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French philosopher who shut down Paris BDS event as ‘anti-Semitic’ and one-sided will lecture in NY on ‘Free Speech’

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On April 24, the French consulate in New York will present a Night of Philosophy: 62 lectures in 12 hours.

Kicking off the marathon in the ballroom on the second floor is a prestigious public figure, philosopher Monique Canto-Sperber. The President of a Parisian university, Canto-Sperber for many years hosted a weekly radio program on France Culture called “Questions d’éthique” (and has a great sense of style).

Her subject on April 24 is “Freedom of Speech.” It seems clear from the summary that follows that she will be talking about the Charlie Hebdo caricatures. And I bet she will endorse Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish cartoons of the prophet but also urge that publications show restraint.

Freedom of speech lies at the heart of the liberal state. It requires that every citizen be entitled to freely express his or her opinions, however irrational, outrageous or immoral these opinions may be. The rationales of such fundamental freedom are many, but they all carry limitations which makes its defense plausible. For example, those who argue that freedom of speech conveys the respect due to the individual must acknowledge that it could be used in such a way as to exert a prejudice towards other people, therefore appropriate limitations are required. That is the common understanding of freedom of speech. Nevertheless, elements of contemporary culture, linked mainly to the formation of opinions and beliefs, seem to shed a different light on this value and the ways it could be defined. Can we go along with the traditional concept of freedom of speech which constitutes the liberal state? Or should we reconsider?

Hold on a second, though. In 2011, Canto-Sperber, a former Director of the École normale supérieure from 2005 to 2012, she has been notoriously cancelled two meetings at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, of which she was then director, because they were sponsored by a Collectif Palestine, which favors the boycott, divestment sanctions campaign (BDS) against Israel. One of those gatherings was to feature Stéphane Hessel, the late and glorious writer who inspired the occupy movement (and who died two years after the cancellation).

Stephane Hessel

Stephane Hessel

Academics were outraged by the cancellation and organized this excellent petition citing the school’s long history of activism:

We, the undersigned U.S., Canadian and British academics, many of us with long connections to France, and who have long admired the historic role of the École Normale supérieure in the critical and intellectual life of the country, are dismayed at recent events at the school. The actions of the Director, Monique Canto-Sperber, first banning a talk by Stéphane Hessel and then refusing to allow the Colléctif Palestine ENS to hold a meeting on campus, is a denial of the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Hessel is 93, a former ENS student, member of the Resistance, survivor of Buchenwald, one of the authors of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and of the recent best-selling Indignezvous!/Time for Outrage, in which he (among other things) criticizes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians…

The action of the Director is an exception to the school’s customary toleration of political action by students and it is a recurring exception, aimed at silencing one side in a needed debate about the Israel/Palestine conflict. We believe that the Director’s action contravenes a long history of free speech and political expression at the ENS as described in its own publicity : “For decades, the ENS has been the most prestigious site of French intellectual and scientific life. It participated in all the great intellectual debates of modern France, from the Dreyfus Affair to the movements of the 1930’s, and from the foundation of the human sciences to the avant-garde movements of the 1970’s.”

We call upon the Director to reverse her decision and to restore academic freedom, a practice long associated with this distinguished institution.

Canto-Sperber was embarrassed by the petition, which got international attention. She issued this defense in English of the censorship to Joan Wallach Scott, a leading historian at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. Canto-Sperber said it had nothing to do with Hessel himself. He was always welcome. But the event was one-sided.

The ENS is open to debates in which both sides of an argument are presented and no political manipulation occurs. These two aspects were clearly missing in the two events.

What a standard. How would it have fared during Vietnam, Algeria, or the civil rights movement? Can you imagine holding a meeting during the Dreyfus Affair and hosting Zola but then getting the other side?

And Canto-Sperber said, the presentation was anti-semitic:

[B]oth meetings were monitored by the organizers of the boycott campaign of the Israeli state. I take no position personally on the moral legitimacy or illegitimacy of this initiative. I just want you to know that the boycott of a State is illegal under French law, as well as anti-Semitic discourse.

If it’s anti-Semitic, isn’t that immoral?

The response to Canto-Sperber’s defense of the censorship is so good it needs to be excerpted at length. Notice that they hint at official pressure on Canto-Sperber to crush free speech:

It should not be necessary to stress that everyone involved with this petition is firmly opposed to anti-Semitism in all its forms.  We have seen nothing to suggest that members of the committee that attempted to organize the two events cancelled by the Director were in any way motivated by anti-Semitism, and we are concerned that accusations of anti-Semitism, a very grave offense indeed, are being made frivolously in order to silence one side in a needed debate about the Israel/Palestine conflict.

As for the question of the one-sidedness of the banned meeting, we don’t see a problem.  Many meetings that take place at ENS and elsewhere do not require that every opinion on a matter be presented. It is not a matter of representing opposing views, and achieving “balance”, but of hosting events that ask serious questions about the relationship between discrimination, occupation, social justice, and international law.  There is a long tradition at ENS that has done precisely that.

Those of us who circulated the petition were aware that the banned events were organized in connection with an initiative in favor of boycott, divestment, and sanctions as a possible response to what are widely seen as Israeli violations of international law. The petition took no position on this initiative, and a number of those who signed the petition have gone on record in opposition to the academic boycott in particular.  It is safe to say, however, that everyone who signed the petition was deeply disturbed to learn that the boycott, a long established tactic of non-violent political mobilization, can simply be ruled illegal in France.

One might have thought that such illegality should be of concern to the ENS, the subject for a seminar or conference, and that the director would make an appropriate statement opposing such a blatant contradiction of international legal precedent, rather than seeking the support of a court for the bannings and taking refuge in the statement of that court.

