BRUSSELS – A French university on Monday closed its doors for two days to avoid
hosting an event designed to encourage a boycott of Israel.
representative body of French Jewry, called the closure of the University of
Paris VIII “a victory in the fight against the boycott campaign.”
attributed the closure to a recent French court ruling stating that political
boycott campaigns do not belong in academia. In contrast, the board of the
university – a public institution – cited the need to preserve “public
The controversy leading to the closure revolved around a
discussion event titled “New Sociological, Historical and Juridical Approaches
to the Call for International Boycott: Israel, an Apartheid State.”
organizers described the event as a seminar but the university rejected this
term, calling would-be participants “protesters.”
Event organizers then
said they would hold the event with or without the university’s consent –
leading the university’s president to announce a two-day shutdown.
event was planned as part of the eighth annual Israeli Apartheid Week, a series
of activities on university campuses, primarily in Europe and North
“The list of speakers at the so-called seminar showed this was no
academic event but a political gathering to bash Israel,” Pascal Markowicz,
president of CRIF’s International Relations Commission, told The Jerusalem
He added that the university’s decision not to host the event was
connected to a ruling by the French Council of State. On March 7, 2011, the
council ruled that the École Normale Supérieure, a prestigious Paris college,
was justified in refusing to host a lecture by an activist – also planned as
part of Israeli Apartheid Week – that promoted a boycott of Israel. In its
ruling, the council, acting as an administrative court of last resort, said that
higher education must be “independent of all political, economic, religious or
The University of Paris VIII, however, cited only
“public order” concerns in banning the event.
Dr. Moshe Kantor, president
of the European Jewish Congress, welcomed the university’s decision but said a
principled decision would have been preferable.
“We welcome any decision
that deprives anti-Israel, and frequently anti-Semitic, organizations of
respectable platforms,” he told the Post.
“While there is speculation
that the university canceled the event due to legal reasons, it would be far
preferable if educational institutions refused to hold this type of events on
moral grounds. This event, by its very nature, would have been a veritable
Joel Rubinfeld, co-chairman of the European Jewish
Parliament, a recently founded forum based in Brussels, told the Post that he
regarded the event’s cancellation as “a victory to those fighting the boycott
campaign.” However, he also said that he “regretted to hear the university clung
to technical issues instead of publicly taking the correct and principled
“Citing ‘public order’ means that the issue of politicized
events in academia must be rehashed each and every time anew,” Rubinfeld said.