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Ban on Israel-Palestine debate ignites free speech row at French university
Noam Chomsky is among those upset by the Ecole Normale Suprieure's decision
By: Kim Willsher
21 March 2011

More than 150 of the world`s foremost academics have intervened in a simmering row over the banning of debates on the Israel-Palestine question at one of France`s universities, calling the move a threat to free speech.

Professors and intellectuals from Britain, the US and Canada, including American philosopher Noam Chomsky, signed a petition calling on the Ecole Normale Suprieure (ENS) in Paris to restore `its long history of free speech and political expression`.

The row erupted after group of students calling itself the ENS Palestine Collective invited the bestselling writer Stphane Hessel, 93, to a debate on the alleged criminalisation of supporters of the boycott of Israel in January.

Hessel is author of Indignez-Vous! (Time for Outrage) in which he expresses his belief in universal rights and criticises Israel`s treatment of Palestinians.

As well as Hessel, the Palestine Collective also invited a former French justice minister, two Israeli pacifists and the Palestinian representative in Europe.

Less than a fortnight before the event, the university director, Monique Canto-Sperber, withdrew permission for the event. A few weeks later, she refused permission for a Palestine Collective-organised conference as part of `Israel Apartheid Week`. When her decision was applauded by a group of Jewish organisations, the Palestine Collective - a group of 15 students and teachers - accused her of bowing to pressure.

A Paris court struck down her ruling, but a higher court upheld it, arguing that higher education must be `independent of all political, economic, religious or ideological influence`.

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