“We are Farid!”: An open letter to French university administrators: Stop silencing advocates for Palestinian Rights!

“I have never thought, for my part, that man’s freedom consists in his being able to do whatever he wills, but that he should not, by any human power, be….

I have never thought, for my part, that man’s freedom consists in his being able to do whatever he wills, but that he should not, by any human power, be forced to do what is against his will.”—Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Occupied Palestine, March 29, 2015 — The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) condemns the ongoing censorship and attacks on the academic freedom of supporters of Palestinian human rights by French universities’ administrations. The latest episode in this anti-democratic repression was the silencing of the prominent South African anti-apartheid activist and scholar Farid Esack through cancelling his speaking engagements at several French universities.

Contradicting the letter and spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which called for “a world in which human beings … enjoy freedom of speech and belief,” this attempt to silence professor Esack is yet another indicator of the despicable disregard for human rights and freedom of expression that prevail in French universities today when it comes to defending Palestinian rights or criticizing Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.

By conflating criticism of Israel’s systematic oppression of the Palestinian people with anti-Semitism, administrators of some French universities are shamelessly parroting Israeli propaganda, engaging in fear mongering, and ultimately cheapening the very meaning and gravity of anti-Jewish racism.

This all too familiar tactic is used by Israel, its lobby groups, and its propaganda mouthpieces around the world to muzzle voices that challenge Israel’s criminal impunity.

We stand in full solidarity with Professor Farid Esack against this repression, and we remind French universities of their obligation to uphold and protect freedom of expression and academic freedom, which includes ensuring a “fair discussion of contrary views.”

The BDS movement, in which Farid Esack is a prominent figure in South Africa and beyond, is modeled after the South African anti-apartheid struggle, and the movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions which successfully contributed to ending the apartheid regime at the time. Endorsed by an overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society organizations, the BDS movement similarly calls for isolating Israel academically, culturally, economically and militarily, until it fulfills its obligations under international law and respects Palestinian rights.

Based on principles of human rights and international law, BDS is categorically opposed to all forms of racism and racial discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

As Professor Esack has said:

I must emphasise … that all of these messages of support go beyond me; they are ultimately about rejecting attempts to silence the growing BDS campaign and to support academic freedom as well as freedom and justice for the Palestinian people.

“We are Charlie”, as French students supporting Palestinian rights have indicated, can still be read on the walls of the same universities whose administrations regularly suppress free speech of Israel critics without any sense of irony. We join those conscientious French students, scholars and activists in asking whether this freedom should selectively apply only to speech that authorities deem “acceptable”.

Today, in the face of this French repression of Farid Esack’s freedom of speech, we say, “We are all Farid!”