In solidarity with the global strike for Palestine we publish this statement from the Free Palestine Collective at Central European University (CEU) in Austria – an institution that remains connected to our region’s post-1989 history. In Europe, those who are mobilizing against the ongoing genocide in Gaza are being met with state repression. In these circumstances, universities–as institutions of knowledge production and often with material ties to Israeli settler colonialism–cannot remain neutral.
Originally released 18th of October 2023
To the CEU Board of Trustees, Senior Leadership, Senate, Heads of Department, Faculty, Staff Members, Student Union, and CEU Community in general:
Israel executed hundreds of people in a hospital in Gaza last night, and today we are being made to participate in the absurd performance of business as usual in our university.
We, as part of a knowledge production institution, are the ones shaping the narrative of the ongoing onslaught in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon. It is the epistemic space we create that will either deter the progressing genocide or forever provide a moral alibi for its continuity and the continuity of different models of settler-colonialism and mass erasures in the 21st century. Academic neutrality in such context exposes a clear bias in favor of the hegemonic discourse and constitutes complicity to colonial genocide. For decades, the European and US military-industrial complexes have been supporting and profiting from the israeli war and occupation efforts. Taking into account the fact that CEU is a university founded with the use of American financial and symbolic capital, and is accredited and legally-couched in the EU and the US, we structurally hold the responsibility to take a clear stance.
The ivory tower of extractive academia will not rid us of the responsibility towards this ongoing genocide against one of the most vocally resistant indigenous people of this century. In Europe, in these metropoles where decision-making power regarding the industry of peace and war is concentrated, the annihilation of the Palestinian people takes another form. Palestinians and their allies (activists and otherwise) are hunted down in Berlin and Paris. In Vienna, the politics of administrative deterrence, and the systematic reduction and demonization of pro-Palestinian and anti-israeli voices in favor of an abstract humanist discourse, is in play. European governments carry on the mobilization of white guilt to justify the historical dehumanization of Palestinian bodies and the myth of israeli victimhood. Austria flagrantly declares an economic war against Palestinian institutions on the one hand and its unconditional fiscal support of the israeli state and its state terrorism on the other. Meanwhile, Gaza hospitals are bombed and pogroms against Palestinians in the West Bank are executed, silently coupled with over 500 detainees, over 50 executed, and 1100 injured in their homes, streets, and checkpoints by armed settlers in a span of 5 days. Austria’s sham of neutrality is funding the ongoing genocide, and it is precisely here where our role in this institutional farce comes about.
In this letter, we seek to address the forms of violence that CEU perpetuates under the guise of neutrality and coexistence while co-opting the concept of decolonization:
We want to highlight the fact that CEU has been willfully reducing the gravity of the unfolding massacres against the Palestinians in Gaza, West Bank, 1948 Palestine and Lebanon, by depicting it as an ahistorical conflict between two equal sides, with moral and emotional repercussions that merely affects a segment of the student body, and should thus be addressed on individual, ethnic and/or psychologically pathologizing terms. Such actions have the effect of normalizing academic institutional silence towards an ongoing colonial genocide. The President and Rector’s message to the CEU community describes the events of the past days as a “renewed escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, which glazes over the history of israeli settler-colonialism and presumes equal accountability and force on both sides. To that we respond that this escalation is not a war nor is it a conflict; this is yet another phase of the liberation struggle in historical Palestine on the one side, and the israeli nation-state-building on the other. Therefore, the act of removing the border fence erected by the settler colony of israel is an act of decolonization that our academic institutions are still short on mentioning as the ultimate example of decolonial praxis. The border fence is the material proof of the unlawful and fascist act of collective punishment that Palestinians of all religions and ethnicities have been subject to since the creation of the state of israel by Zionist European militias up until today.
The continuous aggression against the Palestinian people did not start on the 7th of October 2023. When accounting for trauma and grief caused by armed violence, we need to look at the over 200 Palestinians who have been killed in the West Bank by israeli forces between January to September 2023 alone. It is important to understand that the continuous massacres directly affect the consciousness of peoples who, since childhood, have been shaped by the struggle against the Zionist colonial violence. The psychosocial toll of the quotidian violence that Palestinian people – whether in Palestine, in refugee camps in neighboring countries, or in European cities – cannot be addressed by pathologization and individualization. The symbolic and epistemic violence embedded in the continued erasure of the colonial dynamics only furthers the collective trauma faced by Palestinian students, and it is only within the context of the struggle for decolonization that true collective healing is possible.
