Pro-Palestinian activists on rectors’ letter: ‘The Executive Board does not speak on behalf of all students and staff members’

Rector Magnificus Tim van der Hagen and the rectors of 14 other universities have decided not to break ties with Israeli academic institutions, they write in the Trouw newspaper. TU Delft pro-Palestinian activists respond with disappointment.

(Photo: Thijs van Reeuwijk)

In the letter published on Saturday (in Dutch), the rectors state that all current views on the conflict in Gaza must be given space. This is one of the reasons that they are not reconsidering or breaking their ties with Israeli institutions. ‘In any case, we will never break ties with a whole country. We would only consider doing so if the Government requires or advises us to do so, as it did with Russia.’ They do add that ‘they would address their sister institutions if the core values are violated’, and that they would ‘take distance if this conversation would not be accepted’.


The pro-Palestine protests that have been ongoing at Dutch universities for months were also mentioned in the letter. ‘In the last few weeks, some of these protests at universities have descended into occupation, provocation, violence and destruction. We completely deplore this.’ The rectors do say however that the ‘issue behind the protests is legitimate’.

At TU Delft too, activists have long demanded that the ties with Israeli universities and research institutions be broken. The students set up a tented camp on Thursday 23 May and occupied part of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering (ME) for part of the day on Monday 3 June. The police forcibly broke up the occupation of the Faculty and arrested 19 demonstrators.


The tented camp between the Library and the Aula is still there. Activist Michael Parent is disappointed with the letter. “Tim van der Hagen had already taken a position. This shows that if there would be a moral deliberation read-more-closed

it would not do anything,” he says. Parent is referring to a promise made by the Executive Board at the end of May to hold a moral deliberation about Gaza. Furthermore, says Parent, “this clearly shows that the management does not speak on behalf of very many students and staff members and does not come forward with a proper response.”

‘It was not a strong resistance’

In the letter they sent to the newspaper, the rectors cite academic freedom. ‘The freedom to carry out research, to think and to debate, even if these go against our and other people’s deepest convictions.’ They state that that academic freedom and acting upon it is ‘hugely important, especially in the current situation’. That said, at the end of last year, Van der Hagen said that ‘demonstrations, banners and statements that people could perceive as hurtful or that are hurtful’ do not belong on campus.


After the occupation of the ME Faculty, TU Delft filed a report on violence, unlawful entry and destruction. An intranet message said that buildings were defaced with paint and lectures had to be postponed. A TU Delft spokesperson could not say on Monday what kind of violence occurred. After some questioning, he said that when demonstrators were arrested they ‘resisted so strongly that it turned violent’.

Parent disputes this. “There was no ‘strong resistance’. At the most, some people did not cooperate in their arrest, but demonstrators are not obliged to do so.” Parent also calls the spokesperson’s explanation striking. “If there is violence during an arrest, it is the police who have to file a report and not TU Delft. We have not heard a thing from the police.”

Delta was not there during the arrests, but there was a reporter from Alaraby Television, a media platform for young Arabs. A video shows that the police pulled demonstrators away from the entrance to the Faculty and pushed students, covering their noses and mouths, outside. Two police officers also wrestled an activist to the ground.

Lockheed Martin

At the end of last week, TU Delft published an online news report in which the Executive Board says that it strives to be transparent about why TU Delft collaborates with the defence industry. It talks about ties with the American Lockheed Martin company as ‘activists have specifically criticised the collaboration between TU Delft and the American company Lockheed Martin’.

Pro-Palestine demonstrators not only turned against this partnership, but also against other partnerships such as with Airbus and Thales. In answer to the question why TU Delft only names Lockheed Martin, a spokesperson says that “this company is cited in demonstrations, letters and emails to the Executive Board more often than other companies”. The spokesperson did not want to show Delta any letters or emails in which this appears.

To court

A new website appeared online at the beginning of June showing the ties that Dutch academic institutions have with Israeli institutions and companies. The site,, says that TU Delft and 30 other institutions are in a consortium that is designing better aircraft wings for flying short distances. This is being done under the leadership of Airbus Defence and Space and that an Israeli aerospace company is part of it.

One of the owners of the website is The Rights Forum, a pro-Palestinian human rights organisation, that takes universities to court to gain access to information on contacts with Israeli and ‘pro-Israeli’ organisations. While TU Delft had previously said that it would issue a list of partnerships with Israeli institutions and companies, to date it has only published a link to a European website about EU partnerships.

Response letter

The protesters at TU Delft’s and other universities’ tented camp sent a letter to Trouw on Monday 10 June that Delta has read. In the letter they say that they will continue to demonstrate until the universities have broken their ties. ‘Police violence, evacuations, delaying things through committees, consciously wrongly explaining our actions and demands in university-wide emails read-more-closed  or opinion pieces. Nothing can or will stop us. We will continue until you hold your so-called ‘sister institutions’ and other partners responsible for their complicity in Israel’s violations of the human rights of Palestinians.’

Whether Trouw publishes the letter is yet to be seen.

News editor Annebelle de Bruijn

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