We won’t break our ties with Israel, Dutch universities say

Students protesting in Amsterdam last month. Photo: Gareth Lemon

The rectors of the Netherlands’ 15 universities have written an open letter to Trouw explaining why they do not plan to break their links with Israeli institutions, despite the student protests.

Students at universities and hbo colleges around the country have held dozens of demonstrations, sometimes violent, in an effort to break links between their institutions and Israel, because of the war in Gaza.

But that, the rectors say, would be going too far. “We will never break our links with an entire country unless ordered to do so by the government as was the case with Russia,” they wrote. Dutch universities did cut their ties with Russia because of the Dutch sanctions that were imposed following the invasion of Ukraine.

Academic freedom, the rectors write, is “the freedom to research, to think and to debate, even if that conflicts with our and others’ deepest convictions”.

“As universities, we have a duty to give a platform to all existing views within the academic community regarding the conflict,” the rectors said. “This is anything but an excuse to remain ‘neutral’. On the contrary.”

“We fully understand that this is not the answer some of us want to hear. But engaging in open, academic conversation and debate, especially in these difficult, polarising times, is very important to us.”

Collaborations with Israeli universities and institutions will in principle be maintained unless the partner institution does not meet “the values enshrined in the academic ethos”. This would be the case, for example, if “no open and academic debate” is possible at the Israeli (or Palestinian) institution.

In that situation, the rectors said, it is up to the Dutch university to call the partner institution to account or, in an extreme case ‘to distance itself from an alliance”.

Erasmus University in Rotterdam, for example, has had a committee to look at its “sensitive collaborations” since Friday which had been in the works for some time and will now focus on Israel and Gaza as a priority.

Two Dutch art schools have broken their links with Israeli partners and the University of Leiden has stopped an exchange programme with two Israeli universities pending an assessment of the programme by its ethics committee.

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