CfP: International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, University of Southampton 17–19 April 2015

by | 10 Apr 2014

Grafitti in BeirutThis conference, hosted by the Law School at the University of Southampton, (17th–19th April 2015) seeks to analyse the challenge posed to international law by the Jewish State of Israel and the whole of historic Palestine – the area to the west side of River Jordan that includes both what is now the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.

For its initial existence, the State of Israel has depended on a unilateral declaration of statehood in addition to both the expulsion (some would say the ethnic cleansing) of large numbers of non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs in 1947-49 and the prevention of their return. Furthermore, the Jewish nature of the state has profoundly affected the economic, constitutional, political and social life of those non-Jewish Arabs who were allowed to stay. To the present day, as recently confirmed by its Supreme Court, Israel does not recognise an Israeli nationality but officially has a list of 139 ‘nationalities’, of which only the Jewish nationality bestows some vital privileges. This fact generates the possibility of the exclusion of non-Jewish citizens of Israel by racial gerrymandering and the existence of two layers of Israeli citizenship and an inherent differential between Jews and non-Jews.

Legal scholarship on Palestine-Israel and international law, involving issues of self-determination, human rights and constitutional law, has largely focused on the Israeli occupation since 1967 of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza and on the illegality of Israel’s settlements and apartheid colonisation in these territories.

Alongside these debates, there has been a persistent, if marginalised, scholarship examining and analysing problems associated with the creation and the nature of the Jewish state itself and the status of Jerusalem. This research has combined historical scholarship and legal analysis of the manner by which the State of Israel came into existence as well as what kind of state it is. The issues explored hitherto linked reflections on the relationship between international law and: identity and injustice; violence and morality; nationality and citizenship; self-determination and legitimacy, responsibility and exceptionalism. 


The motivation for this interdisciplinary conference is to examine the role international law can play in political struggles. The search is for certain steps which would enable movement and dynamism and allow ongoing critical reflection about transitional justice and the tension between political pursuits and international law. The conference will seek to overcome doctrinal limits and contradictions by bringing to light ideological and existential fetters that perhaps render international law to be the very instrument of rationalisation of violence and suffering. The question to be debated is what international law demands with respect to any envisioned constitutional basis for historic Palestine. This basis must constantly be subjected to the dynamic constitutional challenges of equal citizenship for all through a framework of equality and liberty as well as through social, economic and cultural rights.

The organisers will invite a range of legal perspectives, and in turn, disagreements, in international law regarding the Israeli state including, of course, whether such a focus is itself legally justifiable and defensible in the context of the emergence of legal and political entities more generally. In organising this conference it is felt that there are enough questions that justify rigorous academic exploration and public debate without partisanship.

Given the urgency of responding to – indeed the urgent responsibility to answer for and to avert – the persistent suffering in historic Palestine, it is time to give a scholarly, academic platform to the exploration of pervasive disagreements regarding the legitimacy in international law of the Jewish State and the status of Jerusalem.   Given recent developments in international law, particularly on the dynamic nature of its self-understanding and in turn, its responsibility, radical disagreement and arguments have become possible which defend a conception of the kind of protection international law ought to be offering.  It is thus time to bring together leading scholars in international law, in both doctrine and jurisprudence, some of whom do not necessarily write on Palestine, and ask them to explore architectures of arguments that could respond to the suffering that afflicts historic Palestine.

The conference will thus include focus on the legality of the State of Israel rather than merely on whether its actions, either within its borders or in the Occupied Territories, comply with international law, human rights law and humanitarian law.  The conference will, however, consider the relationship between the nature of these actions and the nature of the state itself.

The conference will be the first of its kind because it links three main pillar-themes:

  1. The legality, validity and legitimacy in international law of the Israeli state – a state whose very nature, indeed its raison d’être, is based on constraining both the egalitarian, transformative potential that constitutes the impulse of international law as well as any free internal constitutional reflection; giving as it does constitutionally entrenched, privileged citizenship to Jews.
  2. Responsibility: the conference explores the challenge posed by Historic Palestine to ethical reflections on legal principles that demands the accountability of and action by actors in international law.
  3. The question of exceptionalism and the law is a key theme in legal and constitutional reflection, and Israel serves as a place within which to explore this notion of ‘exception’. “On the one hand, Israel compels us to consider whether and how to address its inbuilt non-egalitarian basis but also, on the other hand, raises the possibility of a moral exception that allows toleration of some of the injustice as ‘reasonable injustice’.  The suffering of European Jews is often cited as a justification for the existence and nature of the state in the geographical location of historic Palestine, thus eschewing structured suffering inflicted on the non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs by that state.  In a related context, debates will ensue as to whether there is any ground to hold the State of Israel as exceptional in comparison with other unjust regimes, especially given the fact that many states, including the United States and Australia, were established as a consequence of extreme violence towards indigenous populations.

The conference will link legal, ethical, political, historical and philosophical issues that follow from these pillars.  In so doing it will have to consider the extent to which the legal challenge posed by historic Palestine necessitates a meditation on the nature of international law itself: what it is, what it is for, and to what extent the state is an essential actor with a duty to respond to and avert structural and systematic injustice and suffering. Depending on the views taken on these questions, legal arguments can overcome conventional limits of many of its doctrines including self-determination, international criminal law, peremptory norms of international law, states’ and United Nations responsibility, state recognition and indeed the whole basis for norm creation and enforcement in international law.

Self-interpretation of international law, moreover, will be linked to some argumentative possibilities within it, for instance concerning the challenge posed by historic Palestine to international law’s dependence on the intrinsic notion of ‘a state’. Nothing short of the contestable limits, and thus potentialities, of international law is at stake. The conference will include a detailed examination of Israel’s domestic law, the reflexivity of Israel’s constitutional structure with reference to its own domestic law, and its structural ability (or inability) to observe international legal obligations.

