The unbearable lightness of UvA’s neutrality

UvA’s Executive Board recently released an internal news statement (17.01.2024) reducing Israel’s war on Gaza to a “Situation in Israel and Palestinian Territories”, as if it were a traffic incident on a highway. In the first sentence the “situation” is described as a “war”, yet not one waged primarily on civilians, their infrastructure, and livelihoods, but rather a war “between Israel and Hamas”, the word “between” signaling an equivalency of military might and political power that has never existed. Significantly, the word “occupied” or “occupation” is not mentioned. The use of “between” also suggests an equivalency between the violence of Hamas’ Oct. 7th attacks and the sustained violence currently being inflicted on Gaza, a violence aggravated by genocidal rhetoric coming from the highest levels of Israel’s government, as well as the civil and military establishment. Distressingly, sources show how this rhetoric is echoed and used by soldiers in charge of operations on the ground. Despite the dire state of the “situation”, higher management claims it “does not wish to take a stance”. Yet when Russia invaded Ukraine, higher management had no qualms in making its position very clear: the UvA “condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Our thoughts go out to everyone who has been affected by this terrible war… it has been decided to freeze all ongoing collaborations with Russian (academic) institutions, and new agreements will not be entered into.” By not doing the same for Gaza, UvA opens itself to accusations of double standards. In their letter dated 23 November 2023 Management argues that a university can only provide a “safe space” for all by remaining apolitical. While the sentiment is laudable, the argument is problematic. It appears to confuse political positioning and social safety (where the latter refers to discrimination, bullying, and (sexual) intimidation) by conflating being uncomfortable with being unsafe.

24 UVA-scholars in The unbearable lightness of UvA’s neutrality (