Protect the right to protest

Dear academics, students, minister Dijkgraaf, university boards

0.7 is sounding the alarm bells. We must ensure freedom of speech and freedom of protest at Dutch Universities! Do NOT censor students who are protesting war crimes! Do NOT call the police on them. Do NOT expose them to far-right accusations and vigilantes! Protect your institutions by protecting the rights and bodies of your students and staff!

In the United States, politicians and university boards unite against their students and staff with violence and lies, because they want to cover up the war crimes in which they are complicit. Last night, something similar happened at Roeterseiland.

What is it the protestors are protesting? What are the universities censoring? 

  • The International Court of Justice states that Israel does not do enough to prevent genocide. (link and link)
  • Francesca Albanese at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, concluded “There are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating the commission of the crime of genocide…has been met.” (link)

The concerns for the loss of human life and the calls for divestment into a regime that commits war crimes are legitimate enough to entertain, especially since the manner of protest is peaceful. As it was with the Vietnam war protests, and the anti-apartheid protests, the vicious response of the establishment is equally as telling as concerning. The ideals of freedom of speech and assembly, solidarity and political engagement that universities such as the VU, UvA, Columbia (NY) and UCLA have exhibited and preached, are now exposed as lies. These institutions are losing their legitimacy for an entire generation of students, and the history books will condemn them. What’s more, they fall victim to far-right politics and neoliberal management. A fall from which it will be hard to return. 

As students have started forming similar protests in the Netherlands, we should learn lessons from overseas, and avoid oppression at any cost! But we are awfully close to repeating their mistakes. Last week, in our parliament, there was a motion that was passed, which tries to force universities to employ and police a mandatory identification obligation (link).  PVDA, GL, SP, D66, VOLT have all voted in favor of this, along with the conservative and far right parties.

This motion is part of a growing trend of politicians trying to prohibit dialogue and protest at universities. This week attempts are made to advance a policy that prohibits Palestine protests on campuses (link). This is an attack on our universities by dutch (far-)right politics (read about it here), that for some reason the dutch press and the political left are helpless against. In the parliamentary debate, there are several mentions by politicians to prohibit demonstrations at universities, an open attack on democratic and academic freedom that hardly anyone is reporting on. And it’s not just at our universities, Amnesty has noted that freedom of assembly is in danger in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, CvB’s seem to increasingly choose the use of violence against their own students and staff. The police brutality used to evict students encamped at the UvA on  may 6th is but the latest example of this. Every time, there is no reasonable justification for using violence against students who are peacefully protesting at their own university. The university belongs to students and staff, not to the CvB’s.

Strangely, it’s the image of people peacefully protesting on American campuses that scares them. Not the arrests of academic staff, not the beatings of peaceful students by the police, not the snipers on the roofs, and not the fascist “counter protestors” who gather at the campus gates to escalate the situation even further, and not the decay of our democratic rights and the revival of authoritarianism is what they fear. No. It’s the students that hold them to their own supposed beliefs, their own words of freedom, solidarity, truth, and ‘light’. 

Now let us be clear. There is no room for antisemitism on our campuses or in any movement. Speak out against antisemitism, always! Simultaneously, do not fall for the false accusations of antisemitism against the Palestine protests. Let it be known that Jewish students and staff, together with Muslims and Palestinians, have been at the forefront of the protests that parliament now wants to prohibit. Racialized people will not be protected by this policy, they will be harmed by it. So many Jewish students, staff, and intellectuals are already targeted by censorship or worse. The coalition of actors that wants to limit the right to protest includes openly far-right figures, and many with a history of antisemitism. These far-right actors side with Israel, due to their Islamophobia. This is also why defending the right to protest must go hand in hand with a rejection of any discriminatory, racist or hateful speech. 

What’s more, to ignore what is happening now in Gaza, as our universities are doing, is in itself racist policy. Cornell West was clear on this: a Jewish baby has as much value as a Palestinian baby. To ignore the victims of Israel’s current campaign, or of any occupation, because they are non-white, or Muslim, or Palestinian, is racist. If it were 13 thousand white babies being killed, or all the universities in a European country being destroyed, our universities would not urge us to “not be political or polarizing”. We know this for a fact, because when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022 and started razing cities and killing civilians en masse, our universities were quick to sever all ties with Russian institutions. 

All the current protests are asking is that our universities maintain that same commitment to peace and justice, now! All we ask is that the right to protest is upheld. Any policy that limits the right to protest for a single group of people, limits freedom for all. 

Support our upcoming campaign against the repressive measures proposed by our parliament. Sign the petition supported by many action groups and organizations to oppose the identification obligation as well as any other ideas our politicians may have to limit or prohibit protest at our universities. Also sign this petition to oppose the use of police brutality on UvA students and staff. Defend our universities and our democratic rights! Support your students and form a circle around them! Maintain the values of our institutes!

In solidarity