“Shouting ‘media out’ does not uphold the academic standard of transparency”

“Shouting ‘media out’ does not uphold the academic standard of transparency”

About pro-Palestinian student protests

22-05-2024 · Opinion article

She thinks it is important for people to demonstrate against injustice, but according to Julia Schnepf, assistant professor of Social Psychology at the Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences, protesters must also be willing to critically question themselves. They must adhere to certain standards that protect against discrimination, misinformation, and misconduct.

Protesting holds a significant importance. It is a fundamental human right. If students want to come together to oppose violence and advocate for justice, that is commendable. However, if violence is employed to counter violence or is seen as a mean to an end, this is a different situation.

Like many protests, the groups on European University campuses advocating for an end to the conflict in Gaza are heterogenous. Some members speak their minds peacefully, highlighting the suffering of people in Gaza. They sympathise with both the Israeli hostages and their families and the local Gazan population who have become victims of Hamas and the military operation lead by the Israeli government. However, there are others who promote anti-Semitism and deny Israel’s right to exist. This diversity is common in demonstrations of this kind.

Uphold academic standards

Nevertheless, it is important that students and university employees uphold academic standards when demonstrating. This means engaging in transparent, unbiased, fair, practically and logically consistent, and precise evidence-based arguments. But what does this mean in practice?

  1. Transparency: In Maastricht, local broadcasters from Wat is Loos in Mestreech and also other journalistsreported that protest speakers shouted “media out”, cameras were covered by protesters on the UM campus. This behaviour does not uphold the academic standard of transparency, which requires an open exchange and the presence of independent media.
  2. Unbiased: Antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiments have been expressed during the protests. This contradicts the principle of striving to be free of prejudice. Protesters advocating for peace and equality for all should distance themselves from such statements and have the courage to confront and condemn such remarks within the protest group, for example, when statements such as “from the river to the sea” are echoed.
  3. Fairness: Fairness means, among other things, to hold ourselves to the same standards that we have for others. However, protesters often have more sensitivity to certain issues or groups than others. Fairness means practicing perspective-taking and to carefully consider whether one’s words and actions could potentially harm other people or groups. Fairness also means that compassion for the suffering on one side should not outweigh compassion for the suffering on the other side.
  4. Logical and practical consistency: One demand that has recently been made by some protesters is that the universities should boycott and end their cooperation with Israeli research institutions. From a practical and logical perspective, one might ask: What is the objective of this action? What outcomes are anticipated? Centuries of experience and numerous studies have demonstrated that few endeavours are as invaluable and beneficial for mutual understanding, societal advancement, and for peace than the exchange of knowledge and academic mobility.
    How many students benefit from academic exchange programs such as Erasmus? How many of them rave about their study experiences abroad and their personal growth while traveling? What purpose is served by boycotting academic exchanges, hindering the building of international networks, collaborations, and friendships? Such a demand lacks practicality and logic. Instead of offering a problem-orientated solution, such measures would perpetuate social exclusion. However, advocating for boycotts against state weapon deliveries could be deemed a reasonable demand, especially if the aim is to prevent military escalation.
  5. Precision: Precision entails striving for linguistic clarity and correctness, particularly for scientists and those aspiring to be scientists. Some protesters in Pro-Palestine demonstrations make generalising statements about Israel or Jewish people. Such generalisations are also made in the news. For instance, headlines such as “Israel is planning a major offensive in Rafah” lack linguistic precision. In Israel, the legitimacy of the Netanyahu government has declined significantly in recent months.. This is evident in the large-scale demonstrations against the government that are witnessed in Israel. Polls indicate that more than two-thirds of Israelis oppose the current government that is comprised of right-wing conservative and ultra-Orthodox parties. This means that the majority of the Israeli population does not support the government’s foreign, national and security policy. Therefore, to be linguistically precise, one should avoid generalising statements and, when possible, express direct criticism towards the responsible actor, e.g., the government or the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
  6. Evidence-based argumentation: During protests and polarized, heated situations, the propagation of misinformation and disinformation is common. However, it is intrinsic to the scientific mindset to critically scrutinize information and check sources. Under no circumstance should information be repeated without thorough fact-checking nor should one participate in the dissemination of misinformation and disinformation.

Critically question oneself

To reiterate, it is incredibly important for people to gather and demonstrate against injustice. For instance, the student anti-war protests in the US in the 1960s and 70s made a significant contribution to raising awareness of American actions and crimes in the Vietnam War and helped to bring about the end of the war.

However, protesters must also be willing to critically question themselves and adhere to certain standards that protect against discrimination, misinformation, and misconduct. If protesters adhere to these ethical and practical standards outlined above, then there is nothing wrong with engaging in peaceful protest and civil disobedience.

Julia Schnepf, assistant professor of Social Psychology