In this regard, we emphasize: the Palestinians have been living and will continue living in a state of systemic subjugation – as refugees, as stateless people, as asylum seekers, and as unrecognized workers denied participation in labor unions. Palestinian refugees are born into a status akin to an administrative detention with limited rights of movement and no civil rights, a subjugation sponsored and executed by the state of israel, the military occupation, the Arab regimes, and, most grievously, the EU. This systematic subjugation is the status quo of erasure imposed on the Palestinians and their complex cultural, political, legal, gender, and class identities, in every corner of this world. This subjugation, in its militarism and its socio-economics, is at the heart of the Zionist project, and the Palestinian is an agent of its resistance.
Zionism is a European colonial ideology and no professor at our university could debunk the mere fact. The Jewish memory, the European oppression of Jews, and the Jewish working-class bodies in the form of settlers displacing the oppressed indigenous population are instrumentalized in the service of the capitalist military state of israel. This instrumentalization is the pinnacle of antisemitism — a critique raised multiple times by anti-Zionist Jewish movements organizing against the israeli settler-colonial project and that has often been omitted in favor of the manipulative narrative that standing against Zionism is an attack against Jewish people.
What is equally not spoken of is the long and diverse history of Palestinian resistance, which has been subject to murderous crackdown since the British mandate all the way to today, ranging from far-left Marxist resistance groups to various shades of Islamic organizations. All those different ideological strands reflect a dynamic understanding of the anticolonial struggle and the will of the people to self-determination. For the past couple of years, and during the early months of this year, israel had conducted assassinations targeting a number of Palestinian parties and organizations, including the leadership of the student uprising in 1948 Palestine and in the West Bank, and the constituents of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership that initiated the peace agreement with israel in the 1990s and sustained security collaboration in favor of israel for over two decades. The choice of peace has thus shown to be futile on the israeli and international levels as peaceful resistances such as the Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions (BDS) movement are continuously criminalized and legally harassed in the Global North.
In the dark shadow of all that, we, as students, stand in support of the legacy and the present state of all resistances that translate those ideological becomings whilst bearing in mind that the violence of a colonized people is dictated by the faces of oppression and the practices of erasure that they are subjected to. We are in no position to condemn a resistance – any reaction to destitution, oppression and biopolitical war – for to condemn one resistance is to condemn every armed resistance in the history of imperial wars from Vietnam, Iraq, and Algeria all the way to the Americas. We nevertheless reserve the right to critique the ideologies and political trajectories that political parties carrying out acts of resistance adopt. Our positions here, situated in Europe, should be geared towards deconstructing the state terrorisms and mapping a plan of action to abolish our direct and indirect complicity in their reproduction. This includes emancipating ourselves from the futile moral discourse of emptied bereavement and confronting the political economy that ties us to both the military industrial complex and the securitization regimes of the EU (and hence of israel).
CEU is likewise guilty of manufacturing discourse that serves the Zionist narrative of a religious war in the ‘Middle East’ and an attack against Jewish people. In his email dated 13th of October, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies sent an email titled ‘Excused Absence for Jewish Students’ which permits Jewish students “who feel unsafe” to not attend classes. While a follow-up email was sent clarifying that the excused absence applies to all students who feel unsafe, it bears pointing out that such a mistake is based upon the ethnicization and minoritization of political and security narratives. These practices are in alignment with a liberal legacy and an academic coloniality that have the effect of sowing ethnic division among the students, particularly those that come out of colonial realities. Yes, we are divided, but our division is political: it is a division that has, on the one side, a camp that applauds the besiegement of people, the dehumanization of indigenous populations, the stigmatization of resistance, and the exercise of biopolitical warfare – and on the other side, one that stands firmly with the internationalization of anticolonial struggles against the terror of nation-states. To situate the Jewish person as a victim is to be subservient to the European legacies of othering, where the non-victim is positioned on the shooting end of the rifle. To exceptionalize the victimization of a religion is to pronounce every ‘other’ a potential enemy, and to create an atmosphere of fear on which every securitized system thrives, and to that, we stand in condemnation.