If the director of one of the most prestigious institutions of French scholarship feels she faces unspecified sanctions for allowing a meeting on campus to discuss the exercise of what is elsewhere recognized as a fundamental democratic right, then freedom of speech in France is in greater danger than we feared.

[The authors are Natalie Zemon Davis, of the University of Toronto; Michael Harris, Professor of Mathematics, Université Paris-Diderot; Jonathan Rosenhead, Emeritus Professor of Operational Research, London School of Economics; and Joan Scott]

I wonder how Canto-Sperber will address her own suppression of the discussion of BDS in her lecture in the ballroom of the French consulate, which, by the way is free and open to the public.

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62 Responses

  1. lonely rico
    April 10, 2015, 12:14 pm

    Slightly O/T

    Friday April 10 –

    Conference (live) – The Israel Lobby: Is it good for the US ? Is it good for Israel ?

  2. mijj
    April 10, 2015, 12:19 pm

    “free speech” is, presumably, the code name for suppression of a particular characteristic.

    • Atlantaiconoclast
      April 11, 2015, 6:20 pm

      It certainly does not apply to historical revisionism regarding the Holocaust. You can be put in jail or fined for simply questioning the 6 million figure. Where are these free speech advocates then? Where were they when someone at Charlie Hebdo was fired for mocking a Jewish person?

  3. pabelmont
    April 10, 2015, 12:24 pm

    If propounding boycott of a State is illegal in France, then those who do so (the BDS community, if any, in France) should expect to be arrested.

    Same if: no need to mention the rather serious (and rather different) allegation of antisemtiism: if a meeting would violate French law, that is a sufficient reason to ban the meeting. Period. Adding “antisemitism” (and should not the allegation of antisemitism itself be a serious defamation and therefore actionable as libel?) seems unnecessary and therefore seems either the real reason or else a sop to Zionists. She, as administrator, had no apparent need to make a sop. So one assumes that there was secret pressure brought to bear and that such pressure (as usual in USA) was the real reason for banning the meeting.

    How has BDS fared in France since then? Anyone arrested? Can anyone quote the statute or other source of French law that (so it is claimed) makes it illegal to boycott (or to propound a boycott?) of a State?

    • HarryLaw
      April 10, 2015, 12:50 pm

      Pabelmont, this from Haaretz “Trichine, 54, is one of approximately 20 anti-Israel activists who have been convicted under France’s so-called Lellouche law. Named for the Jewish parliamentarian who introduced it in 2003, the law is among the world’s most potent legislative tools to fight the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, and has catapulted France to the forefront of efforts to counter the movement through legal means”.

      • pabelmont
        April 10, 2015, 1:16 pm

        I did the easy thing to try to find out what the Lellouche Law is. Not much luck, but a start. One puzzle: This law seems to be part of the French Criminal Code and should — I would have imagined — dealt with crimes AGAINST persons in France. And Israelis-in-Israel are not such. Here, it seems, an action touching on foreigners outside France is somehow a crime IN France.

        DRAFT LAW
        Article 1

        (No. 0350 – Proposed legislation on the penalties for racist offenses (Pierre Lellouche))

        Before the last paragraph of Article 222-3 of the Criminal Code, it is inserted the following paragraph:
        “The offense defined in article 222-1 was committed because of membership or non-membership, real or supposed, victims of an ethnic group, nation, race or religion, penalty is increased to thirty years’ imprisonment. »

        Article 2

        Before the last paragraph of Article 222-8 of the Code, shall be inserted the following paragraph:
        “The offense defined in article 222-7 was committed because of membership or non-membership, real or supposed, victims of an ethnic group, nation, race or religion, penalty is increased to thirty years’ imprisonment. »

        Article 3

        Before the last paragraph of Article 222-10 of the Code, shall be inserted the following paragraph:
        “The offense defined in article 222-9 was committed because of membership or non-membership, real or supposed, victims of an ethnic group, nation, race or religion, sentence increases to twenty years’ imprisonment. »

        Article 4

        Before the last paragraph of Article 222-12 of the Code, shall be inserted the following paragraph:
        “The offense defined in Article 222-11 was committed because of membership or non-membership, real or supposed, victims of an ethnic group, nation, race or religion, penalties are increased to ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 ¤. »

        Article 5

        Before the last paragraph of Article 222-13 of the Code, shall be inserted the following paragraph:
        “When the offense defined in the first paragraph was committed because of membership or non-membership, real or supposed, of victims to an ethnic group, nation, race or religion, the penalty is increased to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 ¤. »

        Article 6

        Article 322-1 of the same Code is supplemented by the following paragraph:
        “When the destruction, degradation or deterioration of property belonging to others was committed because of membership or non-membership, real or supposed, of the person owner or user of the property of an ethnic group, nation, race or religion, the penalties are increased to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 ¤. They are increased to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 ¤ where the property is a place of worship, school or educational institution or school transport vehicle. »

        Article 7

        After the third paragraph of Article 322-8 of the Code, shall be inserted the following paragraph:
        “3. When was committed, was because of membership or non-membership, real or supposed, of owning or user of the property to a particular ethnic group, nation, race or religion. »

        Article 8

        After the first paragraph of Article 322-9 of the Code, shall be inserted the following paragraph:
        “It is the same when the destruction, degradation or deterioration of property belonging to others was committed, under the conditions specified in Article 322-6, on account of membership or non-membership real or supposed, from owning or user of the property to a particular ethnic group, nation, race or religion. »

