French university closes because of anti-Israel conference

By Jennifer Lipman, February 27, 2012
Pascal Binczak

Pascal Binczak

A Paris university has been forced to close for two days because of the "public order" threat posed by a group of anti-Israel activists.

A group called Collectif Palestine Paris 8 were initially given permission to hold a conference this Monday and Tuesday looking at Israel's "apartheid" practices on the campus of the Paris-8 University.

The event was billed as a chance to explore the "new sociological, historical and legal methods of internationally boycotting Israel".

Concern about the content of the conference led the university's president, Pascal Binczak, to withdraw permission and suggest that an alternative debate featuring speakers with different perspectives could be held instead.

In a comment piece for Le Monde he suggested the activists were "taking advantage of academic freedom" and criticised the organisers for the misuse of the term "academic conference". He also cited cases of antisemitism, including graffiti and signs equating a star of David with a swastika, affecting Jewish students at the university, as reasons for his decision.

"Mobilising for a political solution for the freedom of the Palestinian people…deserves better than this controversy," he said.

The activists went to the Paris courts to overrule the university's decision, but their request was rejected. However they stated that they would ignore Prof Binzac and hold it on campus anyway, prompting the university management to announce the closure of the university for the duration.

In a statement, the management said that the activists' dedication to "a radical" approach had forced "the worst decision".

They said the "highly polemic nature" of the event could have led to "disturbances to the public order."

Last updated: 6:08pm, February 27 2012