Dutch university reinstates Holocaust course canceled after pro-Palestinian lobbying

Amid uproar from politicians and Jewish community, HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht says series of lectures scheduled to begin next month as planned

Illustrative: Pro-Palestinian activists in The Hague, Netherlands, January 26, 2024. (Patrick Post/AP)
Illustrative: Pro-Palestinian activists in The Hague, Netherlands, January 26, 2024. (Patrick Post/AP)

A university in the Netherlands recently canceled a planned series of lectures about the Holocaust, reportedly amid pressure by a pro-Palestinian lobby group, but reinstated the course after uproar from politicians and the Jewish community.

In an about-face, HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht will run the series of eight lectures as planned beginning on February 7, the local De Telegraff outlet reported Monday.

The development came following a few turbulent days, during which the university at first announced Sunday that it was canceling the lectures, and then said it was delaying them indefinitely, given concerns that “the security of speakers, students, teachers, and visitors cannot be assured.” It also tied the course material to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip that began with the Palestinian terror group’s devastating October 7 assault.

A university spokesperson said it wanted “dialogue on the matter and need more time in order to place the events of October 7 and others in a broad perspective, with space for other views and beliefs,” De Telegraff reported.

A Utrecht pro-Palestinian group, New Neighbors, claimed to have lobbied for the course to be canceled.

The cancellation and the explanation given by the university drew immediate fire.

“Apparently, history needs to be rewritten,” Naomi Mestrum, director of the Center for Information and Documentation Israel, which helped organize the course, said in the report. “What on earth do they mean by different perspectives? That it did not take place?”

The local NL Times reported that lecturer Lotte Bergen, one of those due to present material during the lectures, said: “It even seems antisemitic to me. If you allow history lessons to be dictated by current events in this way, something is completely wrong.”

Chanan Hertzberger, chairman of the Jewish Central Consultation, called the university’s cancellation “shameful and deeply offensive.”

Dutch Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius posted to X: “Seriously? A ‘diverse and balanced dialogue’ about the persecution of Jews?! Six million Jews were murdered because of who they were. Six million lives were brutally destroyed because of pure hatred of Jews. Anyone who wants to nuance that needs a history lesson themselves.”

Caretaker Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf said there was a need to actively address “the horrors of the Holocaust” and called on university staff to fulfill that obligation “even when it is difficult,” the NL Times reported.

The local mayor’s office said she was in talks with the university to see how the lectures can be rescheduled, the outlet said Sunday.

By Monday, the university said that it had reinstated the course, albeit with an adjustment in the order, citing safety issues. De Telegraff did not report further on the nature of the issues.

On October 7, Hamas-led terrorists burst through the border from the Gaza Strip in an attack that killed 1,200 people in southern Israel, most of them civilians. It also abducted 253 people of all ages, mostly civilians, into Gaza. Israel responded to the attack with a military campaign to remove Hamas from power in Gaza and release the hostages.

The war has prompted intense rallies and activism by supporters of both sides in the conflict in countries around the world. University campuses have become a prominent arena for confrontations between the two camps. Many anti-Israeli rallies have included displays of antisemitism, and antisemitic harassment and attacks have spiked around the world.

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