We, the undersigned North American academics and intellectuals and other academics worldwide, join our colleagues in Europe and elsewhere in bringing to your attention the tremendous irony of your having as one of your keynote speakers Monique Canto-Sperber. For a major event on philosophy, a field that is predicated on free inquiry and intellectual exploration, to give a forum on free speech to someone who, as the head of one of the major prestigious schools in France, was responsible for two of the most egregious acts of censorship of Palestinians and of critics of Israeli state policies, is beyond being a stark contradiction—it is appalling.
As director of the École Normale Supérieur, Canto-Sperber was directly responsible for two blatant denials of academic freedom in 2011. As reported in Mondoweiss, she “notoriously cancelled two meetings at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, of which she was then director, because they were sponsored by the Collectif Palestine, which favors the boycott, divestment sanctions campaign (BDS) against Israel. One of those gatherings was to feature Stéphane Hessel, the late and glorious writer who inspired the occupy movement (and who died two years after the cancellation).” The second event sponsored by the Collectif Palestine involved a series of conferences and debates as part of the international Israeli Apartheid Week, aimed at the ENS community. This program was submitted to the Director of the ENS, together with a request for a room and an open proposal to have discussions and reflections concerning the question of security, which according to the Director, had motivated the decision to ban the first meeting within the establishment. Canto-Sperber shut down that event as well, driving it off campus.
An international group of scholars, including the pre-eminent scholars Natalie Zemon Davis and Joan Scott, described both these cases in their protest letter:
[We, the undersigned U.S., Canadian and British academics, many of us with long connections to France, and who have long admired the historic role of the École Normale supérieure in the critical and intellectual life of the country, are dismayed at recent events at the school. The actions of the Director, Monique Canto-Sperber, first banning a talk by Stéphane Hessel and then refusing to allow the Collectif Palestine ENS to hold a meeting on campus, is a denial of the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Hessel is 93, a former ENS student, member of the Resistance, survivor of Buchenwald, one of the authors of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and of the recent best-selling Indignez vous!/Time for Outrage, in which he (among other things) criticizes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians…
The action of the Director is an exception to the school’s customary toleration of political action by students and it is a recurring exception, aimed at silencing one side in a needed debate about the Israel/Palestine conflict. We believe that the Director’s action contravenes a long history of free speech and political expression at the ENS as described in its own publicity : “For decades, the ENS has been the most prestigious site of French intellectual and scientific life. It participated in all the great intellectual debates of modern France, from the Dreyfus Affair to the movements of the 1930’s, and from the foundation of the human sciences to the avant-garde movements of the 1970’s.]
In her response to that petition, Canto-Sperber argued that her decision was based on the fact that “both sides” were not being presented, and that the event was anti-semitic, and therefore impermissible by French law.
To which the petitioners responded:
[It should not be necessary to stress that everyone involved with this petition is firmly opposed to anti-Semitism in all its forms. We have seen nothing to suggest that members of the committee that attempted to organize the two events cancelled by the Director were in any way motivated by anti-Semitism, and we are concerned that accusations of anti-Semitism, a very grave offense indeed, are being made frivolously in order to silence one side in a needed debate about the Israel/Palestine conflict.
As for the question of the one-sidedness of the banned meeting, we don’t see a problem. Many meetings that take place at ENS and elsewhere do not require that every opinion on a matter be presented. It is not a matter of representing opposing views, and achieving “balance”, but of hosting events that ask serious questions about the relationship between discrimination, occupation, social justice, and international law. There is a long tradition at ENS that has done precisely that.]
In sum, far from championing academic freedom for all, Monique Canto-Sperber has aggressively and selectively denied academic freedom to one specific group while awarding it to all others. In our opinion academic freedom is not to be selectively applied—it is a universal right.
We find it remarkable that your organizing committee could not only ignore this history of censorship, but now even give this individual a platform to voice her “support” of free speech. This is more than an outrage—it beggars belief, and seems to whitewash the historical record. While we recognize and respect Canto-Sperber’s right to speak at your event, we find it incumbent upon ourselves to register our profound disappointment and to protest in the strongest terms possible that one of the key people you have selected to promote free speech at your Night of Philosophy has been an open practitioner of denying the same to Palestinians and their supporters. In so doing you make a mockery of your event and suggest the thinness of your commitments to academic freedom and free speech.
If you are an academic (active or retired) you may add your signature by filling the form below.
