In Tilburg it is the first time in the Netherlands, that academic staff calls for boycott of Israel. Presenting this event as a ‘debate’ or a ‘round table’, is hilarious, as the only speakers of the evening, where well-known anti-Israeli-activists. Other speakers, who would present a more moderate or balanced view on the issue were not invited.
The organizers tried to present this event in the context of “academic freedom” and “ freedom of speech”. This could be an indication that the purpose of this evening was not to really start a campaign for boycott of Israel, but merely provocation to check whether the university management is accepting this point of view.
I was sitting in the third row of the lecture hall, making my notes and wondering why students did not say a word about the strange setting. No real discussion, no debate and no pro/con-consideration. Do we have to worry, when a law professor at the University Tilburg does not reflect on the possible negative impact of an academic boycott? Who is Michiel Bot, law-teacher at the University Tilburg and why does he organize a propagandistic one-sided and biased event?
In June 2017, I observed a pro-Palestinian demonstration at the Dam square in Amsterdam, as organized by the Hamas fundraiser in the Netherlands, Amin Abou Rashed. I took a picture of a calm and discrete man, with a Palestinian banner in his hand. I recognized, that this man did not belong to the pro-Palestinian hard-core activists. I saved the picture to find out later who he was. Now in 2019, I found out: It is Michiel Bot, the law-professor in Tilburg.
During the event on 22 May 2019, Michiel Bot told the students, that in 2016 he taught law at the Al-Quds Open University in Abu Dis, north of Ramallah. During clashes between Israeli soldiers and Arab students, the university was attacked by soldiers, were confiscated. In the morning, when Michiel Bot was entering the building, the windows were broken and glass was scattered on the ground. Michiel Bot did not elaborate on the possible reasons for the behavior of the IDF. None of the students in Tilburg asked. On the internet I found out, that several of the stab-attackers in 2016 came from this university.
The meeting at the Tilburg University was also organized by the law teacher Marloes van Noorloos. She introduced herself to the public, showing the brochure ‘Report Collapsing Prospects, Palestinians in Area C, West bank’. This report is published in 2016. The colophon states: “The mission was carried out by a multidisciplinary team with expertise in water management, gender and conflict, human rights, human security and economic and social development. Its members were: Rachel Kurian, Aalt Leusink, Peter van Lieshout, Marloes van Noorloos and Dubravka Zarkov, assisted by Machteld Galema.
The mission was initiated and organized by Gate48, a Dutch NGO of critical Israelis living in the Netherlands and Palestine Link, an organization of Palestinians in the Netherlands, represented by director Ghada Zeidan.” Of course academic staff member Marloes van Noorloos did not tell the students in Tilburg, that area C was defined as being under Israeli control, during the Oslo agreements. In that sense the area C is in Israeli context defined as ‘disputed’ not necessarily ‘occupied’.
Also the students are not aware that Gate 48 and Palestina Link are anti-Israeli organizations and the report therefore does not have an academic status. Allthough Marloes van Noorloos does not have a reputation as a pro-Palestinian activist, her academic writings show a remarkable lack of moral compass. In 2014 she published an article which propagates to de-criminalize the propaganda for terrorism. 
After the two academic teachers, Marloes and Michiel introduced themselves, the first guest speaker, Samer Abdelnour (Institute for Global Prosperity, University College London), explained the education in the occupied territories. After his speech he showed a BDS logo and called for a boycott of the Israeli universities. Samer Abdelnour is an academic, but in this speech, he takes side for the Palestinian Authorities, without even mentioning the opposite side. For instance the base of the IDF on the campus of the Hebrew University inJerusalem, is criticized.  For Dutch students this may be a strange situation, but for Israeli circumstances this cooperation is necessary.
Jeff Handmaker (Institute of Social Studies) is the third speaker of the evening. He is a pro-Palestinian activist, teaching at ISS. In the last years, I have visited several lectures hosted by him.This was the first time I saw Jeff Handmaker giving a lecture himself.
In February 2013 he was the host of a meeting with Norman Finkelstein, who is an anti-Israeli American academic, but not a BDS supporter. A lot of pro-Palestinian activists and left-wing extremists visited this lecture some six year ago.
