Update 6: Protests on campus - How to proceed?

July 4, 2024

You cannot have missed it in recent weeks. On the bridge between Orion and Forum, a tent camp has now stood for more than 7 weeks, to draw attention to the suffering of innocent people in Gaza. The call to us as a board of directors is to cut institutional ties with Israel. With this update, we want to inform you of our position on this and take you through our thought process.

Governing = making choices. Even on complicated and polarising issues. Also when such a decision has drawbacks. Decisions are made by the three of us on the board, but of course we listen carefully to the people and the world around us. That is exactly what we have been doing over the past weeks and months.

We had 12 substantive discussions with the activists on the bridge. You could follow updates on that via the website, including this interview with Rector Carolien Kroeze. We have read the petition from concerned employees, held consultations with the Wageningen Management Board, other universities, the Minister of OCW, partners in Israel, we spoke several times with Jewish students and with various groups of colleagues here in Wageningen, and we facilitated meetings in which critical reflection, including on the role of the Executive Board, took place. We also put the topic on the agenda with the democratically elected Co-Determination Bodies within WUR.


In short, we have cast our net wide and conclude that it would not be the right route to sever ties with Israeli knowledge institutions. There are two important and principled reasons for this:

  1. We value the university as an independent knowledge institution, where there is space for open and free debate. Any (political) judgment we make, reduces that space for open debate. In other words: it is not the role of a university to judge on geopolitical conflicts. That is simply not up to us. Our remit is to generate knowledge and pass it on through teaching and research.

    What is happening in Gaza is terrible and the human suffering is indescribable. This has to stop. The same, unfortunately, applies to many conflict zones around the world. Darfur, Myanmar Jemen and others. This is not to downplay the suffering in Gaza, but to point out how complex the world and how limited our role is. This is where political (and not academic) actors come in, such as our parliament or the European Union.
  2. We value academic freedom for our individual staff and students: to a large extent, you should be able to decide for yourself with whom you do and do not want to cooperate. You make those choices based on our collaboration principles. That is the compass that helps you navigate which project is and is not appropriate. We see and hear that these are sometimes incredibly difficult considerations. That is why we decided earlier that we will better equip and support staff in making those choices.

We realise that this decision disappoints some of you. We have said it before in previous posts and we repeat it again here: we fully understand that students and staff want to do something to alleviate the suffering in Gaza. There remains plenty of room for this within WUR; as an individual or as a collective you can, for example, join an NGO, address the government in the Netherlands or elsewhere, or set up or support concrete aid project. But to preserve the space for a diversity of opinions and provide room for conversation in a safe environment, it is particularly important that our institute remains independent and does not speak out.

How to proceed?

Our conclusion also means that we note that the Executive Board and the activists on the bridge disagree on a fundamental level. The activists have made their point loud and clear. The right to demonstrate is undenieable, we are not questioning that. We have tolerated and even facilitated a tent encampment since Wednesday 15 May, in order to ensure that the actions remained safe and orderly.

At the same time, the tent camp takes up space: physically (on the bridge), financially (such as security and cleaning), organisationally (such as in response to some unacceptable actions by the activists) and mentally (for many who do not dare to speak out differently or against it). It is time for other important issues to be given full scope again. The Executive Board therefore asks that the activists vacate the tent encampment by the end of this week.