Colleagues in AURDIP, The French Association Universitaires pour le Respect des Droits Internationals en Palestine, have challenged the association of university presidents for remaining silent on Israel’s systematic assault on Gaza’s education system where all eleven universities have been destroyed or made unusable. Their original report, reprinted below, can be found here.

Exchange between AURDIP and France Universités concerning the war in Gaza

France Universités (formerly the Conference of University Presidents) replied to  the  AURDIP letter regarding the war in Gaza. Ivar Ekeland, president of AURDIP, responds to them on the discriminatory treatment that France Universités imposes on Palestinian universities.

Mr. Guillaume Gellé , President of France Universités

President of the University of Reims-Champagne Ardenne

Mister President,

I acknowledge receipt of your letter of November 15 , responding to our request of the 13th .

We thank you for raising the issue of the discriminatory treatment that France Universités imposes on Palestinian universities in comparison with Ukrainian, Russian or Israeli universities.

We particularly thank you for providing us with a textbook example: in your answer, Palestinian universities are not even mentioned! Ukrainian, Russian and Israeli universities, yes, Palestinian universities, no. Yet they exist, and they are the ones under the bombs in Gaza. Colleagues die there every day, like the former president of the Islamic University, Professor Muhammad Shabir , killed at home with his family, not to mention students and administrative staff . I would also like to point out to you, in case you are interested, that the Palestinian universities in the occupied West Bank are also in a very difficult situation, forced to offer courses remotely, with professors, students and administrators remaining holed up at home, victims of abuses by settlers and the army, which France characterized yesterday as a “policy of terror”.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. The same day, undoubtedly after extensive consultation with your members, France Universités declared its solidarity with Ukrainian universities. The Hamas terrorist attack against Israel took place on October 7, 2023. As of October 11, four days later, you condemned it “with the greatest firmness”. The bombing of Gaza has been going on for five weeks now, leaving at least 11,500 dead, including more than 4,700 children. France Universités is silent.  An immediate reaction for the Ukrainians, four days for the Israelis, five weeks and still nothing for the Palestinians. What are you waiting for? That there are “enough” deaths? We are up to one death for every 150 inhabitants…

You tell us that “you are not aware of any positions taken by Israeli universities which, in any way, are similar to those of the Conference of Russian Rectors”. You are referring to your statement of March 10, 2022, where you expressed your amazement that they support an armed conflict and call for the “denazification of Ukraine, thus relaying false information from the Russian authorities”. Please allow us to bring to your attention a letter from the presidents of Israeli universities, dated November 1, 2023, addressed to all their international colleagues. You will learn that Hamas “uses its citizens as shields for its weapons, which it hides in hospitals, schools and mosques”, a hackneyed accusation, the only source of which is the Israeli army and that still remains unconfirmed. You will also learn that Israel is “fighting a war on two fronts: one against the atrocities of Hamas, the other in the global arena of public opinion”, within which they have detected “an alarming trend to present Israel as an oppressor. The Israeli university presidents invite you to join the war on this second front, by “denouncing and condemning insincere statements, and rejecting hypocritical voices that justify murder, rape and destruction in the name of ‘resistance’ » . You might hesitate to introduce censorship in your universities, but they reassure you: “freedom of expression is one of the pillars of academic freedom, but it must not be manipulated to legitimize hate speech or to justify violence “.

As for the first front of the war, the one taking place in Gaza, Israeli universities are taking care of that. Tel Aviv University, for example, has announced that 5,239 of its students are currently under arms, that each of them will immediately receive a stipend of 1,000 NIS, and that those serving in combat units will receive substantially more . It even invokes sacred texts: in a speech delivered on November 7 , its president, Professor Ariel Porat, compares Hamas to Amalek , and recalls the divine curses that Deuteronomy accumulates on the latter ancient people, ranging from physical extermination, including of women and children, to damnatio memoriae . In doing so, he is only following in the footsteps of his prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who has used the same reference several times. Is the “deamalekization” of Gaza preferable to the “denazification” of Ukraine?

Monsieur le Président, la réponse à la question que vous avez soulevée est sans ambiguïté : oui, France Universités a traité de manière discriminatoire les universités palestiniennes, alors même que celles-ci ont de nombreux accords avec les universités françaises et qu’un grand nombre de collègues français s’honorent d’y avoir enseigné et fait de la recherche. Les universités palestiniennes existent, tout autant que les universités ukrainiennes, russes et israéliennes, et elles doivent être traitées sur un pied d’égalité, avec celles-ci. Nos collègues palestiniens n’oublieront pas de sitôt que France Universités les a abandonnés aux bombardements incessants et meurtriers pendant cinq semaines sans protester ni réagir. Il est encore temps de réparer ce qui peut l’être, d’abord en portant sur ces bombardements et ces morts une condamnation qui aurait dû intervenir beaucoup plus tôt, et en sanctionnant les universités israéliennes qui les soutiennent. Il est surtout temps de préserver l’avenir, en évitant à France Universités de s’être tue alors que se déroule une entreprise militaire qui fait planer l’ombre du génocide.

Mr. President, the answer to the question you raised is unambiguous: yes, France Universités has treated Palestinian universities in a discriminatory manner, even though they have numerous agreements with French universities and a large number of French colleagues are honored to have taught and carried out research there. Palestinian universities exist, no less than Ukrainian, Russian and Israeli universities, and they must be treated on an equal footing with them. Our Palestinian colleagues will not soon forget that France Universités abandoned them to incessant and deadly bombings for five weeks without protesting or reacting. There is still time to repair what can be repaired, first by a condemnation of these bombings and these deaths, which should have come much earlier, and by sanctioning the Israeli universities which support them. Above all, there is still time to preserve the future, by preventing France Universités from remaining silent while a military enterprise is taking place which casts the shadow of genocide.

Ivar Ekeland , president of the Association of Academics for the Respect of International Law in Palestine ( AURDIP ) and honorary president of Paris-Dauphine University