We write this letter as students and non-tenured academics from various institutions around the world to express our solidarity with students standing up for a free Palestine and our outrage at the decision of Freie Universität (FU) Berlin to call over a hundred police officers on its students and forcibly evict a non-violent occupation. This extreme escalation of repression against students and the ongoing silencing of Pro-Palestinian voices is a betrayal of the very principles of freedom of expression that institutions of public and higher learning are meant to uphold.
As the IDF's destruction of Gaza has reached levels similar to the most devastating bombing campaigns in history - surpassing the destruction of Aleppo, Mariupol or relatively-speaking that of Germany in WWII - Israel continues to refuse electricity, fuel, and water to more than two million Gazans. Against that horrifying backdrop, we are witnessing the deliberate targeting of students who advocate for an end to this genocide, particularly Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and Jewish voices.
Consequently, we understand the actions taken by FU students for what they were: a plea for the end of the ongoing assault on Gaza and an effort to break through the one-sided discourse of the university. On December 19, a group of students occupied a lecture hall of the FU Berlin to turn it into an open space for dialogue, which the students had sorely missed. The ad-hoc group FU Students for a Free Palestine organised a series of lectures and workshops aimed at providing fact-based and critical interventions into the repressive German academic discourse around Palestine. The students also demanded the university to call for a ceasefire, to reject the use of the IHRA definition of antisemitism in favour of that of the Jerusalem Declaration, and to truly protect and listen to all its Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and Jewish students.
As documented on footage shared on social media and in their press release, the university occupation faced harassment from disruptive individuals and a small group of counter-protestors throughout the day. In a reckless display of poor judgment that led to the endangerment of students, the university forced the organizers to allow the aggressive counter-protesters into the occupied space, threatening eviction by the police in the event of non-compliance. Despite following these orders, the university deceitfully carried out their threat only a few hours later, when over 100 police officers arrived in riot gear and forcibly removed students from the lecture hall. Over 20 of the students were picked out individually, apparently based on racial profiling, and detained. This is a grave infringement of the FU Berlin's principles of equity and antidiscrimination, and of its obligation to protect and safeguard the wellbeing of students.
Among other workshops and talks, the eviction led to the cancellation of the collective viewing of Prof. John Keane's remote lecture titled "The Future of Universities in Troubled Times," which addressed precisely such issues of silencing. Dr. Keane later expressed on social media, that the arrest of students gathering to attend a lecture was a "first time in [his] career."
During the day, #exmatrikulation (a term that refers to the expulsion of students from university) became a trending topic on German social media, while the overwhelming majority of German media outlets produced libelous claims without even a pretense of evidence. The FU Berlin's duplicity itself has been a key driver of these false narratives. While the university and police both admitted that there had been no reports of antisemitic incidents at the occupation, the university nevertheless attempted to justify the eviction by linking it to a policy of “zero tolerance” of antisemitism. The FU Berlin has, as most German universities, adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Antisemitism, is in fact, alive and well in Germany. And yet, there seems to be little concern regarding the further institutionalisation of far-right politics and ideologies. As many have noted, German antisemitism has been displaced and transformed into "imported antisemitism". In line with the IHRA definition, it is often termed "Israel-oriented antisemitism".
As academics, students and members of other research institutions, we are very concerned about the impact of this action on independent and critical thinking and knowledge production. The Free University of Berlin and other German universities that are applying the same or worse repressive measures are undermining one of the pillars of academic institutions: working across difference and respecting dissidence. The self-isolating effect these developments have on German academia are already beginning to show. There have been a number of instances of conscientious scholars and artists refusing invitations from German universities, and at least one resignation.
We call on the Free University of Berlin to stop silencing and censoring voices who speak out in support of the Palestinian people's struggle for human rights and liberation, to drop any legal charges against the students that were detained and to declare that no students who have engaged in peaceful protest at the FU Berlin will face legal or academic repercussions for their advocacy. We also call for the creation and nurturing of spaces at FU Berlin that foster learning and critical well-founded discussion about the ongoing situation in Palestine/Israel. We reassert our solidarity with the students that were brutally evicted. We commend them for their courageous and unwavering assertion of their support of Palestinian liberation and their right to protest, to free expression and learning.
**You can see the full list of signatories here.
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