        Article 9

        I. – Article 397-6 of the Criminal Procedure Code is supplemented by the following paragraph:
        “Notwithstanding the first paragraph, they are applicable to minors over fifteen years who have committed offenses under the penultimate paragraph of Article 222-12 and 222-13, and in the last paragraph of Article 322-1 of penal code. »
        II. – In the seventh paragraph of Article 5 of Ordinance No. 45-174 of 2 February 1945 on juvenile delinquency, the words “in any case” is replaced by the words “subject to the provisions of the second paragraph of Article 397-6 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. ”

        No. 0350 – Proposed legislation on the penalties for racist offenses (Pierre Lellouche)

      • Walid
        April 10, 2015, 1:57 pm

        Harry, it involves 12 women that are referred to collectively as the Mulhouse 12 after the Carrefour supermarket in Mulhouse they visted following Cast Lead to plaster West Bank settler produce with stickers inviting customers to boycott them. The 12 women are aged between 23 and 68 and after having been arrested for disturbing the peace, the local lower court based on a Paris court judgement covering a very similar case that was acquitted, released them on probation and told them to stay away from Carrefour. But to their surprise, the prosecutor took their case to the appeals court in November 2013 where the initial judgement was overturned and they were condemned to each pay 1000 Euros as well as 120 Euros for court costs with a suspended jail sentence and for the 12 to collectively pay 28,000 Euros to the Office for Vigilance Against Antisemitism, the France-Israel Alliance, Avocats Sans Frontières and the LICRA. It was evidently a judgement to silence any future boycotters of Israeli products.

        The Mulhouse 12 appealed their case to the Court of Cassation.

      • pabelmont
        April 10, 2015, 2:11 pm

        Articles (apparently of the French Criminal Code) referred to in the Lellouche Law.
        Application to BDS unclear. Perhaps French courts have dramatic license ?

        ARTICLE 222-1
        The subjection of a person to torture or to acts of barbarity is punished by fifteen years’ criminal imprisonment.
        ARTICLE 222-7
        Acts of violence causing an unintended death are punished by fifteen years’ criminal imprisonment.
        ARTICLE 222-9
        Acts of violence causing mutilation or permanent disability are punished by ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of €150,000.
        ARTICLE 222-11
        Acts of violence causing a total incapacity to work for more than eight days are punished by three years’ imprisonment and a fine of €45,000
        ARTICLE 222-13
        Acts of violence causing an incapacity to work of eight days or less or causing no incapacity to work are punished by three years’ imprisonment and a fine of €45,000 where they are committed:
        1° against a minor under fifteen years of age;
        ARTICLE 322-1
        Destroying, defacing or damaging property belonging to other persons is punished by two years’ imprisonment and a fine of €30,000, except where only minor damage has ensued.
        Drawing, without prior authorisation, inscriptions, signs or images on facades, vehicles, public highways or street furniture is punished by a fine of €3,750 and by community service where only minor damage has ensued.
        ARTICLE 322-6
        Destroying, defacing or damaging property belonging to other persons by an explosive substance, a fire or any other means liable to create a danger to other persons is punished by ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of €150,000. Where this is a forest fire, or fire in woodland, heathland, bush, plantations, or land used for reforestation and
        belonging to another person, and takes place in conditions so as to expose people to bodily harm or to cause irreversible environmental damage, the penalties are increased to fifteen years’ criminal imprisonment and to a fine of €150,000.
        ARTICLE 322-8
        The offence defined by article 322-6 is punished by twenty years’ criminal imprisonment and a fine of €150,000:
        1° where it is committed by an organised gang;
        2° where it causes another person total incapacity for work in excess of eight days;
        3° where it is committed because of the owner or user of the property’s membership or non-membership, true or supposed, of a given ethnic group, nation, race or religion.
        Where the offence involves a forest fire, or fire in woodland, heathland, bush, plantations, or land used for reforestation and belonging to another person, the penalties are increased to thirty years’ imprisonment and a fine of €200,000. The first two paragraphs of article 132-23 governing the safety period are applicable to the offences set out under the present article.
        ARTICLE 322-9
        The offence defined by article 322-6 is punished by thirty years’ criminal imprisonment and a fine of €150,000 where it causes another person mutilation or permanent disability. Where the offence involves a forest fire, or fire in woodland, heathland, bush, plantations, or land used for reforestation and belonging to another person, the penalties are increased to life imprisonment and a fine of €200,000. The first two paragraphs of article 132-23 governing the safety period are applicable to the offences set out under the present article.

  4. Walid
    April 10, 2015, 12:57 pm

    BDS France is alive and kicking, especially the Toulouse chapter where the city mayor is campaigning against BDS. There has been 3 or 4 arrests and court actions against boycotters that made scenes at 2 Carrefour Supermaket branches and their position is that they are boycotting Israeli settlement products and not Israel itself. BDS France was very busy in the last few weeks with Israeli Apartheid Week events all over the country.

    Their website:

    • pabelmont
      April 10, 2015, 2:19 pm

      Walid, thanks so much for explaining (a bit above) that the CONVICTION was for property damage. Not for BOYCOTT. And after all that work I did, sigh!

      • Walid
        April 11, 2015, 1:02 am

        Pabelmont, no work goes to waste, Pierre Lellouche of Tunisian Jewish origin is a prolific writer of laws since 20 years that sponsors or co-sponsors 51 separate laws currently pending in the France’s National Assembly, of which 4 deal with the current wave of terrorism and one which would denaturalize weapons-carrying terrorists. But not to be confounded with the French Jewish cinematographer Claude Lelouche of great films fame; the last scene from one of his classic masterpieces:

      • Stogumber
        April 11, 2015, 9:47 am

        But is there a legal difference between “property damage” and “boycott”? As far as I know , boycotts result often (or normally) in a loss of profit. And “loss of profit” is legally often equalized to “damage”!!!

