The latest lunacy in France and what we can do about it

March 14, 2011

In News

The École Normale Supérieure in Paris (also known as Normale Sup’ or the ENS) is one of the most prestigious French grandes écoles (public higher education establishments outside the mainstream framework of the public university system).

Last October, a group of students and professors at the ENS decided to create the “Collectif Palestine ENS” in order to organise conferences about Palestine. This is a very normal thing since it is a tradition for students and professors to organise themselves into political or ideological groups in order to provide information about their subject of interest. For instance, last June, the group of ENS students called “Club Culturel Juif” [Jewish Cultural Club] organised a conference on the legitimacy of Zionism, with the collaboration of the Direction of the ENS.

In January, the Collectif Palestine ENS wanted to organise a conference with Stéphane Hessel who is being sued by Zionist groups for antisemitic incitement because he said he thinks people should boycott Israeli products made in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Stéphane Hessel is a 93-year-old diplomat, former ambassador to the UN and to Israel and French resistance fighter and intelligence agent for the Free French, tortured by the Gestapo and deported to Dachau. Born German of Jewish origin, he obtained French nationality in 1937. He participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

After accepting the conference, the Director of the ENS, Monique Canto-Sperber [MCS], changed her mind under the pressure of the CRIF, Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France (English: Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions), which is the equivalent of the American AIPAC and ADL, or, we might say, the self-appointed representative of the Israeli right in France. CRIF unconditionally supports Zionist goals and the state of Israel. The government joined the CRIF in pressuring MCS. After she cancelled the Hessel conference, the CRIF published a statement congratulating the bravery of her decision, etc., and congratulating itself for having single-handedly obtained the decision. In response to our drawing attention to the CRIF’s claim to have been behind her decision, MCS wrote an article in Le Monde, insisting she had no relation or contact with the CRIF.

After that 600 people from the ENS (students, professors, employees, alumni; NB: 200 students are admitted each year) signed a petition asking the Direction to treat Palestine ENS like any other group at the ENS and to let them organize their conferences.
The ENS Direction received us at the beginning of February and said it regretted the Hessel incident (i.e., it was embarrassed by the weeks of headlines and bad publicity) and that it would no longer censor our activities in the future.

We told her we were planning to organize conferences during Israel Apartheid Week (IAW). After not responding for 2 weeks, she said that the conferences were canceled without giving any reasons explaining why; we then took her to the Administrative Court. She wasn’t expecting this at all and was quite shocked. And as it happens, the lawyer who defended her is a member of the Direction of the CRIF (although she said: I have no relation with the CRIF!). Nevertheless, we won the case. She appealed to the highest administrative court, called the Conseil d’Etat. The Minister of Education sent a letter to that Court saying that she was supporting MCS in her decision, because if the judgement of the first Court is confirmed, that would mean that all the universities in France would be free to organize IAW, which is not acceptable. Then, last Friday morning, at the Conseil d’Etat, the judge said he received a whole file from the government in support of MCS. The result was that the Conseil d’état overturned the lower court’s decision and upheld the Direction’s cancellation of the event. We are currently in the process of appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.

Please sign our petition: