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February 16, 2022 3:28 pm
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Dutch Universities Pause Inquiry of Ties to Jewish, Israel Groups, Express ‘Regret’ for Distress

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Utrecht University. Photo: Steven Lek, Wikimedia Commons.

An association representing 14 Dutch universities expressed regret on Tuesday for “feelings of unrest and insecurity” that arose after staff members were asked to reveal any contacts they had with Jewish and Israeli organizations.

The disclosure was sought after The Rights Forum (TRF), an anti-Zionist group, sent a freedom of information query to universities in the Netherlands last month, in a bid to determine “institutional ties with Israel universities, institutions and businesses and with organizations that propagate support for the State of Israel.” Staff were accordingly asked to share any interaction they had with a litany of groups, including the main representative of Dutch Jewry, the Dutch government’s antisemitism office, and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), among others.

The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (AUN), which on Friday said its members are asking for an extension to process the request, acknowledged in a Tuesday statement that “the handling and dissemination” of the request “has led to feelings of unrest and insecurity within universities. We regret this.”

Expressing a commitment to a safe environment for employees and students, and a concern that “that this has been compromised by our approach” to TRF’s request, the AUN clarified that after the appeal for an extension, “no further steps will be taken to request, collect and/or send” the requisite information.

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“The universities want to carefully consider whether and, if so, how the request should be processed,” the statement continued. They will weigh all legal responsibilities, including for “the safety of our staff and students, academic freedom, equal treatment and combating discrimination,” and determine whether cooperating with the request in full or in part will “result in a disproportionate disadvantage to those involved.”

On Monday, European Jewish student leaders denounced TRF’s demand, calling it an “antisemitic witch hunt.”

“Such habits are supported by years of antisemitic and anti-Israel hatred, notably instigated by the Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement,” said Elias Dray, president of the European Union of Jewish Students. “We will continue to combat antisemitism everywhere it shows its ugly head.”

Dray called on the Dutch government to intervene and “promote the use and implementation” of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which encompasses allegations that Jewish people are “more loyal to Israel or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nation.”

Other Jewish community leaders have also spoken out, including Chief Dutch Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, who said last week that the TRF request suggests the existence of “some shadowy Zionist/Jewish cabal.”

“What really concerns me is the number of universities that were so compliant with such a transparently antisemitic request,” Jacobs said. “It reminds us that most mayors cooperated during the occupation to pass on the names of their Jewish citizens to the Germans.”

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