  5. Annie Robbins
    April 10, 2015, 1:08 pm

    “(and has a great sense of style).”

    lol, what a funny embed!!!

  6. a blah chick
    April 10, 2015, 2:15 pm

    There’s always multiple sides to every story but here’s the thing…not every side carries the same MORAL weight. Is anyone allowing serial killers and rapists unlimited access to “explain” why they do what they do?

  7. John Douglas
    April 10, 2015, 3:33 pm

    Thanks Philip,

    RE: “I wonder how Canto-Sperber will address her own suppression of the discussion of BDS in her lecture in the ballroom of the French consulate . . . ”

    At very least she should invite Philip to be there to dispute her when she addresses it. If not, it would be one-sided discourse and therefore should be suppressed.

  8. Walid
    April 10, 2015, 3:33 pm

    When I first saw the term “French Philosopher” I cringed at the thought of another so-called French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, who is actually more of a shit disturber than a philosopher. But in this case, the lady’s credentials and academic credentials are a mile long and we may be unjustly condemning her without knowing her story as she explained it in her own words and as partly explained in the Le Monde article posted by Phil.

    The episode started in mid-December 2010 when she was approached to book the hall for what she thought would be a debate between the intellectual Hessel and her student-teachers and she in fact welcomed the opportunity. But as the days leading up to the event approached, she started hearing more and more that the vent wasn’t actually a debate but rather a one sided presentation against Israel by pro-Palestinian activists, which went against the grain of l’Ecole normale supérieure’s (ENS) policy of welcoming debates especially on Middle East matters. By January 7th, she learned of flyers being distributed outside the ENS inviting people to the event and that it was organized by Peace and Justice for Palestine. org that was very active in campaigning for academic boycott of Israeli institutions. She also learned that the event was not to be limited to Hessel debating her students but open to the general public with a roster of pro-Palestinian activists scheduled to make speeches, a fact that had been kept from her when she accepted to book the hall. Since she had no intention of stopping the academic exchanges between the ENS and Israeli institutions and since it was the vocation of the organizers of the event to demand such a rupture, she decided to call the person with whom she had agreed to book the hall, advised her of the cancellation and offered her help in finding an alternate location to hold the event and a list of contacts names for halls were given to her. The French Philosopher acted on her own without any outside pressure to do so, not even from Criff or other Israeli organizations and did so to avoid confrontations that were bound to happen at the ENS with the pro-Palestinian crowd.

    And then, without anyone bothering to ask her why she had cancelled the event, the witch hunt started in the press, on the internet and the petitions signed by the academics.

    Donna Shlela, President of U of Miami, with Lebanese roots did much much worse towards Palestinians and nobody threw so much as a pebble her way.

    • a blah chick
      April 10, 2015, 4:06 pm

      Thanks, Walid. I always appreciate your responses because they often make me go “hmmm” in a good way.

      I think what frustrates me about controversies of this type is that though the Zionist perspective is given unlimited access to spread its version of history the Palestinian side must often be “balanced” with opposing viewpoints. That doesn’t seem fair.

    • AAG
      April 11, 2015, 3:05 am

      Walid, what you have reported is not accurate ! Canto-Sperber censored two events in the same year organized by the Collectif Palestine-ENS. The first one is a meeting with Stéphane Hessel, the second one is a series of conferences and debates as part of the international Israeli Apartheid Week.

      Here is some information posted at the time by the Collectif Palestine-ENS :

      The scandal which resulted from the ‘Hessel Case’ could have led one to think that the current governing body of the ENS would abandon its attempt to silence criticism of Israeli policies.

      The Collectif Palestine-ENS, a group consisting of students and lecturers, wishes to continue its activities. In order to determine whether it is appropriate to refer to the Israelo-Palestinian situation as Apartheid, the group has set up a program comprising a series of conferences and debates as part of the international Israeli Apartheid Week, aimed at the ENS community. This program was submitted to the Director of the ENS, together with a request for a room and an open proposal to have discussions and reflections concerning the question of security, which according to the Director, had motivated the decision to ban the meeting within the establishment.

      After two weeks of equivocation, the Director of the ENS finally announced her decision to refuse the proposal on 21st February, without even bothering to give a reason. In order to protest against this regime of exception [state of emergency? emergency rules?] to which it had been subjected within the establishment, and to defend its rights, the Collectif Palestine ENS decided to refer this matter to the Administrative Court on 24th February. On 26th February, the judge in chambers found the Collectif Palestine ENS to be right, making it clear that the complainants ‘are justified to argue that the Director of the ENS, by exercising her duties, has badly and illegally undermined the freedom of assembly, which is a form of fundamental liberty’.

      Counteracted by the judge’s decisions, the Director is about to start an appeal to the Council of State asking to invalidate the orders of the judge in chambers. She has also made it clear to the Collectif that she still refused to allow them to hold their conference. In order to defend ourselves further, we now have to try and gather as much support as possible.
      Over and above the question of Palestine, it appears important to us to react to the current ENS administration’s censorship policy, which clashes very radically with the traditions of openness and engagement which have hitherto prevailed within its premises.
      We therefore urge all the ENS community, as well as any citizen who values the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and assembly, to join the group supporting our initiative with the Administrative Court and the Council of State. A form is attached to this letter for this purpose. In return, we commit ourselves to keep you informed of the process with the governing bodies and the court.