Prof. Ahmed Abbes, CNRSProf. Rabab Abdulhadi, Arab & Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiiative, College of Ethnic Studies, Francisco State UniversityDr Mark Abel, University of BrightonProf. Eric Alliez, Département de Philosophie (Paris 8) / CRMEP (Kingston University)Prof. Ronda Arab, Simon Fraser UniversityProf. Emerita Elsa Auerbach, University of Massachusetts BostonProf. Alain Badiou, Emeritus professor, Ecole Normale Supérieure, ParisProf. Amit Baishya, University of OklahomaProf. Viviane Baladi, Ecole Normale SupérieureProf. Ian Balfour, York University / Rice UniversityProf. Etienne Balibar, Department of French, Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia UniversityDr. Khalil Barhoum, Stanford UniversityProf. Ian Barnard, Chapman UniversityProf. Roger Beck, University of TorontoProf. Nancy Bentley, University of PennsylvaniaDr. Benay Blend, Central NM Community CollegeProf. Steven Blevins, Florida International UniversityDr. Robert Boyce, London School of EconomicsProf. Bob Brecher, Brighton UniversityProf. Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature and Critical Theory, University of California at BerkeleyProf. Eduardo Cadava, Princeton UniversityProf. Max Cavitch, University of PennsylvaniaProf. Juliana Chang, Santa Clara UniversityDr. Yves Chilliard, INRAProf. Joshua Clover, University of California DavisDr. Raya Cohen, Archivio delle Memorie Migranti (AMM)Prof. Rebecca Comay, University of TorontoProf. Brian Connolly, University of South Florida/Institute for Advanced StudyDr. Deborah Cowen, University of TorontoMr Mike Cushman , LSE Prof. Emeritus Edwin Daniel, University of AlbertaProf. Chandler Davis, University of TorontoProf. Angela Davis, University of California at Santa CruzProf. Graham Dawson, University of BrightonProf. Colin Dayan, VanderbiltProf. Sonia Dayan-Herzbrun, Université Paris DiderotProf. Ivonne del Valle, UC BerkeleyProf. Christine Delphy, Directrice de recherche émérite CNRSProf. Jonathan Dewald, University at Buffalo, State University of New YorkDr. Vince Diaz, University of Illinois at Urbana ChampaignProf. Rabia Djellouli, California State University NorthridgeDr. Sarah Dowling, University of Washington BothellProf. Laurence Dreyfus, University of OxfordProf. Em. Ivar Ekeland, University of British Columbia and Université Paris-DauphineProf. Richard Falk, Albert Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton UniversityProf. Eric Fassin, Sociologist, Paris 8 UniversityPh.D. Student Gregory Fenton, University of GuelphDr. Sue Ferguson, Wilfrid Laurier UniversityProf. Margaret Ferguson, UC DavisProf. Gary Fields, University of California, San DiegoProf. Peter Fitting, University of TorontoProf. Cynthia Franklin, University of Hawai'iProf. Elaine Freedgood, NYUDr. Daniela Garofalo, University of OklahomaDr. Alex Gil, Columbia UniversityProf. Lydia Goehr, Department of Philosophy, Columbia UniversityProf. Catherine Goldstein, CNRS-IMJ-PRGProf. Inderpal Grewal, Yale UniversityPh.D. Student Richard Grijalva, University of California, BerkeleyDr. Michel Gros, CNRS-Université de Rennes IProf. Julie Guard, University of ManitobaProf Peter Hallward, Kingston UniversityProfessor Emerita Donna Haraway, University of California Santa CruzProf Michael Harris, Columbia UniversityProf. Salah D Hassan, Michigan State UniversityProf. Glenn Hendler, Fordham UniversityDr. Linda Hess, Stanford UniversityMr. Tom Hickey, University of BrightonDr. Grace Kyungwon Hong, UCLAProf. Dr. Ivan Huber, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ.. Madison, NJ, USAProf. Lynne Huffer, Emory UniversityProf. Maimuna Islam, The College of IdahoProf. Earl Jackson, National Chiao Tung UniversityProf. Caren Kaplan, UC DavisProf. Ilan Kapoor, York UniversityMs. Mine Kaylan, University of BrightonProf. Emeritus Michael Keefer, University of GuelphProf. Assaf Kfoury, Boston UniversityProf. Laleh Khalili, SOASProf. David Klein, California State University, NorthridgeDr. Dennis Kortheuer, California State University Long Beach, emeritusDr. Anthony Leaker, Brighton UniversityProf. Jacqueline Leshan, National Univerisity, University of PhiladelphiaProf. Malcolm Levitt, University of SouthamptonProf. William Lewis, Skidmore