In considering these issues, complex questions arise concerning the relation of law and morality, the philosophy and history of international law, and wider subjects ranging from the history of Palestine to general philosophy. The conference will therefore be highly inter-disciplinary, enabling the formation and contestation of appropriately informed legal arguments. Last but not least, the connection between the constitutional Israeli municipal law and international law demands critical and refined exploration and debate.

A Platform for Debate 

Recognising the moral as well as legal complexities these issues raise, and the intensity of emotions involved, the conference’s purpose is to open up and serve as a platform for scholarly debates rather than positing an activist aim of adopting a firm normative position. In exploring possible legal arguments and disagreements that relate the jurisprudence of international law to its various doctrines, the conference will provide a wide range of perspectives and outlooks. These can explore and contest radically different views concerning the legal duty and capacity of international law, jurisdictionally and in terms of institutional responsibility, to enforce a reasoned position with regard to the prima facie case for asking the question of the legal validity and legitimacy of the Israeli state. In turn, it can examine the condition of validity for any future polity that can be envisioned in historic Palestine.

Dedication of Conference and Book

The conference and the book of its proceedings will be dedicated to Henry Cattan (1906-1992), a leading Palestinian international lawyer, indeed a legal prophet, who long ago mounted a challenge to the validity of the state of Israel and the legal and moral authority of those institutions that brought it about.

Papers and Panels

The conference will be plenary and will consist of invited keynotes and panels. Each consists of three or four 20 minute papers.  Substantial time will be given for audience participation.

Please send a title and 250 word abstract along with a 150 word biographical note to:  Please include personal details, institutional affiliation, contact telephone number and email address.

Deadline for panels and papers: Friday 17th October 2014


The conference will have its webpage linked to Southampton Law School Website from April 2014.

For general inquiries concerning themes and nature of the conference please contact:

Professor Oren Ben-Dor, Law School, University of Southampton, UK,

Professor George Bisharat, University of California Hastings College of the Law, US,

For General inquiries regarding organisation, registration and accommodation, please contact:

Ms Joanne Hazell, Event Administrator, Faculty of Business and Law, University of Southampton,


The proceedings of the conference will be published as an edited collection and the whole conference will be documented and filmed.

Fees and Funding

We will be able to either fully fund, or to substantially assist with the funding of, contributors’ expenses who will give papers and keynote addresses. There will be a conference fee of £50. Concessions: students £30 and free entrance for the unwaged. Payment will be made with the online registration, please follow the webpage for alternative method of payment.


  1. “the state of Israel has relied on a unilateral declaration…”
    You can express your political bias without distorting history

  2. “The legality, validity and legitimacy in international law of the Israeli state — a state whose very nature, indeed its raison d’être, is based on constraining both the egalitarian, transformative potential that constitutes the impulse of international law as well as any free internal constitutional reflection; giving as it does constitutionally entrenched, privileged citizenship to Jews.”

    Are you truly saying there is no internal legal analysis in Israel ? Where is your authority on the nature or indedeed the raison d’être come from ?

    How do you intend to steer away from emotional responses ?
    This by it’s own admission ( where the proceeds go ) is just a witch hunt !

  3. This conference appears prima facie deceptive. It claims to be a “platform for debate” rather than an “activist aim of adopting a firm normative position.”

    But the debate is constrained by assumptions about the illegitimacy of Israel as a Jewish State and the presumed superior legitimacy of a Palestinian one. Both law professors have built public careers of lawfare against Israel. Now this conference aims to recruit and indoctrinate more lawyers in the fight against Israel.

    The aim of delegitimizing the Jewish state is quite activist and normative. No opportunity is presented to argue for its legitimacy and to interrogate the legal and historical validity of Palestinian Nationalism.

    In fact, the agenda is transparent in the dedication of the conference, publcation and proceeds to honor a “leading Palestinian international lawyer, indeed a legal prophet, who long ago mounted a challenge to the validity of the state of Israel and the legal and moral authority of those institutions that brought it about.”

    Law schools and legal studies have an obligation to teach advocacy, debate and reason. This conference’s framing of one-sided anti-Israel activism as open intellectual dialogue is indicative of much of the propagandistic deception of lawfare against the Jewish state. The fact that it is sponsored by an ex-Israeli who publishes against his birthplace and the homeland of his people does not spare the endeavour of its charlatan anti-Semitism in the name of justice and international law.

  4. You can’t be pro-Palestinian and anti-Semitic since some Arabs are Semites too.

    I don’t know how you can profess to be pro-democracy and law and use that as a justification to massacre another group of people. A concern about a second holocaust is not a legitimate justification for a slow mass genocide, especially when that concern is unfounded. You want peace, then set a good example.

    I can understand concerns about the language and tone of the defining leading statements of this conference, but it’s about time all facets of this pointless conflict were analysed. The idea of it being organised by a law school means all legal analysis will done without emotion, meaning Israel’s right to exist will be viewed through the legitimacy of supra-national organisations to override sovereign lawmakers.

    I wish i could attend

  5. Concerns about a one-sided debate are nonsensical. One-sided debates take place all over the world every day. I doubt if the debates in the Knesset are any less one-sided than that proposed in Southampton. Presumably the group of speakers collecting at the conference will allow opposing views to be heard. Cancellation of this conference will be a sad day for free speech in Britain.

  6. This was win-win situation for you, maybe it was for the better that you showed how pro-Zionist and Zionist activism stifles “free speech”, “academic freedoms”, and interferes with these cornerstone British “values”.


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