Open Letter Protesting Monique Canto-Sperber's Appearance at "Night of Philosophy"

To: Mériam Korichi, curator and stage director of A Night of Philosophy

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, CNRS
Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi, Arab & Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiiative, College of Ethnic Studies, Francisco State University
Dr Mark Abel, University of Brighton
Prof. Eric Alliez, Département de Philosophie (Paris 8) / CRMEP (Kingston University)
Prof. Ronda Arab, Simon Fraser University
Prof. Emerita Elsa Auerbach, University of Massachusetts Boston
Prof. Alain Badiou, Emeritus professor, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris
Prof. Amit Baishya, University of Oklahoma
Prof. Viviane Baladi, Ecole Normale Supérieure
Prof. Ian Balfour, York University / Rice University
Prof. Etienne Balibar, Department of French, Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University
Dr. Khalil Barhoum, Stanford University
Prof. Ian Barnard, Chapman University
Prof. Roger Beck, University of Toronto
Prof. Nancy Bentley, University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Benay Blend, Central NM Community College
Prof. Steven Blevins, Florida International University
Dr. Robert Boyce, London School of Economics
Prof. Bob Brecher, Brighton University
Prof. Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature and Critical Theory, University of California at Berkeley
Prof. Eduardo Cadava, Princeton University
Prof. Max Cavitch, University of Pennsylvania
Prof. Juliana Chang, Santa Clara University
Dr. Yves Chilliard, INRA
Prof. Joshua Clover, University of California Davis
Dr. Raya Cohen, Archivio delle Memorie Migranti (AMM)
Prof. Rebecca Comay, University of Toronto
Prof. Brian Connolly, University of South Florida/Institute for Advanced Study
Dr. Deborah Cowen, University of Toronto
Mr Mike Cushman , LSE
Prof. Emeritus Edwin Daniel, University of Alberta
Prof. Chandler Davis, University of Toronto
Prof. Angela Davis, University of California at Santa Cruz
Prof. Graham Dawson, University of Brighton
Prof. Colin Dayan, Vanderbilt
Prof. Sonia Dayan-Herzbrun, Université Paris Diderot
Prof. Ivonne del Valle, UC Berkeley
Prof. Christine Delphy, Directrice de recherche émérite CNRS
Prof. Jonathan Dewald, University at Buffalo, State University of New York
Dr. Vince Diaz, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
Prof. Rabia Djellouli, California State University Northridge
Dr. Sarah Dowling, University of Washington Bothell
Prof. Laurence Dreyfus, University of Oxford
Prof. Em. Ivar Ekeland, University of British Columbia and Université Paris-Dauphine
Prof. Richard Falk, Albert Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University
Prof. Eric Fassin, Sociologist, Paris 8 University
Ph.D. Student Gregory Fenton, University of Guelph
Dr. Sue Ferguson, Wilfrid Laurier University
Prof. Margaret Ferguson, UC Davis
Prof. Gary Fields, University of California, San Diego
Prof. Peter Fitting, University of Toronto
Prof. Cynthia Franklin, University of Hawai'i
Prof. Elaine Freedgood, NYU
Dr. Daniela Garofalo, University of Oklahoma
Dr. Alex Gil, Columbia University
Prof. Lydia Goehr, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University
Prof. Catherine Goldstein, CNRS-IMJ-PRG
Prof. Inderpal Grewal, Yale University
Ph.D. Student Richard Grijalva, University of California, Berkeley
Dr. Michel Gros, CNRS-Université de Rennes I
Prof. Julie Guard, University of Manitoba
Prof Peter Hallward, Kingston University
Professor Emerita Donna Haraway, University of California Santa Cruz
Prof Michael Harris, Columbia University
Prof. Salah D Hassan, Michigan State University
Prof. Glenn Hendler, Fordham University
Dr. Linda Hess, Stanford University
Mr. Tom Hickey, University of Brighton
Dr. Grace Kyungwon Hong, UCLA
Prof. Dr. Ivan Huber, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ.. Madison, NJ, USA
Prof. Lynne Huffer, Emory University
Prof. Maimuna Islam, The College of Idaho
Prof. Earl Jackson, National Chiao Tung University
Prof. Caren Kaplan, UC Davis
Prof. Ilan Kapoor, York University
Ms. Mine Kaylan, University of Brighton
Prof. Emeritus Michael Keefer, University of Guelph
Prof. Assaf Kfoury, Boston University
Prof. Laleh Khalili, SOAS
Prof. David Klein, California State University, Northridge
Dr. Dennis Kortheuer, California State University Long Beach, emeritus
