Gowns and Goons


Two Faces of Dutch Democracy

GPM # 60

Palestine solidarity protests have been taking place around the world, no more dramatically – and in the face of brutal police violence – than on university campuses.

In the Netherlands, students and faculty can expect to be dealt with in two very different ways.

At the end of March, at the most august proceedings of the University of Utrecht’s 388th birthday gathering, in a magnificent old church — Dies Natalis — a handful of students and faculty stood up and spoke out against genocide in Gaza.

True to the event’s theme — democracy and free speech – they got three and a half minutes to state their case during the opening comments of the university’s Rector Magnificus, and another ninety seconds in the middle of the keynote address by a professor of public management to hold up an anti-genocide banner in front of the podium.

Oppose unfolding Israeli genocide in Gaza, student and faculty protesters insisted. Disclose ties with Israeli universities and companies, and commit to an academic boycott.

The gowned rectors listened – with deaf ears, protesters told the GPM.

Standing close by with a microphone, Utrecht U. president Anton Pijpers did his best to hasten the termination of their interventions.

Watch this video of Utrecht U.’s Dies Natalis proceedings. Student and staff interventions at 8:29 and 24:24. Also check out the featured video interview with a pro-Palestine faculty member, draped in a keffiyeh. (pretty sporting of Utrecht U. to make all this available!)


Feeling ignored following months of letter-writing and their Die Natalis disruption, on May 7, students and faculty set up a protest encampment in a university courtyard. Riot police evicted them, violently, reportedly on the request of president Pijpers. Protesters were driven by bus to a remote location and dumped – a process reportedly referred to as “administrative displacement.”

The next day, students and faculty struck again, occupying a campus building. Once again, violence was meted out, this time involving the Romeos – a notorious Dutch police unit consisting of masked cops disguised as protesters.

Infuriated, this past Monday, May 13, Dutch university faculty and students staged walkouts – in Amsterdam and Utrecht. The GPM attended the Utrecht protests. Listen to to today’s podcast. Click on the play button above, or go here.

The GPM also rendezvoused with two of the students who participated in the March 27 Dies Natalis disruption, at a large pro-Gaza march in Amsterdam. Raha and Jeran are Masters students at Utrecht U. Listen to our conversation in today’s podcast. Click on the play button above, or go here.

Utrecht U. protest and die-in (David Kattenburg)

‘Palestine shall be free’ in Arabic (David Kattenburg)

In response to the violent police assault on Utrecht University staff and students on May 7 and 8, called in by university and city officials, on May 13, Utrecht students and staff staged a walkout.

A loud gathering and die-in unfolded in front of the university’s administration building. Come on out and speak to us, instructors asked university officials. They wanted to speak with Anton Pijpers. Pijpers declined.  Vice Rector of Administration, Margot van der Starre, came out instead — acquitting herself with considerable grace.

A very well trained crowd of students repeated van der Starre’s words in smartly phrased chorus. Listen to all this in this GPM podcast edition. Click on the play button above, or go here.

Utrecht U. vice-rector Margot van der Starre speaks to student and faculty protesters (David Kattenburg)

After their noisy encounter with vice rector van der Starre, a handful of protesting instructors stepped into Utrecht U.’s administration building for quieter consultation. Forty-five minutes later, they stepped out and debriefed protesters.

The university had agreed to take a closer look at ties with Israeli universities, the instructors told cheering students, and will disclose its findings later this week.

Student protesters at Utrecht U. (David Kattenburg)

University officials will also consider attending a talk by Canadian academic Maya Wind, author of a new book entitled Towers of Ivory and Steel: How Israeli Universities Deny Palestinian Freedom. That talk takes place this afternoon, May 14, in Utrecht. Stay tuned for an update on all this.

Utrecht U. faculty member Katherine van den Boger hands vice rector van der Starre a copy of Maya Wind’s book (David Kattenburg)