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Right to free speech lost as French bow to pro-Israeli lobby

Paris university pulls plug on “Israeli apartheid” talk

David Cronin, electronic intifada

A Paris university has withdrawn permission for a Palestine solidarity conference at the behest of the Zionist lobby.

In a statement issued today, the authorities at the University of Paris 8 said that the title of the conference – “Israel: an apartheid state?” – was “of a strongly polemical character.” Because there had been strong reactions to its theme, the university predicted there could be a “serious risk posed to public order” if the event scheduled for 27 and 28 February went ahead.

The complaint against the conference was made by the representative council for Jewish organizations in France, or CRIF as it’s better known. It had objected to the participation of Omar Barghouti, coordinator of the Palestinian campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Boycott Israel “shock”

Barghouti’s presence in Paris would be “shocking”, according to CRIF, because the ideas that he espouses have “been found on several occasions to constitute an offence of incitement to discrimination.”

CRIF’s claim is misleading. While a number of BDS activists have been accused (ridiculously) of flouting French laws on racism, there have also been important rulings that uphold the right to urge a boycott of Israel. In December last, a court in the eastern city of Mulhouse acquitted 12 campaigners who had urged customers of the supermarket Carrefour not to buy Israeli goods.

I was also one of the invited speakers for the conference, which was part of , a series of debates and actions on university campuses throughout the world. The group behind the event, Collectif Palestine Paris 8, wasn’t consulted ahead of the university’s decision to ban it.

This isn’t the first time that CRIF has attempted to muzzle criticism of Israel on French campuses. Last year it strong-armed the authorities at the École normale supérieure(ENS), another Paris college, into forbidding a Palestine solidarity discussion. The big cheese at the ENS succumbed to the pressure.

The “miracle” of Israel

Earlier this month, CRIF underscored its political clout, when Nicolas Sarkozy addressedits annual dinner. The president used the platform to call Israel a “miracle,” marvelling at how “from the debris [of the Holocaust], a democracy has been born.”

On his best behavior now that he is seeking re-election, Sarkozy saluted the “courage” of Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who he has called a “liar” in private conversations with Barack Obama (that were overhead by journalists).

Anyone who has been following events in that “miracle” called Israel will know that Netanyahu and his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman are waging a war of attrition against civil liberties. Aspects of that war have been exported to France, where calling out Israel as an apartheid state is considered a threat to public order or, worse, a crime.

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