CollegeProf Emerita Abby Lippman, McGill University, Montréal, QuébecDistinguished Professor of English David Lloyd, University of California, RiversideProf. Michael Loughlin, MMU CheshireDr. Alex Lubin, University of New MexicoProf. Andrew Lugg, University of OttawaProf. Saba Mahmood, University of California at Berkeley Prof. Catherine Malabou, Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston UniversityProf Eric Margolis, Arizona State University Dr. Mazen Masri, City University LondonProf. Brian Massumi, University of MontrealProfessor Mark McGovern, Edge Hill UniversityProf. David McNally, York UniversityProf. Hassan Melehy, University of North Carolina at Chapel HillProf. William Messing, School of Mathematics/University of MinnesotaPhD. student Tasia Milton, Rutgers UniversityProf. Jamal Mimouni, Mentouri University at ConstantineProf. Adam Miyashiro, Stockton University Prof. Minoo Moallem, UC BerkeleyProf. Colin Mooere, Ryerson University, TorontoPh.D. student Ghada Mourad, University of California, IrvineProf. Ahlam Muhtaseb, California State University, San BernardinoProf. Bill Mullen, Purdue UniversityProf Karma Nabulsi , Oxford UniversityDr. Christopher Nagle, Western Michigan UniversityDr. Rima Najjar, Al-Quds University, occupied PalestineProf. Stuart Newman, New York Medical CollegeProf. Joseph Oesterle, University Paris 6Prof. David Palumbo-Liu, Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Stanford UniversityProf. Andrew Parker, Rutgers UniversityDr. Lara Perry, University of BrightonProf. Edie Pistolesi, California State University NorthridgeProf Emiretus Ismail Poonawala, UCLA Prof. Gyan Prakash, Princeton UniversityDr. Louise Purbrick, University of BrightonDr. Trevor Purvis, Carleton UniversityProf. Aneil Rallin, Soka University of AmericaProf. Ana Ramos-Zayas, City University of New YorkEmeritus Prof. Jacques Rancière, University Paris 8Dr. Denis Rancourt, Former Professor / University of OttawaProf. Roshdi Rashed, CNRS, ParisProf. Stuart Rees, University of SydneyProf. Rush Rehm, Stanford UniversityEmeritus Professor Timothy J Reiss, New York UniversityProf. Joan Ramon Resina, Stanford UniversityProf. Jim Ritter, Université Paris 6Prof. Bruce Robbins, Columbia UniversityProf. Paul Robinson, Stanford UniversityDr. Sarah Roche-Mahdi, retiredDr. Judith Rodenbeck, UCR & Sarah Lawrence CollegeProf. Lisa Rofel, University of California, Santa CruzEmeritus Professor Steven Rose, Open University, UKProf. Jonathan Rosenhead, London School of EconomicsProf. Marty Roth, emeritus, University of MinnesotaProf. Natalie Rothman, University of TorontoDr. Anita Rupprecht, University of BrightonProf. Jeffrey Sacks, University of California, RiversideProf. Samir Saul, Université de MontréalEmeritus Prof Pierre Schapira, University of Paris 6Prof. Malini Schueller, University of FloridaDr. Victoria HF Scott, Independent scholarProf. Richard Seaford, University of ExeterProf. Alan Sears , Ryerson UniversityResearcher David Shannahoff-Khalsa, University of California San DiegoProf. Eric Smoodin, UC DavisProf. Steven Sperber, University of MinnesotaUniversity Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Columbia UniversityProf. Nidhi Srinivas, The New SchoolProf. Ajantha Subramanian, Harvard UniversityEmeritus Fellow Bernard Sufrin, Oxford UniversityProf. Kenneth Surin, Duke UniversityProf. Neferti Tadiar, Barnard College, Columbia UniversityProf. Diana Taylor, New York UniversityDr Jelena Timotijevic, University of BrightonDr. Sorcha Uí Chonnachtaigh, Keele UniversityDr. Markha Valenta, Radboud University NijmegenProf. Françoise Vergès, Collège d'études mondiales Prof. Joan Wallach Scott, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton UniversityDr. Dror Warschawski, CNRS, Paris, FranceProf. Jennifer Wicke, University of VirginiaProf. Seth Wigderson, University of Maine-AugustaProf. Johnny E. Williams, Trinity CollegeProf. Howard Winant, UC Santa Barbara
Endorsed by California Scholars for Academic Freedom (https://cascholars4academicfreedom.wordpress.com/)
- French philosopher who shut down Paris BDS event as ‘anti-Semitic’ and one-sided will lecture in NY on ‘Free Speech’, by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, April 10, 2015