      • AAG
        April 11, 2015, 8:45 am

        The meeting with Stéphane Hessel finally took place outside the École Normale Supérieure, in front of the Pantheon, and it turned into a demonstration against the censorship at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS)


      • Walid
        April 12, 2015, 4:04 am

        AAG and eGuard, thanks for reacting but here we are mixing up 2 separate incidents involving only one of them that develped into court case that was subsequently appealed.

        The first involved the booking of the hall in mid-December 2010 for the benefit of the intellectual and pro-Palestinian activist Stéphane Hassel on January 18, 2011 supposedly for a debate between Hassel and the students. The Director welcomed this event as she had repeatedly invited Hessel for such a debate with her students since the ENS encourages such exchanges. In time but before the scheduled event, the Director discovered through flyers being circulated and chatter on internet sites that the supposedly private debate with the students was actually becoming an open invitation to the general public with the podium to be shared by pro-Palestinian activists Michel Warchawski, Nurit Peled, Leila Shedid, the Palestinian rep in Brussels and others proponents of BDS. The French Jewish lobby CRIF got involved with complaints to the University of Paris, which resulted in the cancellation of the event at the ENS by the Director. This Hessel affair did not reach the courts but simply ended with the manifestation outside the ENS as mentioned by AAG. The director claimed to have been concerned with both the security issue and the nature of the scheduled non-debate, which had in fact become a free-for-all propaganda event, which went against the vocation of the ENS and Ministy of Education directives.

        The second event in February 2011 which gave rise to legal action and subsequent appeal by the Director involved her refusal to book the hall for an Israel Apartheid Week event March 8. 9, and 10 with a declared intention of campaigning for the rupture of academic exchanges between the END and Israeli institutions. The Director had no intention of getting her institution to stop any exchanges with Israeli institutions, so it was a foregone conclusion that the event would have degenerated into a security situation, so she refused renting the hall.

        Following the Director’s refusal to rent the hall for Israel Apartheid Week, the Collectif Palestine-ENS comprised of ENS pro-Palestine students took their case to the Paris Administrative Court that ruled in their favour that the Director had overstepped the bounds of civil liberties and free speech by refusing to rent the hall to the Israel Apartheid week people. The Director then decided to appeal the ruling at the Council of State on February 28th.

        It’s at this point that AAG stopped looking into the story.

        On or about the 7th of March 2011, the Council of State overturned the Administrative Court’s earlier ruling about the Director having committed any wrong and that in so many other words, she was in her full right to refuse to rent the hall for an obviously propaganda meeting, which went against the education department’s rules.

        Le Monde, March 7, 2011:

    • eGuard
      April 11, 2015, 2:07 pm

      Walid: the French Philosopher acted on her own (That capitalised “Philisopher” is Monique Canto-Sperber , but it would be better to mention her acting role as directrice). She throws around gratuit accusations of anti-Semitism by herself then. That, Walid, is the lowest grade of unacademic behaviour.

      You also describe that she cancelled because she herself opposes an academic boycott. What is she doing in an academy at all? Why should she inject her own political opinion as the required outcome of a discourse? Why would she even speak about “free speech”, what does she know? Why does she say I do not take side on the moral (il)legitimacy when she just did so?

      • Walid
        April 12, 2015, 4:13 am

        “You also describe that she cancelled because she herself opposes an academic boycott. What is she doing in an academy at all?”

        eGuard, other than for a musically-inclined attachment to Barenboim, had you ever heard academic Edward Said say something nice about Israelis?

      • eGuard
        April 12, 2015, 7:23 am

        Walid, it is unacademic to pre-conclude (impose even) an outcome of a debate. And then forbid that debate. (and why would Said say nothing nice of Israelis? It could be his family).

    • Lilam
      April 17, 2015, 2:43 pm

      Walid, i wonder who you are and especially what is your ground to state such nonsense. I am the person who organised the conference with Stéphane Hessel, i was member of Palestine ENS. So i am the person (among others) who was supposedly received by MCS, but of course this never happened. And everthing you say NEVER happenned.
      1) The ENS welcolmed a conference on the legitimay of Zionism organised by the ENS jewish Cultural Club in December 2010 where most of the public were not students from the ENS : it was NOT a debate, just speeched stating that zionnism was legitimate.
      2) MCS cancelled the conference BECAUSE she was asked to do so by Valérie Pécresse and the CRIF (there was an article on their website thanking MCS for cancelling the conference.
      3) The ENS always welcomes political meetings of different groups, the only thing which was forbidden was to speak about palestine.

      • Walid
        April 17, 2015, 3:40 pm

        Lilam, we can still have a good discussion without getting your underwear all in knots. You are saying that the Director never met with you to offer you her help in finding an alternate location and I’m not doubting your word. I read that the Crif was bragging about having been instrumental in getting the event cancelled while the Director denied it. I wouldn’t be surprised if both the Director and the Crif lied about what actually happened. My questioning here is how everybody started throwing stones at the Director without knowing 10% of what actually happened. AAG here is also a former normalien or normalienne and I already said that AAG probably knows much more about this story than I do. The information I had came from various writings in Le Monde and first-person recounting of her version of the story in an Israel settler paper. So relax.

  9. Helena Cobban
    April 10, 2015, 8:23 pm

    Oh for goodness’ sake Phil, since when did linking to the boudoir picture that this kookie French “intellectuelle” posted do anything to denote a “sense of style” or indeed have any relevance to anything… It’s a real pity that so many French women all feel they need to present themselves in public as looking like Catherine Deneuve. I don’t think you, as a male, should encourage them.

