Prominent University of Johanesburg academic and anti-apartheid activist Professor Farid Esack has been banned from speaking on the topic of Palestine by various French Universities. Professor Esack, who heads UJ’s Religious Studies department, was due to start a French speaking tour on Thursday night on the topic of Palestine as part of Israeli Apartheid Week taking place at the University of Sorbonne-Paris this week.
The banning comes after certain pro-Israeli French Zionist groups, including the Union of French Jewish students and the so-called National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism wrote letters, accusing Professor Esack of hate speech, anti-semitism and espousing violence.
According to University of Johannesburg’s Palestine Solidarity Forum (PSF), these groups have made “bogus and slanderous allegations” of anti-Semitism on their websites and social network accounts, and have put pressure on the French Education Ministry and on university administrations.
“Conflating criticism of Israel’s colonial policies of Apartheid can not and should not be equated with anti-Semitism, to do so is a disservice to the real victims of anti-Semitism. Professor Esack has consistently opposed anti-Semitism, for example, in his position as a Board member of the Palestine solidarity and human rights organisation BDS South Africa, Professor Esack spoke at a UJ PSF and BDS South Africa Holocaust Remembrance Day event in 2014,” said UJ’s PSF in a statement.
A petition has been launched demanding that French Universities not to succumb to pressure to ban Esack from speaking on Palestine. The petition has been signed by over 150 academics from across the world. The petition reads:
“It has come to our notice that various French Universities are coming under pressure to refuse Professor Farid Esack, a prominent figure in the South African anti-apartheid struggle for liberation, a leading gender justice activist and one of the most eminent international scholars on religious pluralism to speak on their campuses on the issue of Palestine. We understand that objections have been raised against his presence on the grounds that he is an alleged anti-Semite and espouses violence. Professor Esack has in all his written work and speeches displayed a remarkable principled commitment to justice and the struggle against all forms of racism – including anti-Semitism, sexism, economic exploitation and homophobia. His commitment to the struggle of justice for the Palestinian people is but an extension of a life-long commitment to justice. He has consistently opposed anti-Semitism in all its manifestations and has been a beacon for religious pluralism and non-violence.
As academics, social activists, politicians and other members of civil society we may or may not share all of Professor Esack’s views on everything. This is the nature of our work. We, however, protest against any attempt to silence this principled voice for justice. We urgently request that Professor Esack be allowed to speak at his scheduled events taking place in France.”
Despite the ban, French organisers are pushing ahead with the various Israeli Apartheid Week events featuring Professor Farid Esack.
The UJ PSF has called on the South African Embassy in France and the South African Ministry of Higher Education to immediately intervene and engage with counterparts in France to ensure that Professor Farid Esack be allowed to speak. VOC