental. Those principles do not prevent academic conferences looking to offer as wide a range of academic evidence and argument as possible within the range of study and to actively seek out views which might counter perception of underlying bias.

Working with Universities UK, the University of Exeter and the JLC have benefitted from a constructive dialogue and this experience may benefit other universities to engage at the outset of any future conferences on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Professor Sir Steve Smith emphasised: “The role of a university in society is to provide a safe space for opposing views through academic discourse no matter how challenging the subject. The dialogue that we have been able to achieve within the University with our academic colleagues and students and with the JLC has been one of mutual respect and listening carefully to all the issues. This has enabled us to find a way forward that we think will also be of benefit to others.

Simon Johnson, CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council explained: “I am pleased to have worked with the University on this issue and thank the university leadership for their constructive approach and their willingness to address Jewish community concerns whilst fearlessly protecting academic freedom. This approach should form a good model for future discussions on conferences which may cause controversy."

Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies said: "We welcome this positive engagement with the hope and expectation that this can be a model for future cooperation."

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: "Universities have a vital role to play as places where difficult and controversial subjects can be discussed, openly and safely. Universities UK welcomes the constructive engagement that parties have shown in this instance, agreeing a way forward that secures freedom of speech within the law. While individual universities will deal with such events on a case-by-case basis, this approach highlights the value of early engagement with all parties involved, particularly when controversial topics are under discussion.”

Theo French and Hana Elias, Presidents Friends of Palestine (Exeter Student society) said: “We fully support the maintenance of academic freedom and freedom of speech, which together contribute to the constructive dialogue so badly needed in this conflict. As students we have had the opportunity to share the ideas about which we care, in an environment suited for discussion in order to raise awareness and allow others to form their own opinion.

Mikhaile Perkins, President Exeter Jewish Society, (Exeter Student society) said: “We appreciate that our concerns about the potential impact of this event on our members have been heeded and action taken to inform students at Exeter. We will continue to work with our Guild and University to ensure our members remain unintimidated because of their religious, cultural or national identity”

Mark Burgess, Friends of Israel (Exeter Student society) said: “We are proud to be part of a University which so highly maintains and upholds the values for which it stands, notably academic freedom and freedom of speech. We are looking forward to a fuller range of views being expressed as part of future events and the broader academic discourse at Exeter

Tracy Costello, University of Exeter Students' Guild Chief Executive: 'The Guild acknowledges the University's role in providing a space in which different views can be heard. For all our students the sanctity of freedom of speech is a fundamental principle of their education, along with the importance of being able to evaluate the evidence of different views. We welcome the University's proactive approach to communications with students and its commitment to ensuring that the experience on-campus of all students affected is considered of paramount importance in event planning.'

David Brown, CEO, Union of Jewish Students commented: “"UJS are encouraged by the steps taken by the University of Exeter to secure the welfare of all their students whilst ensuring academic freedom. Academic freedom also requires that any students do not feel threatened or have their learning impinged due to their religious, ethnic or national identity. We are proud of the Exeter J-Soc and Exeter Friends of Israel Society for the determined and pragmatic way they have worked with their Guild and University leadership. We hope that Vice Chancellors and Students’ Unions across the UK will emulate this sensitive response to the needs and concerns of their students.”

Date: 17 September 2015