Pro-Israel professor withdraws from Ireland summit over Richard Falk controversy

The conference debating Israel's right to exist will feature a number of ardent critics of the Jewish state, including Israeli anti-Zionist historian llan Pappe and Professor Oren Ben-Dor.

Richard Falk (photo credit: REUTERS)
Richard Falk
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A British professor scheduled to speak at a conference debating Israel's right to exist has withdrawn from the event after a writer who has endorsed a book espousing antisemitic conspiracy theories was added to the billing, The Jewish Chronicle reported Tuesday.
Founder and senior editor of Britain Israel Communications and Research Center (BICOM), Professor Alan Johnson, said that he will not be attending the “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Exceptionalism and Responsibility” conference in Cork, Ireland later this month due to controversial author Richard Falk's participation.
“I have informed the organizers of the Cork Conference that I will no longer be participating," Johnson said in a press statement.
"The organizers have issued an invitation to Richard Falk to give a keynote speech... by inviting a speaker who espouses antisemitic conspiracy theories the conference is now objectively an attempt to normalize antisemitism and I cannot attend such an event," he added.
The conference, scheduled to begin on March 31, will feature a number of ardent critics of the Jewish state, including Israeli anti-Zionist historian llan Pappe and the University of Southampton’s Professor Oren Ben-Dor.
Johnson previously stated that he believed he had a duty to attend the conference in order to “defend Israel’s right to exist.”
It was only after the addition of Falk, Johnson told The Jewish Chronicle, that he reconsidered his participation in the conference, arguing that Falk’s appearance “changes the character of the event.”
Johnson noted Falk's endorsement of a book by former-Israeli musician and writer Gilad Atzmon as a decisive reason, arguing that Atzmon’s book as “openly antisemitic – yet with a tribute on the back page from Falk.”
The book, titled the Wondering Who? questions whether the blood libel was false, declares that “robbery and hatred is imbued in Jewish modern political ideology on both the left and the right” and that “the history of Jewish persecution is a myth, and if there was any persecution the Jews brought it on themselves,” according to The Jewish Chronicle.
Falk later endorsed the book, writing in a blurb that Atzmon's work was “a transformative story told with unflinching integrity that all [especially Jews] who care about real peace, as well as their own identity, should not only read, but reflect upon and discuss widely.”
Atzmon has previously described himself as “a proud, self-hating Jew."
With Johnson's absence, the Cork conference has now only one pro-Israel speaker scheduled for the event, former Jewish Chronicle columnist Geoffrey Alderman.
In a request for comment by The Jewish Chronicle, Alderman said he intended to “argue that under international law and in principle ethnic Jews have the right of settlement throughout the area of Mandate Palestine west of the Jordan River (including what is known as the West Bank), that this right extends to Jews whether or not they are citizens of the state of Israel, but not to Israeli citizens who are not ethnically Jewish, and that the state of Israel has a legal obligation to take any step and all steps necessary to uphold this right.”
The Cork conference was originally set to take place at Southampton University in 2015, but was cancelled on health and safety grounds.
Falk recently made headlines after he co-authored a controversial UN report calling Israel an "apartheid state" late last week,  earning a rebuke from the United States who said they were "outraged" by the paper.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres later asked the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, or EWCWA, to remove the report, saying the paper “does not reflect the views of the" UN leader.