Universities not cooperating fully in Wob request

After much deliberation, Dutch universities are cooperating only partially in a request for information under the Public Access to Government Information Act (Wob) about their ties with Israel. That is because it gives rise to “feelings of insecurity, injustice and discrimination” among staff.

photo Stunning Art / Shutterstock

The much-discussed Wob request originates from The Rights Forum, a research institute concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One of the demands of The Rights Forum is that the universities hand over documents about their institutional ties with “organisations that promote support for the State of Israel”.

It has led to a lot of consternation. Umbrella organisation Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) has asked for a postponement so as to assess whether and how to deal with the Wob request. “We will look at whether cooperating in the request, or parts of it, means disproportionally penalising parties involved”, the UNL wrote in a further statement.

Injustice and discrimination

They have now reached a decision: the universities will cooperate in only part of the request. They are willing to disclose details of their ties with organisations in Israel, but not of their relationships with “Dutch and international organisations in the domain of religion, commemoration or the fight against antisemitism”, according to a statement on the UNL website.

“Focusing on a specific group of citizens that includes staff, students and alumni of our universities gives rise to feelings of insecurity, injustice and discrimination. We are not going to cooperate in that”, the statement continues. A spokesperson says that this decision responds to the feelings of staff, referring also to the statement on the website.


The Rights Forum, which submitted the request, only found out the news via the media. In the view of director Gerard Jonkman there is a lack of proper communication on this issue, in several respects. “We are being characterised as antisemitic. But if the universities had asked us for an explanation, such agitation would not have arisen”, he says.

“We too are opposed to antisemitism and all forms of discrimination”, he asserts. But in his opinion criticism of the State of Israel is different from antisemitism. He does not understand why the request is not being complied with in full. “Does it also mean that a Wob request cannot be used at organisations with political or climate objectives?” he wonders.

Jonkman and his colleagues have also received threats. “Some people say that we would be well advised to get some protection. But I don’t want to moan about it, because I know it’s a sensitive subject.”

It is not inconceivable that The Rights Forum will appeal against partial compliance with the Wob request. “We still have to discuss it internally. And formally we haven’t yet heard anything from the universities, so I don’t want to jump the gun.”

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