“At Sciences-Po, an unacceptable coup” (Anne Muxel, emeritus director of research at CNRS and deputy director of Cevipof)

Last Tuesday, about a hundred students belonging to the Science-po Paris committee for Palestine organized a support conference in the amphitheater of the institution, without the consent of the administration. A Jewish student was allegedly prevented from entering the event. After this incident, the government reacted immediately by contacting the state attorney. Gabriel Attal, the prime minister and Science-Po alumnus, traveled on Wednesday to attend the steering committee, condemning the “slow movement” and affirming that “debates and mobilization cannot go against our republican principles.”

“Women-men, inequalities are not ancient history” (Sylvie Pierre-Brossolette)

How to understand what happened? In a recent study conducted with Martial Foucault on Sciences-Po students (Engaged youth, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2022), we found that the positioning of the school's students has changed over twenty years. Within the establishment, student left-wing tropism shifted from dominant Jospinist socialism in 2002 to a more radical Mélenchonism. Remember that in the first round of the 2022 presidential election, when 34% of people aged 18 to 24 in France voted for the far left, there were 54% within the institution. Furthermore, Jean-Luc Mélenchon did not clearly condemn, during his speeches, the events of October 7 and the terrorist acts of Hamas, finding an audience among the minority of the most politicized students. In addition to their political orientation, Science-Po students show great sensitivity regarding situations of political and social dominance, which can be applied to an international context, such as here between Israel and Palestine. The attention paid to humanitarian issues and the defense of human rights is also a major concern of Gaza today. Condemnation of Israeli politics is increasing. It is through these two prisms, political and activist on the one hand, and universalist on the other, that we can understand this week's events. But this does not prevent the penetration of a certain communitarianism that can lead to more radical attitudes, which can lead to the excesses that have been observed.

The focus was on Science-Po students. It is particularly unacceptable that in such an institution, committed to pluralism of ideas and dialogue, the force of a minority of students can block the amphitheater and commit anti-Semitic excesses, even if the investigation has yet to shed light on it. theme. The reverberations of these events are unprecedented, not only in the scale of establishment management, but also at the state level. But, faced with accusations of the rise of extremism in Science-Po and the radicalization of school students, we must admit that these demonstrations are not specific to Science-Po or to France. The nature of these events is not new. The same actions, in support of the Palestinian cause, were organized by active minorities at major American universities such as Harvard or Berkeley. Keep in mind also that on average four out of ten students within the institution are on international exchange, so ideas and movements present in other regions of the world are important to them.

Universities are fertile ground for political and social mobilization on all kinds of social issues. Students are the bearers of a protest political culture and regularly condemn the reforms initiated by the governments of the right and the left that affect the education system, due to issues concerning their training or their integration into the work relationship, or the recent pension reform in France. Today, young people are fighting battles in the streets and at the polling stations that have gained legitimacy. For a cause like global warming, most mobilizations are led by young people. As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have seen it in the United States, Canada and elsewhere in the world.

But the loudest are active minorities, especially politicized and more radicalized than average. The question is whether this hardening can be extended to all other segments of young people, including student youth. In France, it should be noted that pro-Palestinian gatherings were held in public places, despite their prohibition by the authorities.

But we must not reduce all students to the same political positions, to the same analytical and interpretive networks, including within the student community at Sciences-Po. This, although intersected by dominant currents of thought, and despite the undeniable effects of ideological polarization, does not constitute a homogeneous bloc. We need to get away from simplifying labels. The most dedicated, most politicized, most radical minorities make themselves heard. There is a silent majority that does not speak up. Many students complain that their lectures are blocked and their studies are hampered by these demonstrations. Referencing recent events and their consequences to management issues is not satisfactory. They are primarily related to the socio-political profiles of the French and international students who make up Sciences-Po.