Universities struggle with handling pro-Palestinian protests

Despite days of talks, the group of activists and students occupying the UFO building at UGent have no intention of leaving. Universities in Antwerp, Brussels and Leuven are facing similar protests, with no solution in sight.

The protesters in Ghent refuse to compromise. "In our struggle for solidarity with a free Palestine, our demand for a complete academic boycott is non-negotiable," they said on Monday night.

The protest, supported by a group of UGent staff and professors, has been going on for almost a month and has led to the end of the university's academic cooperation with Israel. But some professors are publicly denouncing the decision, saying it has caused irreparable damage to UGent's international reputation.

Rector Rik Van de Walle regrets the polarisation at his university. "Solutions will only be in sight when enough people are able and willing to overcome their differences," he said on Monday evening. "I don't think the continuation of the occupation contributes to that."

Protests across Belgium

While the UGent occupation has received the most media attention, similar protests are taking place at other universities in Belgium. In Antwerp, the rector of the University of Antwerp will hold a second dialogue with occupying students later on Tuesday.

The first meeting took place last week and resulted in the university suspending its cooperation with Israeli institutions. The protesting students are demanding details of this decision and more transparency in the work of the ethics committee.

Students are also occupying part of the campus of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. On Tuesday, an open letter was published demanding a concrete answer from VUB rector Jan Danckaert "no later than" Friday on how he will meet the demands of the protesting students.

"Solutions will only be in sight when enough people are able and willing to overcome their differences"

The letter was signed by 291 VUB employees, including 51 professors, doctoral students, assistants and staff. They want Danckaert, who is also president of the Flemish Interuniversity Council, to lead an effort to end academic and commercial relations with Israel.

Finally, an occupation is also taking place at KU Leuven's College De Valk. The protesters hope that the university will follow the example of UGent. Despite making some small concessions, Leuven rector Luc Sels does not intend to cut ties with Israeli universities, he said last week.



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UGent to stop academic collaborations with Israel, activists call for total boycott
Ghent University intends to end all its cooperations with Israeli institutions, it announced on Thursday evening. The activists occupying...

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