All this theoretical knowledge, resources, funding, and social and cultural capital has to be put in the service of a people that are subject to erasure. The history of the Palestinian anticolonial struggle and its ties to world resistances – from the Zapatistas of Mexico to the Japanese Red Army to the Black Panthers in the USA – is being erased from our narratives. We are being made to forget israel’s massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon. We are being made to forget israel’s aggression on Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. We are being made to forget the siege of Beirut and the deliberate contamination of Jordan’s water supplies. This is erasure. Now YouTube erases archives that document Palestinian life under occupation, and Instagram hides posts and stories of Palestinians in Gaza and of supporters of the Palestinian struggle. This is the way violence works: erasing a people’s history while exterminating their bodies. The masquerade of guilt and blame will structure the academic discourses to come for decades after this ongoing genocide, and this is how academia capitalizes on the calamities of the world by transforming them into research material while consciously insisting on alienating the academic body from any effective course of action as the crime unfolds. No! This is not a conflict nor is it merely a war. This is an erasure and every silent academic is complicit and has no right to their silence.
We are not writing about this merely in solidarity, we are writing about this in oneness. This genocide is the responsibility of every governmental, security, military, and academic institution that allows for the materialization and legitimization of imperial and colonial practices.
There is no ethical merit in continuing business as usual in any university while our people in Palestine are being eliminated. Yes, our people. The Palestinian cause is the cause of all of us who are faithful and have grown up under the yoke of colonial and state terrorist practices. The Palestinian struggle for liberation and self-determination is the struggle of all people who fight for the abolishment of all structures of oppression. It is a students’ struggle, a prisoners` struggle, a workers` struggle, a refugees’ struggle, a class struggle, a feminist struggle. This is why pro-Palestinian movements are often oppressed, surveilled, and excluded from the fragile structures of democratization. We will not allow our struggle to be co-opted by a malicious performance of ‘inclusivity’ and ‘compassion’. We have a duty to act. This is praxis: to do our part from where we stand, to stop the genocide and stand against the perpetrators of the genocide and hence, inevitably, with the Palestinian resistance towards self-determination.
We, as students and alum, demand CEU decision-makers to take the following actions:
- Participate in the Global General Strike in solidarity with Palestine by shutting down the university on the 20th of October 2023, while emphasizing that there will be no deduction of salaries and penalizing faculty, students, staff members and workers.
- Issue an official statement condemning the ongoing genocide in Palestine and all the international actors involved in it. The institutional, political and academic silence and silencing must be broken.
- Declare a university-wide Day of Mourning for Gaza, the West Bank and South Lebanon.
- Issue a boycott statement against all israeli institutions and academics promoting, justifying, and normalizing political Zionist discourse.
- Provide legal and financial support to CEU students fined for exercising the right of peaceful assembly during the Solidarity Vigil for Palestine held on the 11th of October.
- Provide sustainable academic, financial, and psychological support for all students, faculty, and staff members impacted directly or indirectly by the genocide.
- Acknowledge the gross misrepresentation of history in CEU Jewish Studies Program’s 14th of October statement titled ‘Statement in Support of Israel’ characterizing the unfolding events of 7th of October as “the grave setback for the cause of peace”, which erases the 75 years of settler-colonial genocide in the Palestine.
- Issue a statement in solidarity with all students punished by their universities due to their expressions of solidarity for Palestine.
- The Student Union should adopt this statement and disseminate it, as well as respond to any institutional repercussions to the signatories.
The Free Palestine Collective, composed of BA, MA and PHD students and alumni from the following departments, programs and advanced certificates in CEU: Central European Studies; Culture, Politics and Society; Economics and Business; Gender Studies; History; International Relations; Jewish Studies; Legal Studies; Nationalism Studies; Philosophy; Philosophy, Politics and Economics; Political Science; Public Policy; Religious Studies; Romani Studies; and Sociology and Social Anthropology.