In May 2018, I visited the ISS in The Hague again, to listen to the speech of Mustafa Barghouti. I observed that the hard core of the Palestina Komitee, some of them with a terrorist background in the seventies, were present in the lecture hall.
During the lecture of Mustafa Barghouti, a call for BDS was formulated and presented as ‘peaceful’, not considering that in Israel at the same time a wave of knife stabbers was going on. BDS as a boycott initiative is more to be regarded as an additional action, next to the violent attacks that are also carried out by Palestinian groups.
The speech of Jeff Handmaker is in no way meeting the standards of an academic debate, as his story is one-sided and biased. He should at least mention the opposite side of the polarized debate. When he says that the BDS is regarded as antisemitic, at the same time he states that no evidence of the antisemitic standpoint is given. A German student replied in his question, that he as a German has a very strange and negative feeling, thinking of the boycott of Jewish business in the thirties. German parties have just a week ago supported a resolution which states that BDS is related to antisemitism. After this question, the speakers were talking about antisemitism for maybe fifteen minutes. This is was the most positive aspect of the evening, because, as the Jewish activist Michael Jacobs always tells me: “Denying antisemitic behavior is most of the time the same a confirming it”.
The speech of Adri Nieuwhof, a Dutch anti-Israel and BDS campaigner, gave some useful insights in the world of BDS. I was always wondering why the anti-Israel campaigners are mentioning ‘International Law’, since the Palestinian terrorist groups that they are supporting (or denying) are also not following the basic principles of democracy and International Law. Adri Nieuwhof explained that this is an effort to broaden the movement. “It is not just you, who is criticizing the Israeli government, it is the ‘International Law’”.
For law-students it should be explained that International Law always needs a power to implement it. The reality on the ground often prevent international regulations to be implemented. Those nuanced points of view were not expressed during the meeting on 22 May in Tilburg.
To compare the biased way of teaching with other universities: When a student at the University College Utrecht writes a paper on the water conflict in Israel, he is obliged to balance different interests and Palestinian propaganda is not allowed in his paper, even if Martijn de Koning, a proPal activist, is the teacher. When in the eighties, during my study anthropology, I was writing a paper about Ethiopia, the propaganda of Ethiopian refugees was not allowed and considered as non-academic.
After the German student was posing the question on how the BDS could be promoted, when the German parliament regards the actions as antisemitic, Adri Nieuwhof advised to take small actions and not defining this as BDS. She advised to start investigating, doing research and at certain point, taking action. Also Adri Nieuwhof was telling about the bullying she experienced during her campaign against apartheid in South Africa and that the actions of the ‘Pro-Israel-lobby’ were the same.
Another student, from Italy, mentioned the big age-gap in the pro-Palestinian movement. Most of the activists are older than sixty and hardly any young students are joining in. He considered the pro-Palestinian standpoint as ‘career-killing’. Strange enough, I am myself perceiving the Pro-Israel point of view as career-killing, as I heard via-via, that some of the students in the lecture room did not speak out, because they needed this college professors to get a Master degree. Jeff Handmaker replied , that he was supporting a German student, who was not able to finish his study in Germany because of his anti-Israeli point of view.In this sense the whole Israel-debate is a bit of the question “who is victim of whom?
After this evening and this report you may pose the question what my own opinion is and why I did not ask any question during the evening. I considered this as a meeting for students and did not want to disturb this purpose. Also I don’t support the efforts to forbid this kind of lectures, as trying to silence the radical politics always leads to more attention and to frustration. For me these events are a nice opportunity to observe and analyze the pro-Palestinian movement. I am writing a book about the Palestina Komitee. At the other hand, I think that the University Tilburg should be worried about the lack of academic principles that are shown in this lecture. Students will not learn weighing up arguments in this way of working.
The ‘round table debate’ about the cooperation with Israeli universities, on 22 May at the University of Tiburg, was special, because it was organized by staff of the law department and not as usual by student organizations. It was also special because the speakers called for boycott of Israel without any academic balance. No other staff with other opinion was invited. Another special aspect was the lack of knowhow transfer. It was more a propaganda evening. No real attempt to build a BDS movement at the university was done. It looked more like a provocation .