France’s Universities Occupied in Solidarity with Gaza

Report from Paris on the international spread of the Camps for Gaza


Sciences Po Paris – France’s Elite School Occupied by Students

On Thursday, 340 students gathered for a town hall to debate SciencesPo’s partnerships with Israeli institutions. 

Pro-palestinian students demanded the prestigious university server its ties with them. They called for an end “genocide in Gaza” perpetrated by Netanyahu’s far-right government.

Modeled after campus consultations in the US, the gathering was a concession by Jean Bassères, the interim administrator of Sciences Po Paris.

Before the event, Bassères tried to reassure Israeli universities and donors, stating that their ties with the elite school would not be severed. 

But caving to pressure from students and activists, he committed to further discussions to decide whether the Sciences Po should take explicit positions on important political issues.

In the past, the school, widely regarded as a leading institution in political science, took stances in solidarity with Ukraine and against Marine Le Pen in 2022’s presidential election.

On Friday, French police evacuated the campus after an overnight sit-in. 

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal congratulated law enforcement saying that “no permanent protest camp… has been established in France “which contrast[s] to what we see abroad, namely across the Atlantic.”

Anti Semitism Accusations and Red Baiting by Conservatives

About 200 protesters at Sciences Po Paris blocked their campus in April when the first wave of major mobilisations kicked off.

They received visits of support and solidarity by multiple members of France’s largest left-wing movement. Former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon went so far as to call the student activists the “honor of our country.”

Earlier in March, A member of the pro-Israeli Union of Jewish Students of France (UJEF) tried to enter a conference hall where pro-palestinian students were organizing. She says she was refused entry to the ongoing event. 

Valerie Pecresse, president of the Ile-de-France region, announced she would stop financing Sciences Po as long as “serenity and security” were disrupted by what she sees as ultra-leftist agitators. She tweeted on X : “A minority of radicals calling for antisemitic hatred and instrumentalized by LFI and its islamo-leftist allies cannot dictate their rules on our educational institutions.”

Such rhetoric will probably remind leftists of rhetoric of McCarthyist anti-communists in the 1950s or antisemitic far-right conspiracists of the early 20th century who believed “judeo-bolsheviks” were indoctrinating the youth of their day.

Although the Paris branch of Sciences Po is in the national limelight on TV channels and radio stations, other sites across France also saw protests erupt. Campuses in Rennes, Grenoble, Lyon, Saint-Etienne, and Dijon were blocked by students protesting in solidarity with Palestine. Lille’s ESJ journalism school was also blocked on Thursday. 

Sorbonne Clignancourt Campus Protests

The morning of May 2nd, hundreds of students voted to block the Sorbonne University’s Clignancourt campus.

A general assembly was called after an occupation of Paris’s prestigious Sciences Po University calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

Fearing a shutdown of the mobilization by the police, activists at Clignancourt rallied their classmates to evacuate their campus to show their solidarity with Sciences Po.

After a few rounds of sloganeering and rallying in front of the entrance, they marched to the nearest metro station to ride to the historic Sorbonne Latin Quarter campus to join forces with students from other branches of the prestigious school.

I talked to two militants engaged in the mobilisation at the Clignancourt campus.

Lina, a history and geography student, told me that the US campus occupations to protest Israel’s war in Gaza served as an “example.” 

For her, escalation is necessary. “We can’t expect things to change by handing out pamphlets. We need to block [our universities].” For Lina, the situation is dire – she didn’t hesitate to call Israel’s war in Gaza a “genocide” and in which universities should not be “complicit.”

Sasha, a literary arts masters student and member of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), was one of the organizers of the assembly, which he said drew 150 participants. Despite the spontaneous ambiance I felt at the blockade in the afternoon, publicity on social media allowed activists to announce the morning gathering with some advance notice.

He said that students recognized Emmanuel Macron’s complicity with Israel’s actions as a primary inspiration for their revolt. 

For Sasha, the campus occupations in the US are particularly inspiring since they are taking place in the heart of the dominant world hegemon. He admitted that France was a smaller western power, but that it was complicit in the “genocide” of Palestinians through its weapons exports to Israel.

Towards a new wave of student activism?

Movements in solidarity with Palestine are seeming to pick up traction as the weather improves and student protests sprout worldwide.

On Friday, Australia saw a wave of protests ignite across multiple campuses. Participants in rallies called for divestment from Israeli institutions and also cited the US universities occupations as an inspiration. 

This current upswell of solidarity with Palestine and newfound attention to anti-imperialist analysis could inspire future generations of young activists and students.

As the Palestinian death toll of Gaza rises to 34,600 since October 7th, 2023, urgent mobilization is needed from students and the left to call for a lasting ceasefire and the reconstruction (and eventual liberation) of the territory.