Dr. Anthony Leaker, Brighton University
Prof. Jacqueline Leshan, National Univerisity, University of Philadelphia
Prof. Malcolm Levitt, University of Southampton
Prof. William Lewis, Skidmore College
Prof Emerita Abby Lippman, McGill University, Montréal, Québec
Distinguished Professor of English David Lloyd, University of California, Riverside
Prof. Michael Loughlin, MMU Cheshire
Dr. Alex Lubin, University of New Mexico
Prof. Andrew Lugg, University of Ottawa
Prof. Saba Mahmood, University of California at Berkeley
Prof. Catherine Malabou, Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University
Prof Eric Margolis, Arizona State University
Dr. Mazen Masri, City University London
Prof. Brian Massumi, University of Montreal
Professor Mark McGovern, Edge Hill University
Prof. David McNally, York University
Prof. Hassan Melehy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Prof. William Messing, School of Mathematics/University of Minnesota
PhD. student Tasia Milton, Rutgers University
Prof. Jamal Mimouni, Mentouri University at Constantine
Prof. Adam Miyashiro, Stockton University
Prof. Minoo Moallem, UC Berkeley
Prof. Colin Mooere, Ryerson University, Toronto
Ph.D. student Ghada Mourad, University of California, Irvine
Prof. Ahlam Muhtaseb, California State University, San Bernardino
Prof. Bill Mullen, Purdue University
Prof Karma Nabulsi , Oxford University
Dr. Christopher Nagle, Western Michigan University
Dr. Rima Najjar, Al-Quds University, occupied Palestine
Prof. Stuart Newman, New York Medical College
Prof. Joseph Oesterle, University Paris 6
Prof. David Palumbo-Liu, Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Stanford University
Prof. Andrew Parker, Rutgers University
Dr. Lara Perry, University of Brighton
Prof. Edie Pistolesi, California State University Northridge
Prof Emiretus Ismail Poonawala, UCLA
Prof. Gyan Prakash, Princeton University
Dr. Louise Purbrick, University of Brighton
Dr. Trevor Purvis, Carleton University
Prof. Aneil Rallin, Soka University of America
Prof. Ana Ramos-Zayas, City University of New York
Emeritus Prof. Jacques Rancière, University Paris 8
Dr. Denis Rancourt, Former Professor / University of Ottawa
Prof. Roshdi Rashed, CNRS, Paris
Prof. Stuart Rees, University of Sydney
Prof. Rush Rehm, Stanford University
Emeritus Professor Timothy J Reiss, New York University
Prof. Joan Ramon Resina, Stanford University
Prof. Jim Ritter, Université Paris 6
Prof. Bruce Robbins, Columbia University
Prof. Paul Robinson, Stanford University
Dr. Sarah Roche-Mahdi, retired
Dr. Judith Rodenbeck, UCR & Sarah Lawrence College
Prof. Lisa Rofel, University of California, Santa Cruz
Emeritus Professor Steven Rose, Open University, UK
Prof. Jonathan Rosenhead, London School of Economics
Prof. Marty Roth, emeritus, University of Minnesota
Prof. Natalie Rothman, University of Toronto
Dr. Anita Rupprecht, University of Brighton
Prof. Jeffrey Sacks, University of California, Riverside
Prof. Samir Saul, Université de Montréal
Emeritus Prof Pierre Schapira, University of Paris 6
Prof. Malini Schueller, University of Florida
Dr. Victoria HF Scott, Independent scholar
Prof. Richard Seaford, University of Exeter
Prof. Alan Sears , Ryerson University
Researcher David Shannahoff-Khalsa, University of California San Diego
Prof. Eric Smoodin, UC Davis
Prof. Steven Sperber, University of Minnesota
University Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Columbia University
Prof. Nidhi Srinivas, The New School
Prof. Ajantha Subramanian, Harvard University
Emeritus Fellow Bernard Sufrin, Oxford University
Prof. Kenneth Surin, Duke University
Prof. Neferti Tadiar, Barnard College, Columbia University
Prof. Diana Taylor, New York University
Dr Jelena Timotijevic, University of Brighton
Dr. Sorcha Uí Chonnachtaigh, Keele University
Dr. Markha Valenta, Radboud University Nijmegen
Prof. Françoise Vergès, Collège d'études mondiales
Prof. Joan Wallach Scott, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University
Dr. Dror Warschawski, CNRS, Paris, France
Prof. Jennifer Wicke, University of Virginia
Prof. Seth Wigderson, University of Maine-Augusta
Prof. Johnny E. Williams, Trinity College
Prof. Howard Winant, UC Santa Barbara

Endorsed by California Scholars for Academic Freedom (


- 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

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