Arab anti-Zionists attack French institute for cooperating with Israel in widely praised exhibition

The “Jews of the Orient” exhibition was opened towards the end of November by French President Emmanuel Macron.

By Ben Cohen, The Algemeiner

A Paris-based institute founded by Arab countries to disseminate information about the Arab world has come under attack by supporters of the anti-Zionist “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) campaign over an exhibition it is currently hosting dedicated to the Jewish communities of the Middle East.

Earlier this month, 52 Arab intellectuals signed a letter of protest addressed to the Institut du Monde Arabe (“Institute of the Arab World,” or IMA) concerning the “Jews of the Orient” exhibition that was opened at the end of November by French President Emmanuel Macron.

The focus of the letter’s ire was the participation of Israeli institutions, among them the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, in providing content for the exhibition at the IMA’s imposing headquarters on the Left Bank of the French capital. As well as Israel, museums and research centers in France, the UK, Morocco, Spain and the US have provided manuscripts, photographs, paintings and other materials illustrating the religious and cultural life of the Arab world’s Jewish communities.

The letter attacked the Israeli academic Denis Charbit, a member of the exhibition’s organizing committee, for reportedly hailing the participation of Israeli institutions as a fruit of the historic peace accords signed in 2020 between Israel and several Arab nations. Those nations were among the eighteen Arab countries that in 1987 established the IMA, which is home to a museum, a library, a restaurant and other attractions.

Asserting that the IMA “would betray its intellectual mission” by “normalizing” and “standardizing” cooperation with Israel, the letter denounced attempts “to present Israel and its regime of settler colonialism and apartheid as a normal state.”

The signatories also accused the exhibition of having “appropriated the Jewish component of Arab culture, by presenting it as Zionist, then Israeli, before tearing it from its true roots to use it in the service of its colonial project in the region.”

Among the letters’ signatories were Joseph Massad, a professor at Columbia University in New York City who has been accused of antisemitism on several occasions, veteran PLO politician Hanan Ashrawi and the musicians Marcel Khalife and Natasha Atlas.

Strong criticism of the letter was voiced by the Israeli Embassy in Paris, which accused its authors of trying “to rewrite and make people forget the history of the Jews of the Arab and Muslim countries.”

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

In its response to the letter, the IMA emphasized that the institution and its president, the former Socialist Minister of Education Jack Lang, continued to support the Palestinians in “unwavering” fashion. However, an unnamed IMA official told the news outlet Le Parisien on Wednesday that the institute was troubled by “the virulence in the tone of BDS in the face of an exhibition whose scientific quality has been recognized.”

The principal founder of the BDS movement — whose main goal is the elimination of Israel as a Jewish democratic state and its replacement with a State of Palestine — emphasized in a separate interview that the IMA would remain a target of the campaign for as long as it cooperated with Israel.

“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.

Barghouti additionally warned the IMA that it would “end up losing its credibility among the [Arab] public as well as the figures of Arab culture.”