The Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement is not only growing on American college campuses, but also at European universities. This is unsurprising, as anti-Semitism has been skyrocketing in Europe in recent years, and where there is anti-Semitism, BDS supporters often emerge. I am a Jewish French student, currently studying abroad in the U.S. for the year. At my university in Paris, Sciences Po Paris, a top political science school, BDS France supporters almost succeeded in calling off a conference at the beginning of the month, titled, “To be a Woman in Israel.”
The conference, scheduled for April 1, was organized by, “Paris Tel-Aviv,” a multi-denominational French-Israeli student association, with a mission of discovering Israeli culture and History. The conference was supposed to feature four women covering four inter-related aspects of women’s lives in Israel: the everyday life, the mandatory military service, the labor market, and Judaism; show an Israeli-French film: Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem (2014); and hold a discussion on women’s place in the Israeli society. The conference was apolitical and had nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
BDS France denounced the conference, claiming that the representatives of the “Israel Apartheid State” were invited to the conference “under the guise of . . . women’s rights,” but that all events organized by Paris Tel-Aviv are aimed “to normalize the criminal policy of the State of Israel.” If the conference was not to be cancelled, BDS called for demonstrations in front of the school. The conference, scheduled at the same time as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was speaking at the school, was first adjourned and then cancelled by university administrators nervous about security issues.
This is part of the BDS strategy, to demonize Israel and everything that is relative to it. On their French website, BDS implies that the speakers are responsible for the “killings of Palestinian civilians” and actively participate in the “colonization.”
Fortunately, following this whole debacle, Noemie Ifrah, Sciences Po Paris student and President of Paris Tel-Aviv succeeded in reinstating the conference, and obtained high security for the event. “The definitive cancelation of the conference would have been a decisive victory for BDS and a great defeat for the freedom of expression,” explained Noemie; a freedom of expression that is threatened in Paris since the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks.