Utrecht University, invest in ties with Israeli universities

Of all conflicts in this world, Utrecht University has to put its foot right into a hornet's nest, and take sides in one of the most intricate conflicts of our age. At least, that is what Layal Ftouni and Itai van de Wal argue in their opinion. In this opinion, I am going to argue why it would be both unacademic as well as unethical to do so.

What is the problem exactly? Israeli students can study at Utrecht University, and students of Utrecht University can study at various Universities in Israel. This example of the open and free exchange of knowledge and ideas that the academia stands for, is a thorn in the side of two anti-Israel activists who work and study in Utrecht. That’s the problem. Any reader would wonder, where this resentment vis-a-vis their fellow students and academic colleagues is coming from? After all, a measure to impede on the free and open academic exchange would first and foremost limit the students and employees of Utrecht University.

Ethical and political implications
The authors are claiming that the opportunity to study in Israel has ethical and political implications, because the Universities are in Israel. And because these Israeli universities are part of Israel as a whole, they are also connected to the conflict in the disputed territories. These territories, which are being controlled by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, are the scene of violent clashes between Jewish and Arab inhabitants including alleged violations of human rights.  However, the starting point of their argument is not a factual observation but a controversial political opinion. According to the frame of this political opinion, Israel is not that tiny strip of land along the Mediterranean coast which the Jews have called their home, but a ‘goliath’ and ‘the big bully’ of the entire region. Any informed person looking on a map of the Middle East can see that this frame does not reflect the full reality in the region.

Anachronistic comparison to South Africa 
The frame also includes the idea that anachronistically compares Israel to South Africa during the racial segregation that has been termed ‘apartheid’. Calvinistic theology, the idea of 'homelands' and of ‘sovereignty in one’s own circle’- principles that lie at the foundation of apartheid - are foreign to Israeli society. Israel is not perfect, but neither is The Netherlands. Overall: Israeli’s don’t see themselves as superior to Arabs. The idea of feeling superior and wanting to live in a separate state is originally Dutch, not Israeli and certainly not Jewish. Any student who has ever studied at an Israeli university will be able to confirm; there is not the slightest hint of racial segregation in Israel nor on Israeli campuses. Arabs and Jews study in all of the mentioned universities, work there, go out, build a career and find their place in Israeli society. Jews and Arabs become scientists, physicians, lawyers, judges, government officials and members of the current governing coalition. And yes, I am not ignoring the fact that there is a (sporadically violent) conflict going on about the West Bank, which is supposed to be part of an Arab state called Palestine. However, denying the fact that the Jews are also indigenous to the region with the right to live there, is the real apartheid.

Bloody tribal conflicts
In every armed conflict on this planet, the civilian population is exposed to dangers, and the conflict between Israel and various Palestinian terror organization is not different in that respect. To view instances of violations of human rights detached from the conflict is a misconstruction of reality. We should not forget: Israel is not located in Scandinavia, but in the Middle East, where dictatorial regimes use chemical weapons on their own populations, and where rampant corruption and bloody tribal conflicts are the order of the day.

The call to cut ties with Israeli universities is part of a concerted effort of a wide array of organisations who subscribe to BDS, the global boycott divestment ans sanction movement regarding Israël.

Despite all of their differences, Islamists, Marxist and democratic organisations agreed to work together to isolate Israel internationally, as a parallel effort to destroy Israel by means of force. The hypocrisy of BDS advocates when it comes to boycotting Israel, is visible in BDS leader Omar Barghouti, who graduated with a master in philosophy from Tel Aviv University and is pursuing his phd there as well. He’s benefiting more than he’s boycotting.

Academic freedom
Learn from Palestinians: the Birzeit University in Ramallah has close ties with the Hebrew University. This is the true academic spirit: learn from each other, listen to both sides, discuss! The opportunity to go to Israel is an opportunity to broaden your mind and find out that some of the discussions here, are way different there. For example the discussion of applying the lable of 'apartheid' to israel is not being held at Israeli universities, since some of the universities have almost a majority of Arab students. Therefore, we don't see anybody promoting a boycott of those universities there, because such a boycott would actually limit academic freedom.

At the end of the day, we are left with a half-baked call to action, ridiculed by logical flaws and hypocrisy. That is also why I trust that Utrecht University will stay its course and continue to foster opportunities to learn, grow and be exposed to a new culture and experience. Because that’s where the biggest university in the Netherlands is all about.