Conflict between Israel and Palestine causes political unrest in higher education

The recent conflict between Israel and Palestine has led to protests, intimidation and a call to boycott Israeli knowledge institutions. But Dutch universities and universities of applied sciences do not want to take sides.

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Shortly after violence broke out again in Israel, students at Willem de Kooning Academie and Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences hung a banner on the building exterior with the words: Free Palestine and Stop the ethnic cleansing. The next day the art academy had the banner removed.

Safe place

In Profielen, Director Jeroen Chabot said that his school had to be a safe place for all students. “Du moment that you use the building to broadcast the opinion of one group of students you leave that safe place. That’s exactly the reason we had to intervene.”

Those who placed the banner showed little understanding for his position. One of them later told the AD newspaper that the institution should be ashamed of itself. “Hundreds of children and innocent people have been killed. You are complicit unless you speak out against it.”

Last Tuesday they organised a similar protest together with students at Erasmus University College in Rotterdam. There, too, banners were quickly removed from the building exterior, Erasmus Magazine reports. According to Dean Gabriele Jacobs, her programme wants “to be able to hold inclusive and open discussions” about the conflict. “If we choose one side by leaving these banners up, then we block free and open debate.”

Hate messages

The conflict is also having an impact on Maastricht University. The Diversity and Inclusivity Office there is reporting a “recent explosion of hatred against Muslim and Jewish members of our community.” Observant has reported that such taunts include “antisemitic and Islamophobic comments, intimidation, hate messages and threats”, usually on social media. These messages come from both within Maastricht University as well as from outside.

The call put out by almost 600 researchers and 1,200 students to boycott Israeli knowledge institutions failed to get the support of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands. Chairperson Pieter Duisenberg distanced himself from the initiative on Twitter. “Universities are an open space for debate and research. This call for a boycott has absolutely no place here and will not be supported by universities in the Netherlands.”

Freedom of speech

According to Christian Henderson, Professor of International Relations at Leiden University and one of the initiators of the petition, Duisenberg is contradicting himself. “You cannot be for freedom of speech but against a call for a boycott”, he said in an email to the NRC newspaper.

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