French Cops Prevent Students From Mounting Pro-Palestinian Demonstration at Elite Paris University

French Cops Prevent Students From Mounting Pro-Palestinian Demonstration at Elite Paris University
Pro-Palestinian demonstration france

The move followed previous incidents, including a blockade allegedly targeting Jewish students.

By Ben Cohen, Algemeiner

French police on Thursday prevented pro-Palestinian students at the Sciences Po university in Paris from staging a demonstration, deepening the conflict over antisemitism and free speech that has engulfed the elite institution.

Students arriving for the evening protest at the main campus on rue Saint-Guillaume were confronted by a cordon of police officers who blocked them from access. About 20 students gathered for a simultaneous protest at another campus building a few blocks away, chanting “Free Palestine” and “This isn’t a war, it’s a genocide” before being dispersed by police.

Concern over the impact of the conflict in Gaza on student life at the Sciences Po — formally known as the Paris Institute of Political Studies, a public research university — came into sharp focus earlier this week when a group of pro-Hamas students blockaded a lecture hall, allegedly preventing Jewish students from accessing the space.

The Union of Jewish Students in France (UEJF), whose members were confronted at the protest, said in a statement that “UEJF students are attacked as Jews and Zionists. We call for the immediate lifting of the blockade and exemplary sanctions against these students.” One Jewish student said she was regaled with cries of “she’s a Zionist, don’t let her in.”

The spectacle drew strong condemnation from leading French politicians, among them President Emmanuel Macron. Addressing the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, Macron denounced the protest as “unspeakable and completely intolerable.”

Other cabinet ministers echoed the president. “What happened has a name: Antisemitism,” Equality Minister Aurora Berge declared in a post on X/Twitter, while Higher Education Minister Sylvie Retailleau asserted that at French universities, “[I]t is intolerable and shocking to suffer the slightest discrimination, the slightest incitement to hatred.”

The condemnation continued throughout the week, with Prime Minister Gabriel Attal warning on Thursday that “an active minority wants to impose a dominant form of thought within this institution.” Separately, French Senate President Gérard Larcher told an interviewer from the France 2 broadcaster that “Sciences Po cannot become an Islamo-leftist bunker.”

Far left parliamentarians rose to the defense of the students — who gathered under the banner of Urgence Palestine, a pro-Hamas collective — echoing their claim that the allegations of antisemitism and discrimination had been fabricated.

“No, the incident was not trivial. Better: it did not take place!” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of La France Insoumise (LFI), stated, while his colleague Aymeric Caron described the students as the “victims of a cabal.”

Following the Hamas pogrom in southern Israel on Oct. 7, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin attempted to impose an outright ban on pro-Palestinian demonstrations, citing fears over public disorder. That order was subsequently modified by the Council of State, which ruled that demonstrations could be banned by the police on a case-by-case basis.

In his remarks on Thursday, Attal pronounced France as “lucky at this stage to be relatively spared by a movement that we have seen develop in a certain number of countries, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world. I do not want Sciences Po or any other university to become the entry point for the arrival of this thought.”

Speaking to the Turkish state broadcaster TRT at Thursday’s aborted protest, several students angrily disputed the UEJF’s account of Tuesday’s pro-Palestinian sit-in at the Sciences Po.

“Our comrades have been wrongly accused and defamed of having made antisemitic remarks, while this is absolutely not the case,” said one student, who gave her name as Lea. Another student, who gave his name as Hugo, insisted that the morning’s events had been orderly, with lectures on the topic of the Palestinians, with a protest mounted at lunchtime that ended after half-an-hour. Hugo argued that the reaction to the protest was the result of a “media frenzy,” adding that he had participated in order to obtain “a clear political reaction, including from Sciences Po, to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.”

In a statement on Thursday, the French Jewish communal organization Crif called for a parliamentary commission into antisemitism in higher education.

“The antisemitic atmosphere at some universities must be fought firmly or our democracy will suffocate,” Crif stated.

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