DEBATE: A Global University Needs a Global Conscience

- in Debatt

Lund University should cut ties with Israeli universities and take a stronger stance in solidarity with Palestine, writes student Pete Wrigley.

This is an opinion article. The views expressed are those of the writer.

In a recent article in Lund University Magazine (LUM), two LU employees criticise the university leadership’s silence on Gaza. The authors argue that students’ and employees’ protests and demands concerning Gaza are continuously ignored and even silenced by the leadership. Remembering the university’s active solidarity with Ukraine, the authors ask “Why not the same for Palestine?”

The university leadership’s response, with the disturbingly cold, selfish title “LU takes a stand on issues that affect our work,” comes together with the article. It is a disappointing non-answer, with fuzzy words to dodge the questions. Nevertheless, the title alone says it all. They choose to pretend like a struggle of such catastrophic proportions, a live-streamed genocide drawing global attention to itself, does not affect LU. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The university leadership suffers from acute Eurocentrism. To them, freedom, democracy, and human rights only matter in Europe, for Europeans. The comparison between Palestine and Ukraine exposes their double standards. In LUM (15/2), Sydsvenskan (30/1), and his countless blog posts about Ukraine, the rector keeps referring to Europe and European civilization. When it comes to Palestine, however, “it is not the university’s task to pursue foreign policy issues.” A search on the rector’s blog (1/3) returns 4 hits for Israel, 3 for Hamas, 2 for Gaza and, you guessed it, 0 for Palestine! In these few posts, you can identify the language of the occupiers, constantly focusing on the 7/10 attack and Israel’s ‘self-defence’ against Hamas. Not a single word on the ongoing genocide in Gaza or 75 years of brutal oppression! So, sorry Palestinians, we only care about what happens to blue-eyed white people.

What about the Israeli universities supporting Israel’s genocidal attack on Gaza? Isn’t that reason enough to cut all ties with them, just like Russia? Why don’t we follow the example of University of Antwerp’s Faculty of Law, which, to uphold their respect for international law, terminated their cooperation with Bar-Ilan University due to the latter’s unwavering support for Israel’s military action? This must be done preemptively even if we don’t have active cooperation agreements with Israeli universities, to send a message to the world.

An ugly side effect of the university’s deadly silence is that the institutes cannot take a stand against local war dogs participating in job fairs. Last November, companies with ties to the Israeli military took part in a student job fair, ARKAD. In February, a company manufacturing telescopic sights for the Israeli military was represented at MEKKA, another job fair. The latter was tasteless enough to even display a roll-up picture of a rifle the day after Israel had launched yet another brutal attack on civilians in Gaza. Not only unethical, but also offensive to the students who share the Palestinians’ pain in their hearts.

There is support for Palestine all over the world, from Japan to Brazil, from England to South Africa, and from USA to Israel. There is the ICJ trial going on, and its ruling on Israel’s (plausible) genocide. You don’t want to end up on the wrong side of history. According to our Strategic Plan 2017-2026, we are supposed to be a world university, developing ideas around and solutions for societal challenges. With our current track record in ethics, how are we going to attract the best students and researchers worldwide? We are proud members of Universitas 21, with the slogan “No borders! Great ideas!” What happened to that?

There are times when even universities must stop being neutral. When do we act, if not in the face of an ongoing genocide? The university leadership has to stop inventing excuses, start listening to the voices raised from within, take a stand against Israel and give its full support to Palestine. Given 75 years of ethnic cleansing, occupation and apartheid by Israeli settler colonialism, that’s what we should have done a long time ago. If we claim to be a global university, we must develop a global conscience.

Pete Wrigley, student