MAASTRICHT. A meeting planned by Students for Justice in Palestine on 4 May in the Faculty of Law building, has been cancelled. The dean of the faculty, professor Hildegard Schneider, called it off on Tuesday. “One shouldn't organise political meetings in any of our buildings on 4 May.” Rector Rianne Letschert stated that she supports the dean's decision.
The matter became current, because of a letter of protest from the Young Democrats Limburg to the Executive Board. In this open letter, which was simultaneously sent to a number of news organisations on Tuesday, the Limburg branch of young D66 members were outraged by SJP's plan to organise a meeting in which the Jewish Israeli dissident "who opposes Zionism" would be speaking prior to the national commemoration of the dead. The letter doesn't exactly call for the meeting to be banned, “but”, says the chairman of the Young Democrats Limburg, Dennis van Driel – and a master's student of European Studies - “it would be the most reasonable solution”.
In the accompanying e-mail, Van Driel says that he finds the meeting “tasteless”, in particular because the persecution of the Jews is commemorated on 4 May. At the same time, the Young Democrats have another argument: they have always been denied permission to hold meetings in university buildings “because we are a political organisation”. But if the UM does not want to accommodate political meetings in its buildings, then it can also not provide a “platform for an anti-Zionist event”.
The SJP’s reaction to the cancellation of the meeting, was one of dismay. “Outrageous,” says founder Asiya Ahmed, “the Jewish Israeli, Ronnie Barkan, was coming to give a lecture on the occupation and various issues surrounding international law. That was also the text upon which we applied for the room and were given permission. This is not a political meeting, or everything could be called political. SJP focusses on human rights and international law.”
But dean Hildegard Schneider feels it was “a little misleading” that the application for the classroom did not mention that SJP was the organiser. “When such an organisation wants something, or when it concerns a politically tinted meeting, it always ends up on the dean's desk. This time, those in charge of room reservations thought that it was a regular education activity.”
If the application had indeed ended up with Schneider, she would have immediately turned it down, she says; the appeal by the Young Democrats would not have been necessary: “I feel that one should not organise any kind of political debates on 4 May. That can be done at other times. And even then, as an academic institute, I would always like to have the opposite side included.”
The fact that the lecture by the Israeli activist Barkan would take place on 4 May, was a coincidence, says Asiya Ahmed: “Barkan was to speak in Tilburg at the university and also wanted to come to Maastricht. It was all at the last minute; it was ultimately only possible on 4 May. We were very aware of this, and that is why we also stated in our announcement on Facebook that we would observe the two minutes’ silence at eight o' clock for the victims of the Holocaust and other conflicts.”
Young Democrats’ chairman Dennis van Driel is scornful: “How am I supposed to interpret that, after one and a half hours of anti-Israel propaganda?”
However, his party is just like SJP against the occupation politics by the Israeli government, and against the violation of human rights. Why such a heated reaction towards SJP? Van Driel: “We agree on the content of those points, but we are less radical.” In the open letter, SJP members are attributed “extremely radical points of view”, “when it comes to forcing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. Van Driel bases this on an SJP meeting where one of his fellow board members was present and spoke with visitors. They wouldn't reject Palestinian use of violence. Ahmed from SJP: “I don't know who they spoke with, but these are open meetings, not everyone there represents SJP's views. Van Driel would be better off coming to speak with us directly.”
In the meantime, Ronnie Barkan has also reacted to the ban on 4 May that concerns him: “What's more appropriate for May 4th than commemorating the struggle against supremacy and ultra-nationalism with supporting the struggle against supremacy and ultra-nationalism?”
The Students for Justice in Palestine themselves looked into how their meeting within the Faculty of Law was presented. Dean Schneider reproached them for misrepresentation, because their application didn't mention SJP. The latter is correct, but shortly after the application, SJP chairperson and master's student of International Law, Selma Rekik, sent on 25 April an invitation to 17 lecturers whom she expected would be interested in the subject. This explicitly mentions SJP as the organiser and also includes more information about the content of the meeting. Dean Hildegard Schneider was also on the list, but Rekik made a mistake: another Schneider received the e-mail that was intended for the dean. The dean only heard about the event on 2 May, upon which the cancellation followed.
SJP is now trying to hold the meeting elsewhere.