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Academics: Boycott of Israel is one-sided, unfair and harmful

by News Room
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The ongoing protests at universities are calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions. Stop this demonization, as stated in this open letter by prominent researchers from the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States, including Maarten Boudry, Steven Pinker in Marc Salomon.

In universities across the West, students and academic staff are pushing to cut ties with Israel because of the war in Gaza. In the United States, a dozen universities (partially) responded to the activists’ demands. Among other things, they no longer invest their donations in Israeli companies. Ten Spanish and five Norwegian universities cut all ties with Israeli institutions “involved” in the war.

Under pressure from the protests, several Belgian and Dutch universities published lists of all partnerships with Israeli institutions. The University of Ghent wants to suspend cooperation with at least three Israeli academic institutions because they cooperate with the army.

Even without a formal boycott, due to student protests and pressure from the BDS movement, researchers and students with Israeli citizenship or institutions are already widely marginalized. in an Israeli newspaper Haaretz more than sixty academics bear witness to this: invitations to lectures and committees cancelled, papers rejected for political reasons, cooperation freezing, guest lectures disrupted, cancellation of co-authorship.

Israel is not Russia

What are the grounds for such a boycott? In an open letter to the chancellor of Ghent University, more than 1,500 students and staff – including dozens of professors, mainly from the humanities – condemn the “contrasts” of the university’s attitude after Putin’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine. Then almost all western universities cut their ties with Russian universities.

The signatories even write that Israel is carrying out “genocide” in Gaza. They demanded that all cooperation with Israeli universities be suspended “as long as the current war continues.”

The difference between the reactions to the invasion of Ukraine and the violence in Gaza is entirely defensible. Ukraine was attacked without provocation or military threat by a country whose government imagines that Ukraine is an imaginary nation with no right to exist.

If thousands of Ukrainian fighters had first committed a horrific massacre on Russian territory in January 2022, killing 1,200 innocent men, women and children in cold blood and taking another 250 hostage, only then would a similar situation arise (in particular: October 7 is not covered in the open letter).

In addition, almost all Russian universities expressed their open support for the invasion of Ukraine, for example in the statement of the Russian Chancellors’ Union, which was signed by more than three hundred university institutions.

Israel has the right to self-defense

We can, of course, criticize Israel’s warfare strategy and act to avoid civilian casualties. But the call for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire” and a boycott “as long as the war continues,” as the letter’s authors insist, means that any war against Hamas is unacceptable. This amounts to denying the right of self-defense in accordance with the international law of war.

No country would tolerate a terrorist group like Hamas on its external borders, especially after a pogrom like October 7th. Israel has the right to eliminate Hamas. Unfortunately, this enemy had seventeen years to dig hundreds of kilometers of fortified tunnels (air raid shelters of their own citizens were not built).

Hamas also uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, operating deliberately from hospitals, schools, UN buildings and mosques, and from the vicinity of humanitarian areas. This reprehensible practice is mainly aimed at getting as many “martyrs” as possible in front of the camera in order to turn the political opinion of the West against Israel. Something in which the terrorist organization also seems to succeed.

Calling for a ceasefire is Hamas’ choice

No one denies that the situation in Gaza is terrible, no one is indifferent to the unacceptable suffering of innocent Palestinian children. Everyone would like the violence to end as soon as possible. But insisting that Israel accept a cease-fire without additional conditions is an unequivocal choice for Hamas and against Israel.

The horror we now see in Gaza also happened in Mosul and Raqqa, when the Western coalition carried out massive bombings against IS with the broad support of practically the entire Western world. Even then, civilian casualties were in the thousands, and unlike in Gaza, civilians received little to no warning or evacuation options.

Also, a boycott of Ukrainian universities?

How many academics in the Low Countries would stand aloof if a terrorist group slaughtered at least 1,200 innocent civilians on our external borders and proudly broadcast these atrocities live? And not in the occupied territories, but still an internationally recognized area.

In Western Europe, accustomed to security, we no longer understand what it means to live in a fragile democracy that has been under existential threat since its inception, surrounded by terrorist groups that have been firing rockets for two decades (at every house in Israel). is air raid protection required by law). We find it understandable that Israeli universities cooperate with the military under these extreme conditions, as documented by Maya Wind in her controversial book. How moral do we think it would be to blow up our cooperation with Ukrainian universities because they support the Ukrainian army?

The Israeli government can be blamed for many things, including its settlement policy in the West Bank. In addition to many settlements being illegal or at least controversial, the rampant settlements also engage in reprehensible collective harassment and retaliation against Palestinians, while Israel’s security services turn a blind eye to this. Strangely enough, this is not mentioned in the open letter, although there are grounds for refusing to cooperate with institutions located in the occupied territories.

Universities are essential in a democracy

Why do protesting students focus only on Israel? Our universities also have bilateral partnerships with universities in Indonesia, China and Malaysia – countries that rank (much) below Israel on the democracy index. Economist. And Birzeit University in Palestine, reporting three days after October 7: “Glory to the Martyrs”.

Should we also sever those ties, or will it remain a one-sided demonization of the only democracy in the entire Middle East? In liberal democracies, universities are essential parts civil society which critically examines and questions government policies.

It is still possible in Israel. Critics of the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right coalition partners often receive support from a number of Israeli scholars. For example, they took the lead in protests against a dangerous constitutional amendment in 2023.

Tens of thousands of Israelis also study and work at Israeli universities. They too are victims of this unjust and unproductive boycott, which in no way promotes peace, but further weakens the constructive and peace-loving forces in Israel.


Dr. Maarten Boudry – philosopher, Ghent University (UGent)
Prof. Mark Elchardus – sociologist, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)
Prof. Marc Salomon – Dean Amsterdam Business School, University of Amsterdam (UvA)
Professor Steven Pinker – Harvard University
Dr. Amanda Kluveld – Maastricht University
Prof. Freek Van de Velde – Catholic University of Leuven (KU).
Professor Jerry Coyne – University of Chicago
Prof. Matthias Storme – KU Leuven
Prof. Jessica Roitman – VU Amsterdam
Prof. Filip Buekens – KULeuve, Tilburg University
Prof. Matthew Shawkey – Ghent University
Prof. Marc De Vos – UGent
Prof. Ruud Koopmans – Humboldt University, Berlin
Em. Prof. Dr. Martijn Katan – Professor of Nutrition, VU Amsterdam
Dr. Niek Pas – Assistant Professor, UVA
Prof. Marc Cogen – legal researcher, VUB and Ghent University
Prof. Boudewijn Bouckaert – Ghent University
Prof. Henri Rosenberg – former lecturer at Radboud Nijmegen, VUB
Drs. Gert Jan Geling – The Hague University of Applied Sciences
Dr. David Suurland – Researcher

Dr. Jelle van Baardewijk – philosopher VU
Prof. dr. Jonathan Silk – University of Leiden
Daniëlle van Lijf – teacher at Erasmus School of Law
Prof. Dr. BH Ter Kuile – professor UVA
Dr. Moritz Föllmer – Associate Professor at the University of Amsterdam
Shira Huizing-Lemstra – UU, Erasmus University
Drs. Daphne Cohen – Utrecht University of Applied Sciences
Em. Prof. Sonja de Leeuw – University of Utrecht
Dr. Rachel Levy – UVA
Mrs Nadine Dellafaille Abraham – College of Journalism

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