Independent journalism about VU Amsterdam | Since 1953
13 July 2024

& Culture

VU teacher reproached for calling Israel apartheid state

Assistant professor Younes Saramifar who is teaching the second-year course history and social sciences, is reproached by VU Amsterdam after a complaint about his controversial viewpoints on Israel.

Saramifar calls Israel an apartheid state. And that description has led to a complaint with the university board who decided to monitor Saramifar’s lectures and to erase the ‘trigger warning’ Saramifar had written within the course’s description.  

Not obligatory 

“After noticing some students were uncomfortable with my viewpoints, some four years ago, I wrote a trigger warning. The warning says two things: that in my lectures I come from the stance that Israel is an apartheid state and second that the wealth of most European states is built upon colonialism, genocide and oppression.  

In no way are my students obliged to agree with me on these issues, I always encourage a good discussion in class. And the course is not obligatory, so if you can’t stand my approach, you can always choose a different subject, that is why I put it out.” 

The past four years Saramifar’s viewpoints have never been a problem. On the contrary, his courses are reviewed very positively by students, Saramifar states. 

However, by the start of the new term, in the beginning of January, Saramifar received an e-mail that his trigger warning was unacceptable to VU Amsterdam. And from the logins in Canvas he can see somebody has changed his text.  

“Line by line someone erased it”, Saramifar states. Meanwhile the formal complaint never reached Saramifar himself. From then on, he started being monitored, which means – according to several sources – that someone is sitting in the back of his class to keep an eye on him and his students.  

Hate mails and threats 

Then, last Friday evening, Saramifar received a message from one of his students: newspaper Algemeen Dagblad had written an article on the whole affair. Rector Jeroen Geurts was quoted as saying Saramifar’s text was unacceptable to VU Amsterdam. Geurts: ‘First, I want you to know that the words used in the text and the tone of voice is not compatible with the viewpoints of the VU. Our education should always lead to a safe and educational academic debate. I very much regret that the used text resounds a political viewpoint’[translation AV].   

Saramifar was perplexed by the appearance of the article. Especially since neither the newspaper, nor the rector, nor the faculty board contacted him about the whole affair. Immediately after the appearance of the article, Saramifar got hate mails and threatening letters, also at his home address. 

Over the weekend some students of Saramifar composed a formal letter of complaint about how he is treated.  “Dr. Younes Saramifar, is receiving unfair treatment and harassment from his superiors, along with violations of his rights as a VU Amsterdam employee due to the decolonial content of his work”, they write. By now, Monday afternoon, the letter has been signed 600 times.  

“Four years ago I stated in an interview with Ad Valvas that academic freedom doesn’t exist here. I received quite some surprised reactions. But this is exactly what I meant. As a scientist you are free to express your viewpoints as long as these are in line with the views of the university.” 

Rector Jeroen Geurts doesn’t want to comment to the issue now, as he says he wants to talk to Saramifar first.  


2 responses

  1. From my very first class on, Younes has made me nervous due to his politically loaded comments on colonialism, the Dutch, and Europe. I remember I was desperate after the very first day.
    I found this as a serious concern: I start studying again, paying for it, taking the time and all the efforts as a father, and somebody, instead of focusing on anthropology -and the innocent questions looking at cultures, people and meanings- is just constantly referencing political views in the disguise of anthropology. And I am to listen to all? Did I pay for this? Why why?

    In addition, for me it is morally wrong to constantly advocating for a negative narration on the Netherlands, while teaching in a great university there, and making money probably waaaay above the European and even world average. Thats unethical. Dont teach there If you are against them. “The dutch in their big cars”.

    Greetings from a foreign student who is proud to have his diploma from one of his favourite countries and University.

    Thank you for listening.

  2. Like so many students from the Global South, this story reminded me that I have to pretend like the multiple holocausts Western colonial powers perpetrated against my forefathers never happened. What mattered was not how my great-grandparents witnessed mass atrocities against their family members because they were worthless natives. Nor that tens of millions of them could be killed for sport by the “superior” white race, but that the states that drove these genocides should not have their feelings hurt.

    “Don’t our feelings matter too?,” they asked us, after murdering, raping, and stealing everything we had of value. We’re paying to study with you. You are on “our” payroll, at “our” universities. Just don’t mention how we built these institutions off the loot stolen from Asia and Africa.

    “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”

    Well, we’d love to have stayed there, but you put processes in motion that will take decades if not centuries to recover from.

    Your feelings can go to Hell!


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