    • just
      April 10, 2015, 8:28 pm


      Helena, I want to thank you for your participation and words @ today’s NPC conference “The Israel Lobby—Is It Good for the US? Is It Good for Israel?”.

      The conference was awesome! Here’s a link to some of it, starting with Miko Peled, who is followed by Gideon Levy with a phenomenal presentation :

      I hope that the entire conference becomes available for others to take advantage of. Thanks for all that you do!

      • Citizen
        April 10, 2015, 11:42 pm

        Guess CSPAN got too much zionist flack from the first such conference it aired last year–this time they refused to air another expert panel critique of Israel-US relationship.

    • Annie Robbins
      April 10, 2015, 11:39 pm

      i thought it was snark helena. ;)

    • Mooser
      April 11, 2015, 11:26 am

      Thanks, Helena! You mentioned Catherine Deneuve, which sent me to her films, and all those great Legrand tunes: “Watch What Happens”, “I Will Wait for You” and my favorite, from “The Young Girls of Rochefort” the wonderful “You Must Believe in Spring.”

      Okay, call me a sucker for French petite-bourgesie romantic cinema. And Michel Legrand.

      • Walid
        April 11, 2015, 2:34 pm

        Mooser, if you’re a fan of Legrand, you’d enjoy one of his compositions sung in Arabic by the Lebanese Hiba Tawaji, the current frontrunner on this season’s The Voice-France:

      • Mooser
        April 11, 2015, 10:05 pm

        “Mooser, if you’re a fan of Legrand, you’d enjoy one of his compositions sung in Arabic by the Lebanese Hiba Tawaji”

        Thank you very much Walid. A Legrand classic, “Windmills of Your Mind”

      • Walid
        April 12, 2015, 5:21 am

        Mooser, he’s also one of my favourites; there’s isn’t a type of music he hasn’t written including classical suites but my favourite Legrand is in jazz.

    • Mooser
      April 11, 2015, 12:20 pm

      “women all feel they need to present themselves in public as looking like Catherine Deneuve. I don’t think you, as a male, should encourage them.”

      Geez, Phil is already hella critical of Israel and Zionism. How much more do you want out of the man?

  10. Mayhem
    April 11, 2015, 10:58 am

    Philip bleating about the denial of freedom of speech to BDS advocates is hypocritical.  It is the BDS move­ment that is inher­ently pred­i­cated on the sup­pres­sion of speech and “free exchange of ideas”. Sup­port­ing boy­cotts of Israeli aca­d­e­mics, diplo­mats and per­form­ers is not con­sis­tent with free speech val­ues.  Fur­ther­more, anti-Israel stu­dents can­not legit­i­mately claim to sup­port a “free exchange of ideas” when they reg­u­larly dis­rupt and heckle pro-Israel speak­ers on cam­pus.

    An increas­ing num­ber of anti-Israel groups do not sup­port a free exchange of ideas and explic­itly argue that the pro-Israel voice does not even deserve to be heard. This tac­tic, known as anti-normalization, is increas­ingly being felt by pro-Israel groups on cam­puses across the coun­try whose coun­ter­parts refuse to engage in dia­logue with them and often try to dis­rupt or shut down pro-Israel events. The BDS movement’s supposed com­mit­ment to free speech and an open exchange of ideas is just a one-way street.

    • traintosiberia
      April 11, 2015, 2:44 pm

      Come back here when FOX and CNN ,ABC,NBC instead of interviewing Netanyahu for hours ,interview someone from Hamas or Hizbullah or Iranian Parliament with same dewey eyes,deference,and obedience .

    • Atlantaiconoclast
      April 11, 2015, 6:22 pm

      What you neglect to point out is that Israeli academic institutions regularly discriminate against non Jews, so yes, they SHOULD be boycotted. Boycott is a choice. We have the right to boycott things we don’t like.

  11. Mooser
    April 11, 2015, 1:04 pm

    Wow, Mayhem, that was really something, a devastating answer! It runs the full gamut of Hasbara, from A to B.

    • Mayhem
      April 13, 2015, 7:11 pm

      So we have selective free speech i.e. Mondoweiss double standards preventing me from responding to a comment made about a post of mine. Pure hypocrisy!
      @mooser, whatever I might say if it didn’t endorse your position you would call it hasbara. This is the classic pro-Palestinian cop-out strategy – if you have nothing to counter a pro-Israel argument you just say the word hasbara.
      I suppose that is not as bad as tossing back at me a pallywag i.e. a pro-Palestinian concoction based on lies or propaganda.

  12. Stogumber
    April 11, 2015, 1:28 pm

    About freedom of speech.

    When I read up the item in the “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” I found that the present philosophers occupy themselves nearly only with reasons why and how far to restrict freedom of speech. Only once in the middle of the article the author muses that perhaps one should first get clear about the reasons FOR freedom of speech, but it isn’t done.

    And that’s the main problem nowadays. People look at freedom of speech as if it was a kind of traditional habit – certainly venerable and a suitable matter for oratory about Western values – but not as an intellectual challenge. All intellectual work is concentrated (and rewarded) on the question why and how far freedom of speech can/must be restricted.

  13. eGuard
    April 11, 2015, 1:37 pm

    Canto-Sperber : … the boycott of a State is illegal under French law, as well as anti-Semitic discourse

    boycotting “a State”, i.e. any State, is anti-Semitic?

  14. traintosiberia
    April 11, 2015, 2:36 pm

    At the forefront of the boycotts and divestement has been Israel for decades. Ir provided the pens,words and the papers to the bought and paid Congress to draft Iraq Accountability Bill,Syria Lebanon Accountability bill, Iran Acountability Bills and Libya Accountability bIlls .
    In the process it killed children,women,and the elderly .It destroyed the future of the youths. It brought wars directly and indirectly to the innocents. It is no surprise to see Kristol offer the money and the words to Cotton to derail the Iran negotiations inorder to continue the same sanctions to kill more Iranains .

