Middle East

This is how the second teach-in at TU Delft went

The second teach-in on Gaza and Israel was held on Friday 8 December. The first one received criticism as not everyone thought it was balanced. How did this one go?

(Photo: Thijs van Reeuwijk)

Anyone walking past lecture hall C in the Aula shortly before 17:00 on Friday 8 December, probably noticed little out of the ordinary. Just the table next to the door with piles of filled sandwiches, vegetables and bowls of hummus gives away that it was not just an ordinary lecture that was going to be held here.

The atmosphere is a little tense too. The war between Israel and Hamas has been causing a ruckus on TU Delft’s campus. An Israeli staff member told Delta that she did not feel safe after the, in her eyes, one-sided discussion of the last teach-in, which led her to be criticised by one of the speakers at the event. Rector Magnificus Tim van der Hagen and Delta columnist Bob van Vliet also expressed their thoughts about the impact of the war on campus.

Academic values

This meeting should address this too. After the first teach-in and so-called walk-out, the group that calls itself ‘Engineering Solidarity Palestine Delft’, is labelling this event ‘Academic freedom, Islamophobia and ideology (on Palestine/Israel)’. They invited three speakers to talk to the audience about academic freedom, the responsibility that this entails, and about Islamophobia, in particular in the context of the war in Gaza.

Dr Harry Pettit, Assistant Professor in Social, Economic and Cultural Geography at Radboud University, is the first speaker, addressing about 80 attendees. Pettit is involved in similar lectures at Radboud University. The series was initially disbanded after the organisers felt that the University placed limitations on them. The lectures went ahead (in Dutch) later.

At the TU Delft event, Pettit explains that he believes that the initial limitations in Nijmegen exposed a lack of understanding about academic values. He believes that academics should not only present arguments from both sides, they should also come up with suitable conclusions. “People carry out in-depth research and build a case. This is then tested by reviewers or by people asking questions.”


The second speaker, Rahma Bavelaar, is an anthropologist and one of the founders of Meld Islamofobie (report Islamophobia foundation). She says that she often sees Islamophobia in the Netherlands rise depending on the topics covered in the news, including after the news about Hamas’ attack on 7 October. The first report came in on 8 October.

Bavelaar also sees ‘everyday Islamophobia’ in politics. The House of Representatives accepted a motion by Derk Boswijk of the CDA (Christian democrat party) who called for support to Hamas in the Netherlands to be investigated. The reason for this, she explains at the teach-in, was a report issued by the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV) in 2021 that Bavelaar believes is outdated.

The NCTV did indeed publish a new report (in Dutch) on 12 December 2023 in which it states that ‘the jihadi movement on the whole seems to be less active than a few years ago’. At the same time, the NCTV does see that the threat of a jihadi attack in the Netherlands has risen, in part because of the war in Gaza.

The last speaker, Joost Kircz, Lector Emeritus Electronic Publishing and Co-editor of the Marxism & Sciences magazine, talked about the responsibility of academics for their work. Moral considerations about applications should not just be left to the market to decide, he says. “The usual argument is ‘the enemy hit first’, but the enemy is the worst argument for our own survival.”


During the first lecture, a member of the audience asks Pettit to talk about the violence against Israel, meaning the Hamas attack of 7 October. Pettit says he condemns the attack and finds Hamas’ atrocities against civilians appalling.

That said, he would rather not delve further into the events of 7 October, he says. “The attacks did not take place in a vacuum,” he quotes António Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations. “There is a long history of 75 years of oppression of the Palestinians.” The number of deaths on both sides also makes a difference to Pettit. “By now about 20 times the number of Palestinians have been killed. This is why I want the violence to end today.”

When he finishes his story, the same member of the audience asks about the event’s intention. “Is it an open debate or is it a pro-Palestine workshop?” Tzula Propp, the moderator and a post-doc at QuTech, says that it is neither. “We are not here to debate. This is a teach-in to learn about what happened. Today, the day that 500 people died.”

‘No demonstrations’

Another subject that comes up in Pettit’s presentation and in discussions among the audience is TU Delft’s position on the conflict and on teach-ins like this one. In a previously recorded talk show broadcast by TU Delft on Thursday 7 October, Rector Magnificus Tim van der Hagen said that he sees it as his job to give people the opportunity to enter into academic debate. But he also said (and this statement now turns out to have been removed from registration, Delta discovered): “This is different to the freedom of expression. That has no place on campus: no demonstrations, no banners or such, and also no statements that people could perceive as hurtful or that are hurtful. This is not easy and we understand that many people have a lot of emotions.”

A day later, these statements are a cause of concern for those present at the teach-in. As Pettit shows a translation of the Rector Magnificus’ words on one of the slides, there are murmurs in the hall. The talk show is a subject of discussion after the session ended too. What could the Rector have meant? (See the box below for a statement by Tim van der Hagen.)

Other opinions

Despite this lack of clarity, the teach-in could go ahead, although TU Delft’s Safety and Security Department moved the meeting from Pulse to the Aula, says Tom Twigt, the organiser. In contrast to the previous teach-in, where a security officer advised Twigt not to use ‘words like genocide’, he was now not asked to ban the use of certain words or subjects.

When the presentations are finished, the audience is clearly not done. Up to the point when the security officers of the Aula ask them to leave the hall, dozens of the people present discuss the issues an hour in small and large groups for at least. Their facial expressions and voices show strong emotions, but everyone gets the chance to finish what they want to say.

The person (who does not want to be named) who asked about the purpose of the meeting is happy with this. “I had the feeling that there was interest in other opinions after the event.” When he sees Pettit at the main entrance to the Aula, he grabs the opportunity to also enter into discussion with him. They do not reach agreement in the short time available, but they thank each other for the discussion.

Statement by Rector Magnificus and Executive Board Chair Tim van der Hagen:

‘During a TU Delft talk show on 7 December, I was asked about demonstrations in response to the war between Israel and Hamas. This is a highly current and extremely sensitive subject. During the talk show, I said something rather clumsily that could give the wrong impression that there is no freedom of expression on campus. I realised this during the talk show, but saw no opportunity to set it right there and then. When I watched the clip later, I realised that that was not what I wanted to say as that was not what I meant.

What I did want to say – and I am pleased that Delta is giving me the opportunity to do so – is this: “On the one hand, we are the keepers of academic freedom. We must ensure that people feel safe and are safe. We are currently seeing greater polarisation in society. We also see this on campus. It is our task to give people the opportunity to enter into academic debate with each other. This is different to demonstrations, banners and statements that people may find offensive because they are or could be experienced as hurtful. These type of expressions do not belong on campus.”

We checked if it was possible to clarify this in the video recording of the talk show. But as it would look too manipulated, we decided to simply remove the relevant piece.’

News editor Emiel Beinema

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