Paris officials are investigating claims that the Louvre, the world's most-visited museum, discriminated against a group of Jewish art students looking to arrange a tour during a visit from Israel. Jean-Francois Carenco, governor of the Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris and its environs, has asked the prosecutor's office to look into the accusation made by the group of Tel Aviv University students, France’s Liberation newspaper reported.
The 12 students had hoped to visit the Louvre at the end of the month, but were turned down. Sefy Hendler, who teaches in the university’s art history department and was finalizing the itinerary for the trip, said he contacted the administration of the Louvre and of Sainte-Chapelle, a medieval Gothic chapel, to schedule group visits. But both institutions declined his request. “It surprised me that a place that receives 9 million visitors a year didn’t find room for us,” Hendler told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, referring to the Louvre, “even though we asked to tour in the middle of the week.”
Hendler said he also tried to arrange visits on the same dates and times using the names of fictional educational institutions in Italy and Abu Dhabi. Those requests were granted, he said.
“It’s clear to me that when you say no to Israelis, it’s a discriminatory and racist act. They don’t care whether you’re left- or right-wing. They simple don’t want the Israeli in the narrow sense through which they view him. It’s an incident that I simply don’t understand,” Hendler told Haaretz. “What was the idea? That if we don’t see the 'Mona Lisa' then the occupation would end? It’s completely foolish."
An official statement released by the Paris museum Monday called the allegations “disturbing” and promised to investigate the incident. But Louvre officials noted that the museum's reservations system is entirely automated.
The Louvre has 2,100 employees and receives 102 million euros in state funding, reported the New York Times.
France has the largest Jewish population in Western Europe and saw a record number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2013. The Jewish Community Protection Service, which monitors anti-Jewish acts in France, found there were 423 anti-Semitic acts that year, including 318 "threats," 49 acts of violence, 52 acts of vandalism, three arson attacks and one attempted homicide in 2013.