Critical international reaction to weekend Cork conference on Israel

Critical international reaction to weekend Cork conference on Israel
Attending the International Law & the State of Israel conference at City Hall, Cork, were Clare Short, former UK Cabinet Minister; Jeff Halper, former head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and Dr. Ghada Karmi, University of Exeter. Picture: Denis Minihane.

A CONFERENCE, on the legitimacy of the state of Israel, held at UCC and Cork City Hall at the weekend has sparked critical international reaction after controversial comments were made by two academics speaking at the event.

The Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW) group has urged funders to pull their money from UCC after contentious remarks were made by American writer Professor Joel Kovel and Palestinian academic Dr Ghada Karmi at separate sessions at the conference ‘International Law & the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Exceptionalism, and Responsibility’ which took place last weekend.

Prof Kovel is known for his critical views of the state of Israel and a comment he made about Israeli intelligence agents allegedly applauding the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001 has been condemned by Jewish activists.

A statement by the group JHRW read: “Jewish Human Rights Watch condemns University College Cork, who despite repeated contact not to allow a conference which we were certain would spread Antisemitic conspiracy theories, allowed it to go ahead. “At the event... Professor Joel Kovel was answering questions and accuses ‘five painters who were actually Mossad agents’ of ‘cheering on 9/11 from across the river’

“It is deplorable that such lies have been allowed to be spread by UCC, especially as over 400 Jews died out of nearly 3,000 innocent civilians.”

The statement by JHRW went on to call on all major funders, both past and present, to sever ties with the university and cited Apple, Astra Zeneca, Bupa, Bank of Ireland, GlaxoSmithKline, Jansen Cillag, Pfizer and Trend Micro as examples.

Further controversy was caused by Dr Karmi, a Palestinian academic who lectures at the University of Exeter, in assessing Israel’s treatment of Palestinian people.

Dr Karmi used the term “untermensch” - which is how the Nazi regime in Germany described people of non-Aryan origin - in a speech.

She was responding to comments at debate at a separate part of the conference on Friday at Cork City Hall where the use of the word in an academic paper by Professor Yosefa Loshitzky was brought up.

“I just felt I had to say something about the use of the word ‘untermensch’, the equivalent in English is sub-human. And sub-human is how people in Gaza feel they are being treated by the Israeli army,” she said.

“We are not allowed to use words that the Nazis used as if they were true and unique only to what the Nazis did to the Jews. It is not right. For Palestinians, I don’t think they make a distinction between what happened to the Jews in Germany and what is happening to them. That is something we need to remember,” she added.

Councillor Kenneth O’Flynn said the conference should never have been allowed to take place in Cork.

“I hate to say I told you so. I did warn Cork City Council about this. I’m not surprised by the whipping up of hate. I was the subject of a number of hate messages myself prior to the conference, via text, email and some public comments. Some of the emails are now in the hands of the gardaí as they were threatening.

“It damages the reputation of Cork yet again and puts us in a very bad light. Cork, Cork City Council and UCC are going to be associated in words of hate, which is exactly what I had feared,” he added.

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