    • Walid
      April 12, 2015, 7:25 am

      Train, these accountability bills are simply general platforms or springboards from which the US moves on with subsequent lockjaw laws made possible by the initial accountability laws which on the surface appear inoffensive. In the case of Lebanon that you mentioned, the Syria Accountability Act of 2003 having the full name of “Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act” gives you the false impression that it’s all about kicking Syria out of Lebanon. It morphed into UN SC Res 1559 of 2004 that talked of disbanding militias with the between the lines understanding that it was actually aimed at disarming Hizbullah to give comfort to Israel. The 1559 in 2006 kicked off a new UN SC res 1701 after the war on Lebanon more forcibly reiterating the call to disarm militias in accordance with 1559, which of course alluded to Hizbullah, since no other armed militias existed in Lebanon at the time. All of this was kicked off by the Congressional accountability act. In short, beware of American accountability acts because they have a very long reach.

      • traintosiberia
        April 12, 2015, 10:10 am

        You are right. I will add the fact that these accountability are nothing but boycotts of ideas,properties,business,obstruction to free flow of commerce and trade and of education.
        America also using it UN veto power forces other nation to follow the Israeli play book.
        Oneday history will look at these 5 judges on UNSC and try to understand how in an age of democracy ,these 5 judges were allowed to conduct business for their own private interests .
        UNSC is supposed to act for the world peace,justice,and development . But it has become a block of some vested groups . Israel tag along,piggyback,and garner everything it needs in time of austerities which in its case is universal and perennial

  15. traintosiberia
    April 11, 2015, 2:39 pm

    Her philosophy one day will come to demystify the smoke around the antisemitism. She will not like the conclusion.

  16. MHughes976
    April 11, 2015, 3:36 pm

    The ENS case has interesting parallels with the Southampton University case on this side of the channel, though the Southampton people were questioning the legitimacy of Israel rather than calling for specific responses and the authorities responded in the name of public order rather than of the legality of BDS. Mind you, there are heavy threats to the legality of BDS in the UK too, which have really kept that movement within tight confines, not openly supported by any major organisation that I know.

    • AAG
      April 11, 2015, 4:14 pm

      Exact. As I explained in my answer to Walid, the Collectif Palestine ENS decided to refer the matter to the Administrative Court. The judge in chambers found the Collectif Palestine ENS to be right, making it clear that the complainants ‘are justified to argue that the Director of the ENS, by exercising her duties, has badly and illegally undermined the freedom of assembly, which is a form of fundamental liberty’. But the Director appealed to the Council of State which invalidate the orders of the judge in chambers. You should know that the Council of State is a body of the French government that acts both as legal adviserof the executive branch and as the supreme court for administrative justice, which looks strange in a democracy.

      • Walid
        April 12, 2015, 7:04 am

        AAG, for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of the Director of the ENS and imagine being asked by a group of WB settlers to rent the ENS hall for a conference of fellow settlers to disparage Palestinians and demand that the ENS cease all cooperation with Palestinians. Would you rent them the hall? I surely wouldn’t. So why can’t Director Canto-Sperber refuse to rent the hall to a group in which she doesn’t believe? So she is looking out for the Zionists; it’s her right to do so.

        BTW, she holds France’s highest honors, the Légion d’honneur, Officier de l’ordre national du Mérite, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. She is currently the President of PSL Research University (Paris), a new and innovative excellence entity that brings together 17 of the most prestigious academic institutions in Paris (such as the École Normale Supérieure, the Collège de France, the Paris Observatory, the Curie Institute, the Superior School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry, the National Chemical Engineering Institute in Paris, Paris-Dauphine University and the five most important Schools of Arts).

        In the Collectif’s message that you posted, it was stated that “the group had set up a program comprising a series of conferences and debates as part of the international Israeli Apartheid Week, aimed at the ENS community. ” So renting the hall at the ENS was planned to take on the ENS, and Canto-Sperber decided against it. This has nothing to do with free speech as the planned Israel Apartheid Week torpedo was specifically aimed at the ENS.

      • Walid
        April 12, 2015, 8:13 am

        AAG, what I’m trying to politely say in a roundabout way, is that just because Phil casts the first stone, we don’t all have to unquestioningly pick up stones and start firing away. Of course, more often than not, he’s right on target, but we still have to question. The overly dramatic title here about her “shutting down 2 events” is somewhat misleading. In fact, she did not shut anything down but simply refused to let them happen at her school. The 2 events could have been held elsewhere in Paris but the Collectif and Hessel himself were adamant on holding them at the ENS depite her offer to the Hessel event organizers to help find an alternate location. This should tell us something about their motive. A lot of stones are flying back and forth withot anyone really knowing what actually happened. I’m not sure that I know everything myself either.

        April 24th is still 12 days away and it would be great for Phil to attend the conference at the French consulate and to inteview her for a more up-to-date version of what actually happened in 2011. If after the interview he’d pick up a stone, I’d take his word for it and pick up the second one.

    • MHughes976
      April 14, 2015, 12:21 pm

      Just to say that I have heard no more about legal action at Southampton following the cancellation of the ‘anti-Israel’ conference. Perhaps the conference organisers decided that it was hopeless.
      I do not agree, though, that it is wrong in any sense to hold an academic conference with the basic purpose of arguing or publicising one side in a controversial matter. The proper response is not to insist on balance within that conference but to organise another to put the opposite case. It is the same with individual arguments: don’t silence one person if you don’t like the message, find someone else to contradict.

