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controversy surrounding the Parisian exhibition “Jews of the Orient” at the IMA, H24info

By receiving loans from Israeli institutions for an exhibition “Jews of the East”, the Arab World Institute in Paris confronted a petition from Arab intellectuals, launched by a controversial pro-Palestinian movement that calls for a systematic boycott of Israel, rejecting all cultural cooperation.

This IMA exhibition, open until March 13, is the third part of exhibitions devoted to the imprint of the three great monotheistic religions on the Arab world.

Its relevance is not called into question. What irritates its detractors is that the Institute worked with the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

For these intellectuals and former Arab politicians, it is unacceptable to forget what they see as a “colonial” regime that practices segregation against the Palestinians.

The petition was launched in early December by the pro-Palestinian BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions). Signed by around 250 intellectuals and personalities, it claims that the IMA “would betray its intellectual mission by adopting this normalizing approach – one of the worst forms of coercive and immoral use of art as a political tool to legitimize colonialism and oppression. “.

It brings together, among others, the Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, the Palestinian director Elia Suleiman or the Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.

“Rewrite” History

The Institute replied in mid-December: “The support of the IMA and its president Jack Lang for the Palestinian people and for peace is unwavering”. But conciliation will have been impossible.

In private, a source close to the Institute is sorry for the virulence of the tone of BDS in the face of an exhibition whose scientific quality has been recognized. Thus its main curator, the French academic Benjamin Stora, is a consensual figure in the history of conflicting relations between Jews and Muslims.

This is also the feeling of the vast majority of visitors who signed the guest book opened at the end of the course, AFP noted. Some complain about inaccuracies or historical amalgamations. Many say they are satisfied and congratulate the IMA. The presence of coins from Israel is not an issue they raise.

Lire aussi : L’IMA prépare un évènement sur l’histoire des juifs d’Orient où le Maroc occupera « une place imminente »

The Israeli embassy in France condemns it “strongly these assertions which are akin, through an erroneous reading, political and ideological of history, to an attempt to rewrite and to make forget the history of the Jews of the Arab countries and Muslims. “

“It is unfortunate that people claiming to be intellectuals are participating in an attempt to gloss over an entire section of Middle Eastern history,” a spokesperson told AFP.

“Losing your credibility”

Sometimes accused of being anti-Semitic, in particular by the American administration, BDS advocates a boycott of Israeli products, but also sports, culture and academia.

“The eternal absent are the Palestinians”, deplores Michèle Sibony, pacifist activist at the French Jewish Union for Peace (which opposes the occupation of the Palestinian territories) and French from a Moroccan Jewish family, interviewed. by AFP.

“Is it more important to have 30 pieces come for an exhibition or to say that Palestine is the scene of violence that kills young people under the age of 18 almost every day? », She wonders, referring to the recurring clashes that shake these territories.

“The petition hardly received any media coverage, whereas when we see the list of signatories, some of the greatest Arab artists have signed up,” she continues.

Lire aussi : Casablanca: juifs et musulmans célèbrent ensemble la fête de la Roch Hachana

Controversy within the controversy: a historian from the exhibition’s scientific committee, Denis Charbit, in an interview with the online media Akadem, had linked the loan of Israeli coins to the Abrahamic accords of 2020 which had preceded the normalization of relations between Israel and several Arab countries. He returned to these remarks: “The hypothesis is false,” he told AFP.

“The loan of some works is held for complicity and crime of lese majesty: hide this State that we could not see (…) We do in execration and imprecation”, regrets today this professor of the Open University of Israel in Ra’anana. He defends “a professional decision” to which some want “to attribute a political meaning”.

But at BDS, we persist and sign: the matter is political.

“Exactly the same way apartheid South Africa was boycotted, apartheid Israel must be isolated for the sake of freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians,” Omar Barghouti told AFP , philosopher of Palestinian origin, co-founder of the movement.

According to him, “if the IMA insists (…) it will end up losing its credibility among the public as well as the figures of Arab culture”.


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