Update: We have learned from organizers that the event at the University Paris 8 last night that the president had shut down over the weekend took place as planned after all. Organizers said that international outrage over the censorship caused the university to reverse its decision. Photos here.
Original post, before the administration’s reversal:
The following news statements about an event set for tomorrow night in Paris at a university founded in 1969 as an experimental center on social issues were issued today by the French Palestinian solidarity organization AURDIP (Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine) and the Collectif Palestine at the university.
AURDIP COMMUNIQUÉ – We have just learned that, once again, the presidency of the University Paris 8/Saint-Denis decided, at the last moment, to ban a conference, this one entitled Israel apartheid is real [featuring Max Blumenthal and Bilal Afandi]. The conference intended to shed light on Israel’s apartheid policy toward the Palestinian people, a policy that AURDIP itself has constantly condemned. As a collective of academics, we are outraged by this attack on academic freedom, the freedom of expression, and the freedom of open debate. As defenders of human rights and the respect of international law, we wish to express our deep dismay at the complicit silence that the administration of the University Paris 8 aims to force upon its students and faculty. We demand that the president of this university reverse a decision that can only exacerbate tensions while pretending to calm them.
Press Release of the Collectif Palestine Paris 8
Stop censorship at the University !
Once again the president of Université Paris 8-Saint Denis has flouted the principle of freedom of expression, by banning a conference organized by the collective Palestine Paris 8, in partnership with other organizations supporting the Palestinian people, just two days before the intended date. The goal of the conference is to condemn the apartheid policies of the state of Israel toward Palestinians. Among the invited speakers are Bilal Afandi, a young Palestinian activist; Max Blumenthal, a journalist from the United States, and a speaker from the BDS campaign.
The presidency’s motivation in censoring this event have never been clear. Expressing itself by means of the Maison de l’étudiant [house of students], which it uses to control student initiative, the university presidency has alternatively pointed to the absence of an available auditorium, the presence of a “controversial” speaker (Max Blumenthal, whose writings are nevertheless published in numerous outlets in the United States), publicity that “doesn’t meet norms,” the risk of disorder… Apart from this bureaucratic censorship, the presidency has not hesitated to use more direct means of repression, including sending university personnel to tear down our posters announcing the event.
In the current context, to ban such a conference amounts to aligning with the policy of exploiting the reaction to the attacks of last January 7 and January 9 in order to install permanently a version of freedom of expression with variable rules. We can still read “We are Charlie” on huge posters on the walls of the university. Doesn’t this mean the university is showing support for a controversial newspaper ? Should we understand that controversy is not legitimate unless it is consistent with the dominant ideology ?
Thus, according to the presidency, freedom of expression ends where there is the slightest risk of undermining the politics of the state of Israel at the level of the university. Still worse, this conference had the audacity to be listed as an activity of Israeli Apartheid Week — an international week of struggle and reflection against the apartheid policies of Israel, which is organized in numerous other universities in the world, notably in England, the United States, Palestine, South Africa, and several Latin American countries. Since 2012 (when the president decided to close the university in order to ban a meeting), pressure and censorship have become systematic when apartheid in Palestine is in question.
But we will not allow ourselves to be tamed by the presidency of the University of Saint-Denis, wallowing in its goals of normalization (whether they be in the domains of security, austerity, bureaucracy, or ideology) And since it prefers to yield to pressure and to accept the arguments of the defenders of Israeli policies, we will take responsibility on our side. We therefore intend to go ahead with this conference and we are calling for massive participation in a rally in front of Building D of the university, starting at 6 PM, to assert our right to speak about “controversial” subjects, our right to express our solidarity toward the Palestinian people, our right to self-organization and to independence of the student movement.