Outrage as Arab World Institute president Jack Lang 'compares pro-BDS intellectuals to sheep'
The President of the Arab World Institute in Paris appears to have compared Arab intellectuals who objected to the display of Israeli artworks as part of an exhibition to 'sheep', causing offense.
The institute is showing an exhibition called ‘Jews of the Orient’ until March this year and the exhibition contains some pieces borrowed from the Israel Museum, the Ben-Zvi Institute, and other Israeli institutions, prompting a campaign to boycott the event among supporters of BDS.
The exhibition was condemned by the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign for its display of Israeli-owned works and over 250 intellectuals from the Arab world, including Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, and Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi signed an open letter against it in December.
However, in an interview with Radio J the Arab World Institute's president, Jack Lang, denounced the letter, saying it was "completely disproportionate and beside the point".
"It makes me sad to find that figures of quality, writers and philosophers, allow themselves to be dragged like sheep behind a text which truth they have not even checked," Lang, who is also a former French culture minister, said.
He added that the BDS campaign “aims at turning attention away from the deep meaning of this exposition, which has nothing to do with any political debate”.
The exhibition is part of a larger series of events organised by the institute, shedding light on the impact of Abrahamic religions in the Arab world.
Denis Charbit, an Israeli scholar involved in organising the 'Jews of the Orient' exhibition, described the exhibition as the "first fruit of the Abraham Accords", in reference to a deal signed by Israel and a number of Arab states to normalise ties.
In a January 2021 interview with a Moroccan news outlet, the Arab World Institute’s president, Jack Lang, praised Rabat's signing of the US-brokered agreement.
Lang's comments have sparked outrage in Palestine.
Mahmoud Nawajaa, coordinator of the BDS campaign in Ramallah, said that Lang’s comments are “a racist and colonialist attack against Arab intellectuals who signed the petition”.
“There is a context to the Arab intellectuals’ petition, especially that a month ago, the Arab World Institute organised a festival on Arab culture to which it invited Israeli participants,” he told The New Arab.
A number of artists withdrew from the institute's ‘Arabofolies’ festival, held last month, when they learned that Israeli artists would be participating.
Lang, Charbit and the institute's stances on collaboration with Israel "show a clear will to impose Israel in a cultural space that is supposed to celebrate Arab culture,” Nawajaa added.
“Arab Jews and their culture are part of the Arab world without Israel having to do anything with it. There is no reason to have an Israeli participation in such an exposition,” he wrote.
The BDS campaign calls for a boycott of Israel, including culturally and academically, until it ends its occupation of Palestinian territories and recognises Palestinian rights.