Video: Students walk out on Israeli ambassador in France

Students at Sciences Po Rennes, a public university in northwestern France, staged a mass walk-out from a lecture by the Israeli ambassador on Thursday.

The video above shows the students chanting “Liberté pour la Palestine” – freedom for Palestine – as the ambassador, Aliza Bin Noun, sits at the podium.

Then, speaking in turns, students deliver an uninterrupted five-minute statement indicting Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, condemning efforts to censor the Palestine solidarity movement in France and calling for full support of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

“We, students at Sciences Po Rennes, declare that we are firmly opposed to holding this lecture,” the statement begins. “Aliza Bin Noun was invited to our institution to represent the state of Israel, a colonial state governed by the extreme right.”

Calling it an apartheid regime, the students list Israel’s decades of violations, including settlement building in occupied territory, home demolitions, the 10-year blockade and repeated assaults on Gaza that have left thousands of civilians dead and injured and Israel’s violent repression of Palestinians who resist.

The students cite the landmark UN report, published this month and then quickly withdrawn under intense political pressure, that finds Israel guilty of apartheid.

“In recent weeks, the embassy that Aliza Bin Noun runs increased the pressure on several universities in order to prevent the holding of events as part of Israeli Apartheid Week,” the students charge.

They claim that members of a Palestine solidarity group received violent threats from far-right pro-Israel activists.

Israeli Apartheid Week is an annual series of events that last year took place in more than 225 cities across the world to raise awareness about how Israel meets the UN definition of apartheid and to build support for the BDS movement. It has also faced attempts at repression in the UK.

“We do not understand how a representative of the Israeli government can claim the right to speak in French universities while denying the right of activists against the Israeli occupation to express their solidarity with the Palestinians,” the Rennes students add.

They call on the French government to end its repression and prosecutions of BDS activists and for a full boycott of Israel. At the end, the students ask the audience to walk out of the room. The video shows dozens doing so to loud cheers and chants in support of Palestinian rights.

A local media report shows students holding a large Palestinian flag inside the lecture hall, while others rallied outside.

Hypocrisy

The ambassador gave her talk to the remaining students, but the event ended earlier than planned, an organizer told media.

Bin Noun later tweeted that it was “a shame that the pro-BDS students preferred to disrupt the lecture rather than stay and dialogue.”

In a statement published on the BDS France website, the student activists dismissed her comment in light of the efforts to censor Israeli Apartheid Week.

“We also reject the hypocrisy of making believe that this is a conflict between two entities with equal power that can be resolved by dialogue,” they added.

While these kinds of protests have been seen on campuses in North America and Britain, they have been relatively rare in France. In February, students at the University of Vienna protested during a talk by Ayelet Shaked, the Israeli justice minister who has promoted calls for genocide of the Palestinians.

Effort to ban rally

Meanwhile, the kind of censorship efforts the students condemn are continuing. France’s main Israel lobby group CRIF called on Paris police to prohibit a rally planned for Saturday in solidarity with Palestinians and in support of BDS.

CRIF claims that the rally will be anti-Semitic. CRIF president Francis Kalifat wrote to the police chief demanding the “banning of this demonstration that is contrary to the laws of our country.”

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo also urged the police to ban the rally, claiming it could endanger “public order.”

But the rally is set to go ahead at a location a short distance from the original venue. The local group organizing the rally – which is separate from BDS France – says that the new venue is one that the police said would be easier to secure.

Meanwhile, BDS France, the main coalition supporting the Palestinian-led boycott campaign, has not been deterred from mounting its own nationwide campaign.

“Despite all the legislative attacks, court trials, attempts at intimidation and cyber-attacks” against activists, BDS France said educational events were held all over the country for Israeli Apartheid Week.

“The success of these events encourages us to intensify our efforts to further develop the BDS campaign in France and especially its university component,” BDS France said.

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Science Po Rennes (Institut de Science Politique) is not a public university but part of what in France is called les grandes écoles, the students pass a very selective exam before entering, Science Po is considered the first step in order to enter the French adminidtartion.
I mention this (though this is not Science Po Paris) in order to indicate that many of these young students are going to have leading positions in French public administration and educational system in some years.

Ali Abunimah's picture

There is no contradiction between being a public university and being a selective, elite institution, which Sciences Po Rennes undoubtedly is. However, for the record, Sciences Po Rennes describes itself as “a state-run higher establishment, which enjoys administrative and academic independence.” In English, we call a state-run/state-owned institution a “public institution” as opposed to a private one.

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It wasn't the 'public' part but the fact that Science Po isn't a university that I wanted to point out, though I guess there's no equivalent in the US or UK.

Ali Abunimah's picture

For our purposes, “university” is an adequate shorthand for this higher education institution, since the article is not focused on the details of the French higher education system.

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But this is NOT a detail which you would know if you knew what Science Po is: these students are educated specifically to enter the civil service, public administration, ministries, diplomacy and the like (eventually continuing with l'Ecole Nationale d'Administration), and the fact that this demonstration took place 'in the heart of the system' and not in some random university is important, particularly since France has criminalized the BDS. Maybe you don't think it's important, but apparently French media does, I've never seen so many articles in the MSM on that kind of event.
Anyway, I won't bother you again ....

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What a brilliant display of solidarity. From the video it appears that the only way the Israeli ambassador could draw a crowd there was to fill the auditorium with her opponents. And the protest was carried off with superb dignity as well. Congratulations to the students at Sciences Po Rennes.

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Bravo to the brave French students who stood up to censorship and showed their support for the BDS movement. Israel is a criminal state and must be opposed by people of conscience everywhere.

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Bravo, French students...we need more people STANDING UP, not sitting down as these crimes go on and on. Everyone, post this URL to your FB or other social media pages.

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The students of Sciences Po Caen have had a courageous initiative .I congratulate them.I hope that the students of other French universities will take similar action (visit of a Israeli professor or scientist in any department) and follow BDS