Paris' Sciences Po school rejects Gaza protesters' demand to review Israel ties

By Lucien Libert

PARIS (Reuters) -Paris' Sciences Po university has rejected demands by protesters to review its relations with Israeli universities, its interim director Jean Basseres said on Thursday, prompting some students to say they would start a hunger strike in protest.

Students at several French universities, including Sciences Po and Sorbonne University have blocked or occupied their institutes over the war in Gaza, although not on the same scale as seen in the United States.

"I clearly refused to set up a working group on our relations with Israeli universities and partner companies," Basseres told reporters after a townhall meeting with students and staff.

Dozens of students promptly started a sit-in inside the university to protest Basseres' decision.

"A first student has started a hunger strike, in solidarity with Palestinian victims, but even more so to protest against the way Sciences Po is repressing students who want to show their support for Palestine," said Hicham, a student at Sciences Po and one of the pro-Palestinian protesters there.

More students would join the hunger strike, he told reporters, demanding that the university's leadership agrees for its board to hold a public vote on reviewing partnerships with Israeli universities.

The townhall was one of the conditions set last week for Sciences Po students to call off their protests over war in Gaza. Many had also asked the university to cut all ties with Israel.

Basseres said he was aware that refusing to put together a working group to review relations with Israel could anger some protesters.

"I'm calling on all to show a sense of responsibility," he said, urging protesters not to disrupt exams set to start next week.

The elite political sciences university would work on how best to organise internal debate on contentious topics, he said, adding that the university already had rules to review its partnerships.

"The last ties that should be severed are the ones between universities," said Arancha Gonzalez, who heads Sciences Po's School of International Affairs.

(Reporting by Ingrid Melander, Dominique Vidalon, Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Alex Richardson and Ros Russell)