Independent journalism about VU Amsterdam | Since 1953
16 June 2024

Science
& Education

Israel boycott: ‘Don’t do it!’

Should Dutch universities cut their ties with Israel? Student demonstrators have been making this demand for weeks. However, Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf argues that institutions are better off maintaining ties with their counterparts in Israel.

Pro-Palestinian protests are being held at campuses across the country. The demand of the protesters, occupiers and hunger strikers remains the same: our institution should cut its ties with Israeli universities.

 Israeli anthropologist Maya Wind strongly advocates this course of action. Last week, she toured the Netherlands promoting her book, which details the involvement of Israeli universities in the oppression of Palestinians. 

There is still a perception in the West that Israeli universities are bastions of liberalism and democracy”, Wind told national daily NRC in a recent interview. “I show the gap between that myth and reality. Academic institutions are very much involved in the repression.

 It’s an argument that is having an effect in some quarters. The arts academies in The Hague and Rotterdam have severed their ties with Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. Other art schools are either reviewing their collaborative activities or putting them on hold. 

Good reasons

However, outgoing education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf believes there are “good reasons” to maintain contact with universities in Israel. “Those universities are home to the biggest critics of the Israeli government”, he said last Sunday on TV current affairs show Buitenhof. 

He called on higher education institutions to be “cautious” about suspending or cutting ties with Israel, arguing that any such decision should be taken only “with the approval of the university community” and after consulting the relevant ethics committees. 

Dijkgraaf is not alone in his position. Four hundred employees and students at the University of Amsterdam signed a petition “distancing themselves from those using occupations and blockades to force the university to end its ties with Israeli academics and institutions outright”. 

Holocaust researcher Amanda Kluveld expressed her opposition to severing ties with Israel in weekly magazine EW. “Israeli academics, including many who are committed to peace and dialogue, would become isolated as a result.” She cannot comprehend why Dutch universities are not defending themselves more vigorously against the accusation that they are complicit in genocide. 

Academic freedom

“The university does not exist to manufacture consensus”, Dijkgraaf said on Sunday. “The administrator’s job is actually to say: which view do you want to hear and I can put you in touch with the researcher who has that perspective.” His comment comes in support of university administrators who have no desire to take sides in the polarised debate. 

The protesters, on the other hand, are doing everything they can to intensify the pressure on the decision-makers at the institutions. Tilburg’s university newspaper Univers reports that students there are currently getting ready to pitch their tents on campus. In Nijmegen, students have expanded their tent camp to a spot below the window of the university administration. In Maastricht, all eyes are focused on the ongoing hunger strike. 

Of the six students who stopped eating last Wednesday, four are continuing the protest. At the weekend, a student had to pull out for health reasons. The remaining four insist that they will refuse food until Maastricht University cuts its ties with Israeli universities.

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