UG president Jouke de Vries: We want to talk, but they don’t want to

The pro-Palestine protesters camping on the Harmonie square say the university has been ignoring them for months. This is not true, says UG boss Jouke de Vries, but the protesters themselves are making a dialogue impossible.

De Vries won’t say whether he would have chosen to let the protesters sleep on Harmonie square. ‘That’s not up to us, but to the mayor, the police, and the public prosecutor. So far, they’ve deemed it safe to go ahead. It was quiet last night, so that’s how it is’, says the university president.

No conversation

On Monday, the day the tent camp started, the UG tried three times to engage in conversation with the protesters, but to no avail. ‘We keep trying, but they themselves have said they don’t want to talk to us.’

The protesters’ Instagram page explains why. They argue that they have been in talks with the university for seven months. Behind closed doors, they’ve been told that the university wants to cooperate with them, for example by disclosing its ties with Israel, but time and again, the institute has failed to live up to its promises.

Too little, too late

The fact that the university board of directors disclosed ties with Israeli institutions last Friday is too little, too late, they feel. Moreover, the protesters are angry at the university for not giving them space to talk about Palestine and the war in Gaza in UG buildings for months.

Nonsense, says De Vries. ‘Of course we’ll allow discussions, but they have to take place in academic style and there are ground rules for that’, he says. There must be an independent moderator and academic experts present to shed light on the situation from different sides. 

That means you can’t just have a one-sided discussion, he says. ‘If they meet the criteria, they can have the discussion just fine within the university. They claim we are unreasonable, but we’re not. There are just rules to abide by.’

Ties to Israel

The protesters’ current demands are simple: the university should sever all ties with Israeli universities and institutions. De Vries doesn’t see that happening any time soon. ‘We review our international projects on the basis of knowledge security,’ he says.

Besides, he argues, there are also individual relationships between Groningen and Israeli scientists. ‘There are also researchers at Israeli universities who do not support prime minister Netanyahu and who have a different stance on this issue. Should we stop talking to them, too?’



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