Received letter

‘This confirms that activism is crucial in bringing important issues to the table’

In reaction to Birgit van Driel’s column about the attitude of the activists on campus, researcher Mayank Gupta (ME) sheds light on what has been happening from the perspective of the protesters themselves.

Birgit van Driel has expressed her views about the protests on campus against TU Delft’s complicity in the genocide, apartheid and oppression of Palestinians. We will firstly clarify the state of our negotiations with the Executive Board and then respond to her tactical suggestions.

Firstly, we do not believe, as Birgit assumes, that the talks with the Executive Board have been constructive or that our arguments have been fairly heard. In our experience, the Board is more interested in deflecting our concerns rather than duly considering them. For instance, we showed how Israel uses F-35s to commit war crimes (in Dutch), which makes TU Delft an accomplice in continuing to help develop the fighter jets. The Board disregarded this and restated their intention to continue working with NATO and the EU on the grounds of our safety. Working with NATO does not exempt companies from respecting international humanitarian law.

This is a wilful misinterpretation of the point of the academic boycott

Moreover, we explained how all Israeli universities are complicit in Israel’s crimes, citing Towers of Ivory and Steel: How Israeli Universities Deny Palestinian Freedom by Dr Maya Wind, a Jewish Israeli scholar. The Board replied (in Dutch) that they ‘feel it is important not to isolate critical Israeli scientists, just as much as [they] feel strongly about supporting Palestinian colleagues’. This is a wilful misinterpretation of the point of the academic boycott, which is to suspend institutional ties, not interpersonal ones. In fact, it is Israeli universities that have isolated critical voices by suspending academics and students. Finally, how can the Board ‘feel strongly about supporting Palestinian colleagues’ while simultaneously aiding the bombing of Palestinian academics?

The Board claimed it wants to organise a ‘moral deliberation’ to ensure that collaborations respect international law – then two weeks later, the Rector contradicted this (in Dutch) by saying that TU Delft would never cut ties with Israeli institutions unless Government sanctions forced him to do so. He asserts that this protects academic freedom, but there can be no academic freedom without first upholding international humanitarian law. There needs to be a system of accountability.

These are a few examples of the Board’s responses that illustrate their dismissive and misguided approach towards the protestors’ concerns.

Secondly, Birgit gives us tactical suggestions, suggesting that we ‘put new arguments forward’ and ‘agree on certain terms’. Although we are always open to hearing new perspectives, we will not compromise on our fundamental demand: that TU Delft complies with international humanitarian law. To this end, we have presented short and long term demands that address both the immediate ongoing genocide in Gaza and the broader issue of Israel’s longstanding occupation and oppression of Palestinians.

We always encourage students and staff to converse with us

From the very start of our movement, we have been ‘looking for allies’, as Birgit suggests. We host discussions on a weekly basis in various parts of the campus where students come and ask us questions. We always encourage students and staff to converse with us at the encampment, especially if they disagree. Active participation has been a guiding principle in our movement from day one.

As for strategies, we have constantly evolved our actions in response to continuous dismissal by the Board, starting with teach-ins and petitions eight months ago, followed by the encampment, addressing ME’s ‘elephant in the room’ and, most recently, the occupations of the ME and Aula buildings. We are following the historical precedent set in universities in 1969 when demands for the democratisation of universities went unheard and students occupied the Maagdenhuis (University of Amsterdam). The occupation achieved a much more democratic structure across all Dutch universities, ushering in an era of unprecedented political consciousness among students and staff, which we hope will materialise again.

Overall, we thank Birgit for taking the time to consider and write about our movement. Her reply confirms that activism is crucial in bringing important issues to the table. Were it not for our reappropriation of ME and the Aula, we would have had a column about an outgoing minister instead. We hope to have clarified important points here about the negotiations, our goals and our strategy. At a time when grave injustices and crimes are perpetuated, it is our duty to act. We will not give in.

Mayank Gupta works at the department Process & Engineering of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. 

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