Belgian university maintains collaboration with Israeli institutions despite protests demanding to cut ties

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About twenty demonstrators protested Thursday in front of the rector’s office at  Leuven University      (KUL) in Belgium on Thursday to demand that the university immediately end its collaboration with Israeli institutions. But the university said it has decided to maintain current collaboration with its Israeli partners, daily La Libre reported. 

Participants at the protest action waved Palestinian flags and wore black and white scarves. They chanted slogans such as “Shame on KUL, break up with Israel”, “Free Palestine” and “Stop the genocide”.

Several actions have already taken place in recent months to denounce the links between Israeli universities and KU Leuven. “We have the impression that the University of Leuven will not put an end to these collaborations,” a protester was quoted as saying.  “That’s why we’re keeping up the pressure: links with institutions linked to the arms industry and the Israeli security apparatus are extremely problematic,” he added.

The rector of KU Leuven, Luc Sels, will receive some of the protesters to discuss the issue next Tuesday but the university said that it has decided to maintain its current research projects with various Israeli universities, following a decision taken on by the relevant ethics committee.

The university has “thoroughly evaluated” the current collaborations, particularly on the basis of human rights. “The general position is one of restraint”, the Rector wrote on his blog.

The leuven university has no structural links with Israeli universities, but does have project-based collaborations. These involve some fifteen projects, mostly in larger consortia funded by the European Horizon research program.

“The content of each project was thoroughly examined: it was checked whether there was any risk of the content being misused or used for military purposes,” Luc Sels said.

“The projects were also assessed to determine whether they presented a risk of human rights violations and whether the partners were not involved in human rights violations,’’ he added.

He continued: ‘’On the basis of this screening, it was decided to continue with the current projects. “We are opting for a balanced, fine-tuned approach. New collaborations with Israeli partners must first be submitted to the ethics committee for assessment. The committee not only applies human rights criteria but will also assess with the necessary rigor whether the research has possible military applications.’’

At another Belgian university in Ghent, an association titled ‘’Students4Palestine’’ also called on the Board of Governors and Rector to cut all collaborations with Israeli institutions which they accused of being ”complicit in the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.’’ They are threatening to occupy the University if their demand is not met.

Last November, Ghent University issued a clear statement saying that it always decides to cooperate with partners, universities or companies and not with countries as such.’’ ‘’Within the framework of our human rights policy, it is therefore actual our potential partners we assess and not the country in which they are located,’’ the statement said.

Belgian university maintains collaboration with Israeli institutions despite protests demanding to cut ties