      • just
        April 14, 2015, 12:32 pm

        “Academics have failed with legal action against the University of Southampton after it cancelled a conference on Israel on safety grounds

        [Academics] fighting to hold a conference at a Hampshire university questioning the right of the state of Israel to exist have had their case thrown out of the High Court. …”


      • MHughes976
        April 14, 2015, 3:07 pm

        Thanks for info from the Romsey Advertiser, just. I note that the protesters have at least won ‘an enquiry’ into public safety in these circs, though I suppose it will take months and come to the conclusion that you never really know and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  17. Atlantaiconoclast
    April 11, 2015, 6:17 pm

    Anyone here remember the adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Olson on Little House on the Prairie? The one adopted after Nelly left, after marrying a Jewish man? Her name was Nancy, and though she looked like Nelly, she was a truly dreadful child, filled with anger and possessing no empathy whatsoever for other children. Yet her frequent refrain was, “You hate me”!, or “they hate me.” Every time I hear a Zionist call someone an anti Semite, it reminds of me of little Nancy.

  18. RoHa
    April 11, 2015, 9:33 pm

    French “philosopher “?


    • Mooser
      April 12, 2015, 5:02 pm

      “French “philosopher “? Ha!”

      Well, she probably know several other languages. Philosophizing in French must be very hard.

  19. AAG
    April 12, 2015, 9:02 am

    Walid, the Legion d’Honneur and the nomination to head PSL Research are political rewards. If you want a less bureaucratic perspective on the current French university reorganization, you can start with these blogs:

    And I certainly didn’t stop looking into the story in March 2011; I was part of the story at the time and I still am. You’re right that courts have been used to shut down BDS in France, and most university presidents have been happy to follow suit. It’s almost impossible to get an auditorium at a university to discuss BDS, much less to organize a campus boycott
    movement. Here are a few instances:

    Why are you supporting lawfare in France?

    As for the “security situation,” the threat at the time came from the JDL, which incomprehensibly is not banned in France. Are you saying that the JDL should have the right to shut down debate on French campuses?

    You asked me to put myself in the shoes of the Director of the ENS. I put myself in the situation of the students, the professors and the alumni. Stéphane Hessel is an extremely prestigous former student of this school.
    By the way, I am also a former student of ENS and I have organized a political conference as a student there during the first Gulf war. Many students from other schools and universities have attended without any problem.

    • Walid
      April 12, 2015, 1:06 pm

      AAG, you being a former student of ENS and personally involved in this rumble, I have to step aside as you are definitely more qualified to discuss it. I don’t support lawfare and if you’d have followed the thread here last July after the altercations at the synagogue with the JDL creeps, you’d know how much I’m against them.We’ve come full circle back to the essence of the problem at ENS, which is about whether or not the planned events with Hessel and the Apartheid Week were to be actual debates or simply platforms to disparage Israel. She claimed that the Crif had nothing to do with her decision, which is questionable since the Crif’s Prasquier, the then president blabbed to all that would hear that it had been instrumental in having called the Paris University to have the event cancelled. You said that you have yourself organized debates at the ENS for Gulf I without any hassles, which more or less confirms what the Director said about debates being welcomed at ENS. What Hessel and the Apartheid Week people wanted to hold at ENS were not debates but political rallies, and this what the Director objected to. We’re discussing something that happened 4 years ago; has there been other recent instances where the Director tried blocking a debate involving Palestinians?

      BTW, great links to university blogs, especially the first one.

      • Walid
        April 12, 2015, 1:50 pm

        For those interested, the late Tony Judt is a former normalien, having taught at the ENS. He had a small run-in with Directrice Monique Canto-Sperber in 2010 after he wrote a short article on French intellectuals and the prestigious ENS that she mistook.

      • AAG
        April 12, 2015, 5:22 pm

        Walid, the problem is the PEP phenomenon (Progressive Except on Palestine)!

        Even at the memorial service for Stéphane Hessel in 2013, French President François Hollande took pains to dissociate himself from the celebrated resistant, specifically for his support for a (mild) form of BDS, in these disparaging remarks:

        “It’s also the case that, even in support of a legitimate cause like that of the Palestinian people, he could say things that his own friends found incomprehensible. I was one of them. Sincerity doesn’t always equal truth. He knew that. But no one could deny his courage.”

        No blow is too low when it comes to defending the French partnership with Israel and its supporters in France.

      • Walid
        April 12, 2015, 10:24 pm

        AAG, thanks for the piece by Bamya. He is very eloquent and writes beautifully; I discovered that he is also a poet. But his after-the-fact open letter to Hollande is a lost cause and not much more than a letter to himself. He describes in it the past humanitarian glories of France but on its long list of accomplishments, he doesn’t mention Suez ’56 and Dimona or that France has been losing its virtue in Libya, Mali, the CAR and Syria. Those “freedom fries” really taught France a lesson on who was the boss. On reading to what degree French politicians including most ministers and the President of the Republic would give up their right arm to get invited to the annual Crif dinner makes it obvious that Palestine would never have a front row seat in France.

  20. traintosiberia
    April 12, 2015, 4:11 pm

    Moshe Yaalon poses for a photo with notorious racist blogger Pamela Geller

    How many times this minister has also visited Paris without raising ire from the philosopher -queen?

    Here is the typical combination of the collective intentional failures of the expected responsibilites : conduct of the BBC journalist, promoting Islamophobia,and abusing the podium which is supposed to confront the overt blithe lying by a minister .

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