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.
“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.
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.