Israeli university students of art history appear to have been the victims of discrimination and racism when they tried booking reservations for the Louvre museum and other famous sites in Paris. French authorities are investigating.
A group of Israeli students from the University of Tel Aviv who wished to visit the historic Louvre Museum and Sainte-Chapelle Chapel were turned down, French newspaper Liberation reports. The Paris prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation into the incident on charges of discrimination.
Tel Aviv University Professor Sefy Hendler, a specialist in the Italian Renaissance period, was preparing the trip to Paris in late June for a group of 12 students of art history. On May 11, according to the Liberation report, released on Monday, Hendler requested a date for the visit from the reservation services at the Louvre and Sainte-Chapelle. Shortly afterwards, he received a negative reply from both. The Louvre flatly refused, while Sainte-Chapelle claimed there were no available slots. He offered three alternative dates but got the same response.
“It seemed weird,” Hendler told Liberation, so he decided to experiment with the reservations services. A few days later, he sent a new request, this time on behalf of an “institute of art” in Florence, Italy, and then another on behalf of the “Abu Dhabi Art History College,” two fictitious institutions. He received quick and positive responses from both institutions.
“I was shocked, shocked,” Hendler said. He was ready to cancel the trip, but then decided to alert Francois Heilbronn, president of the French Friends of the University of Tel Aviv. Heilbronn subsequently wrote to Jean-Luc Martinez, president-director of the Louvre, to Philippe Bélaval of the Centre for National Monuments, which manages Sainte-Chapelle, and to French Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin.
The Louvre responded by saying it was “troubled” by the findings. However, they blamed the “mistake” on the automated reservations system, claiming that the two “test” reservations were “lucky” to book spots, .
The Sainte-Chapelle system is not automated. Bélaval explained that an internal investigation has revealed “repeated failures,” which will certainly lead to a “disciplinary procedure.” However, “it was not established that there was any discrimination.” The booking service “never showed hostility to Israel,” he said, adding that he regrets the lack of “rigor and professionalism.”
“This response appears casual when compared to the gravity of the facts,” Heilbronn charged, warning that there was cause for discrimination charges.
Jean-François Carenco, governor of the Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris, has ordered prosecutors to investigate the incident.