In his letter, Dijkstra reacts to the publication in Observant 22 about the role of IT concern Hewlett-Packard (HP) in Israel and the occupied territories. At an earlier stage, the group Students for Justice in Palestine had submitted questions to the Executive Board and had received an unclear answer. In a letter to president Martin Paul, Dijkstra now asks for a clear position. Does the Executive Board believe that HP (or either of its two divisions) commits violations of human rights, wherever in the world? And if so, does the Executive Board not feel that the UM should refuse to do business with such a company? HP supplies workplace equipment (desktop and laptop computers) and servers to the university through intermediaries.
Dijkstra’s letter refers to a previous “boycott by the UM of the South African Apartheid regime”. Historically that is not quite correct. This issue occurred in 1988 and 1989, when the UM was about to issue an honorary doctorate to the well-known South African anti-apartheids activist minister Beyers Naudé. At the same time, however, the university had considerable dealings with Italian electronics giant Olivetti, which supplied PCs, also to other Dutch universities, and which had major interests in South Africa. At the time, the University Council requested a boycott, the Executive Board refused on the basis of complicated legal arguments. The debate became heated in a number of successive meetings, but the case was eventually more or less amicably settled: it never came to an official boycott, but the Executive Board agreed that in the future it would make employees who wanted to order computers aware of Olivetti's role in South Africa and they would also make an effort to identify other ‘untarnished’ manufacturers.
Over the years – and rather ironic in the light of the current discussion – this increasingly became HP.
Olivetti, by the way, disposed of its PC division in 1997 because they could no longer compete with cheaper manufacturers.
Exactly what the University Council will do with this issue, is still unclear. Dijkstra's letter has at least been brought to their attention.