February 27, 2012
Mr. Pascal Binczak, President, Université Paris 8
2 Rue de la Liberté
Dear Mr. Binczak:
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) calls on you to reverse your decision to cancel the conference titled "Israel, a State of Apartheid?" scheduled for today, February 27. Absent reinstatement, you have an obligation to compensate the organizers of the conference for their relocation expenses.
In your press release, you explain that this conference had been approved with several conditions regarding organizers’ use of the University’s logo, and even the content of the conference. In fact, you note that approval of the conference ensured freedom of expression. Yet, even with all the aforementioned conditions in place, you succumbed to pressure from the Representative Council of Jewish Organizations of France (CRIF).
Your position that the controversial nature of the conference may lead to disturbances of the public order is troublesome, if not disingenuous. This stance violates universally held principles of academic freedom. The University states that its “main objective . . . has always been to give students a better understanding of the modern world while enabling them, at the same time, to achieve a long-term integration into society.” An understanding of the modern world, and a rich academic environment, are clearly not furthered by the kind of action taken here. Disagreement with the ideologies of conference participants is not an acceptable reason for cancelation. The University is a place for debate and disagreement, not for the silencing of unpopular opinions.
Furthermore, the way in which the conference was canceled leaves organizers in an untenable position. The University’s decision to cancel this academic conference came less than two weeks before it was scheduled to occur. Although the University emphasizes that it attempted to help the organizers find another space, it is both unprofessional and highly abnormal to force organizers to change venue with virtually no notice. This is compounded by the fact that the University admits that its actions are due, in part, to outside reaction.
What the University does not acknowledge here is that this “reaction” came not from the general public but from highly-organized political lobbying organizations. After the announced cancelation, CRIF boasted that its pressure, including the threat of a boycott, drove the University’s decision. CRIF argues that the conference was one-sided. What they fail to mention is that, while their viewpoint is regularly aired, the perspectives presented at the conference are routinely silenced. Organizations like CRIF have no place restricting the exchange of ideas inside the halls of learning.
Your capitulation to political pressure groups has meant a failure to provide a rich educational atmosphere for all your students. For these reasons, we call on you to immediately reinstate the conference, or compensate its organizers.
Sincerely, Heidi Boghosian Executive Director National Lawyers Guild