The following letter reflects the views of the undersigned people and was not composed, directed, or initiated by eigenart Magazine or its volunteers.
Statement Regarding the Implications of the Official Position of the UdK October 2023.
As students representing the Intersectional Anti-discrimination Working Group, we are writing this statement to express our concerns regarding the implications of the statement published online by the UdK, on the 10th of October.
The statement in question came as a response to the coordinated attack on October 7th, which resulted in the killing of numerous Israelis in the south of Israel, bordering Gaza. The UdK proclaimed their solidarity with Israeli students and professors at the faculties, making no mention of such a commitment to Palestinian students and professors. By doing so, the university chooses to ignore the war crimes and human rights abuses that the State of Israel has committed against the Palestinian people continuously over the last 75 years. This selective solidarity shows a blatant disregard for Palestinian life and fails to consider affected students, professors and members of the university, who are grieving the loss of family and friends in Palestine.
At a time when political rhetoric serves to obscure colonial violence, fuel racism and risks legitimising harmful stereotypes and actions, it is crucial for academic institutions like the UdK to reintroduce nuance and empathy into the discourse and ground it in a framework of social justice. As Europe’s largest art university and an institution that takes pride in its internationalist public image, the UdK has a responsibility to condemn Israel’s perpetration of a genocide against the Palestinian people. It should at the same time make it absolutely clear that the Jewish people and their religion are not to be conflated with, nor blamed for, the Israeli regime and its actions and that antisemitism has no place in the fight against oppression.
We do not criticise showing solidarity with civilians, in fact what we criticise, is the lack thereof. Neither the UdK nor the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (HRK), nor the Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst (DAAD), could find a single word of solidarity for those mourning the deaths of their families and friends in Palestine. As of now, 109 people were killed in the occupied West Bank, while in Gaza, 6,547 people have already been identified among the 7,028 total casualties. Additionally, Israel’s aggression has left 19,743 Palestinians in Gaza injured and about 1.4 million have been internally displaced. The 2.2 million residents in Gaza are being subjected to a cruel and illegal form of collective punishment.
Deprived of food, water, electricity and fuel, buried under the rubble, in constant fear of death. The Gazan population has nowhere to go. Without any available bomb shelters in Gaza, people seeking refuge were killed by Israeli airstrikes on hospitals, schools, churches, and even on the designated safe routes. (Stand 29.10.23; 16:01) Israel is currently issuing “warnings” for the Al-Quds Hospital to be evacuated, showing their objective to continue commiting war crimes, by bombarding a place of refuge.
While this is going on, we are observing a unilateral support by the German government towards an apartheid state that is waging a one-sided war against the Palestinian population. In short, the German state is supporting the genocide in Gaza.
In Berlin, we see daily an unwavering hatred, racism and discrimination towards Palestinians and people showing their solidarity. Given the pre-existing structural racism within the German police, we are fearfully observing the criminalisation of solidarity with Palestinians, as well as the silencing of voices criticising the State of Israel and particularly in cultural institutions. The inevitable effects this has on the Arab and Middle eastern community cannot be ignored in the context of rising anti-Muslim racism and the racialisation of terrorism and daily dehumanisation of BIPOC persons.
As students, we are embarrassed by the university’s failure to fulfil its duty as an independent educational institution. The UdK uncritically adopts state lines, while far-right and fascist sentiments are gaining traction in the general public and are being embedded in the German parliament. As shared in Verso Books’ open letter, “In the works is a citizenship reform law that allows the German state to deny visas and citizenship, and revoke residency permits, based on charges of anti-Semitism following the IHRA criteria, which deems any criticism of the Israeli state an act of anti-Semitism.” A supposedly anti-racist university like the UdK must denounce the current state of German politics, where the Chancellor is excited to finally get to deport people “im großen Stil.” (on a large scale).
It is necessary here, to mention the political history of the UdK, particularly its collaboration with the NS regime. This historical fact raises concerns about the repetition of past mistakes and the university’s failure to properly reflect on its history and the importance of learning from it. It is essential for universities to uphold their intellectual independence, which is why we raise the question of why educational institutions in Germany are uncritically adopting the current reason of state.
UdK students have faced challenges before regarding freedom of speech and expression. These issues are indicative of broader concerns about the institution’s commitment to a free exchange of ideas, open discourse and the fight against structural oppression within the UdK. Students have previously raised concerns about the university allowing racist and colonialist ideas to be part of the curriculum. As an internationally renowned educational institution, the UdK should actively hold up inclusivity, internationalism, and open-mindedness. They should actively promote dialogue and critical thinking as essential components of higher education. The UdK continues to fail at this.
We, as students, demand the following:
- That the university clearly expresses that it recognises the humanity of Palestinians, and that they publicly acknowledge the harm their positioning has caused and could cause in the future for affected students.
- That the Udk puts towards the German government, led by chancellor Olaf Scholz, a call for an immediate ceasefire and for Israel to lift its blockade on Gaza, allowing safe and unobstructed access to essential resources, including water, food, fuel, and medical supplies.
- That the university takes tangible actions regarding anti-discrimination. This involves expanding the ‘Anti-Discrimination & Diversity’ team and ensuring their autonomy and independence in supporting students and driving structural changes. This should come with the establishment of protections for students belonging to marginalised groups and any members of the University facing ethno-religious harassment, intimidation, and threats.
- An improvement of the psychological counselling services, with a special focus on anti-discrimination, offered by the university for students. This would entail the hiring of more staff and an increase in funding.
- That the university invests its resources in preventing and helping with legal emergencies for migrant students, namely fragile visa and asylum situations.
- In a changing legal landscape, students and faculty members of the UdK need concrete assurances that they can exercise their academic freedom and freedom of speech without fear of expulsion, while upholding the principles of freedom of expression within the limits of anti-discrimination.
- Acknowledgement of the university’s complicity and role during the NS-regime, including the mention of this history on the UdK website. This should be seen as an ongoing and evolving process that aims to connect the university’s past with current political issues, domestically and internationally.
- That the university takes its role as an educational institution seriously and therefore allow and actively encourage the use of university spaces for open dialogue and debate, where concerns can be raised and discussed openly and without fear of police, bias or harassment.
This statement and demands were written by the AG Intersectional Anti-discrimination.
It is a result of ongoing conversations and discussions with contributions from different students, members of the AG and new student initiatives. It has also incorporated direct feedback from Jewish and Palestinian perspectives.
Letter by the AG Intersectional Anti-discrimination. AG Intersectional Anti-discrimination was founded in 2020 during the popular uprising for Black Lives Matter and has since then listed 19 demands for intersectional anti-discrimination at the UdK. The aim of the AG is to bring together different student initiatives who deal and works against racism and other forms of discrimination, such as Interflugs, IDA, ASTA, student councils, student parliament members, other autonomous student groups and individual initiatives. This coalition is a way to create a place for exchange between students, to strengthen the joined work for structural change at UdK and beyond, to gather collective support and to educate each other on this journey of confronting institutional oppression. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.