“I have been hearing for years that Jewish students don’t feel safe at universities and that universities are lax in taking action”, House member Ulysse Ellian (VVD) said in a debate yesterday about anti-Semitism.

Other MPs agreed. Mirjam Bikker (ChristenUnie) said: “I hear stories about students who don’t wear a kippah or a Star of David anymore, who avoid some universities or have dropped out, who are afraid to say they have family in Israel.”

Although the debate went beyond problems in education, it was a major topic. “For Jewish students to feel ostracised at universities is intolerable”, said Maikel Boon (PVV).

Poison

“Anti-Semitism is a terrible poison”, agreed Stephan van Baarle (Denk). “Hatred and unequal treatment of people merely because they are Jewish must be severely condemned, particularly with the Holocaust as blot in our past. Recent anti-Semitic incidents are unacceptable.”

Van Baarle went on to draw attention to Islamophobia and questioned certain parties’ motivations. “According to the radical right, anti-Semitism is a logical outgrowth of immigration from Islamic countries. For the PVV, anti-Semitism is just a stick to beat Muslims with.” He underlined that the fight against anti-Semitism must not be equated with the fight for equal rights for Palestinians.

Differences aside, there was consensus on anti-Semitism. Outgoing minister Robbert Dijkgraaf likewise condemned it in no uncertain terms. “Anti-Semitism is a great evil, and an evil that has lately been rearing its ugly head again. This hurts us all. The number of anti-Semitic incidents is growing in education, too. This pains me deeply and is wholly unacceptable.”

Intimidated

Dijkgraaf has conducted wide-ranging talks with Jewish organisations, schoolchildren, students, teachers and education administrators. “We were disturbed by the examples shared with us”, he said. “Jewish school pupils being taunted, intimidated and greeted with the Hitler salute in the hallways. Teachers having to go through classrooms in the mornings to remove swastikas from desks and whiteboards. And teachers and staff who are afraid to show their Jewish identity.”

The question is what he can do, apart from convene discussions and speak out? “Institutions are responsible for providing a safe learning and working environment for their students and staff”, the minister pointed out. “They have security policies to do that. They have their own institutional rules.” He called for an open academic climate “in which students feel free to express themselves, even if their opinions don’t coincide with those of the instructor or majority of students.”

The parties understood this, but found it rather meagre. Bikker: “I can’t help thinking of the Jewish student who is afraid to go to her graduation ceremony and afraid to attend lectures because she told people her family is in Israel.” What good is a response about institutional rules?

Maybe institutional rules should be tightened, the minister offered. “And, in all fairness, I think institutions are also still searching”.

Lame

“Searching for what?” scoffed Caroline van der Plas (BBB). “Lame”, is how she summed it up. It’s simple, she said: ban those demonstrations. “Put up a poster: no screeching, no shouting, no loud chanting, no face coverings. That will keep them out in the first place. How hard is that? Just tell them to scram!”

“I agree with Ms van der Plas one hundred percent”, Dijkgraaf replied. “Eradicating anti-Semitism, so not allowing it, is just non-negotiable. It is actually very simple.”

“We are dealing with a very small population of Jewish students”, observed Frans Timmermans (GroenLinks-PvdA). “They are particularly vulnerable right now. My assessment is that institutions are not yet sufficiently equipped to contend with this very specific situation.”

However, he added, students have a tendency to demonstrate; he did so himself. “Action must be taken if students feel unsafe, but barring discussions and even confrontations at higher education institutions does not seem to me a viable way forward.” Dijkgraaf acknowledged this. “That’s a different debate – how to broach fraught issues.”

Motions

So, what did the House of Representatives want? A variety of motions were put forward. Diederik van Dijk (SGP) wanted the government to make agreements with higher education institutions to tighten building access so activists cannot simply walk in.

The BBB felt institutions should require identification “for as long as needed”. Students would then have to present their student ID cards “so that individuals who have no affiliation of any sort with the education institution can be refused entry to buildings”.

The vote was held late Thursday night, just before the House broke for May recess. Both motions passed.

20231017 teach-in palestina Sanders foto Wouter Holleman (7)

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