French students cancel Israel festival due to pro-Palestinian protests

An anti-Israel group and university professors called to nix event that included cultural discovery workshops

A view of the Lille University campus in Villeneuve d'Ascq, northern France (CC BY-SA Frédéric Kuhlmann/Wikipedia)
A view of the Lille University campus in Villeneuve d'Ascq, northern France (CC BY-SA Frédéric Kuhlmann/Wikipedia)

A festival at France’s Lille University was canceled by the students who organized it as part of a university project, after pro-Palestinian activists demonstrated at its first cultural workshop.

Urged by a pro-Palestinian group and university professors, a few dozen people on Wednesday disrupted the event, titled “Stopover in Israel,” which included a photo exhibition and courses of Hebrew at the Student House on campus in Villeneuve d’Ascq, northern France.

Organized by an association made up of about 15 students from the Institute of Business Administration of Lille, attached to Lille University, the festival was to offer four days of Israeli cultural discovery workshops, including cooking and music.

“The protesters told us that they were coming to demonstrate at all our activities, so we decided to stop, we do not want to create more controversy about this,” said 22-year-old student Gaëlle Robin, in charge of press relations within the association.

“We were neutral, we said that there was nothing political or religious… Our project has been validated” by the institution, she added.

On Wednesday, a letter signed by two professors was sent to the president of the university asking for the cancellation of the festival.

“Mr. President, to authorize a demonstration which, under cover of cultural openness, is an apology of this state (Israel) shocked us deeply,” wrote Moussa Nait Abdelaziz and Abdellatif Imad.

“Mr. President, would we have agreed to hold a watered-down demonstration on South Africa during the days of Apartheid and Mandela in prison?”

On Thursday evening the Union of Jewish Students of France (UEJF) expressed “indignation that a small group caused the cancellation of an Israeli cultural festival in a French university.

“For the UEJF, boycotting Israel means importing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into France for the sake of hate. At a time when anti-Semitism is taking on the mask of anti-Zionism, it is intolerable that a cultural festival can be canceled simply because it is Israel-themed,” added the UEJF.

Contacted by AFP, the student group did not wish to speak and the University of Lille did not respond immediately.

For his part, the president of the UEJF Sacha Ghozlan announced his intention to meet the president of Lille to try to allow the festival to go forward.

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