We Won’t Be Silenced: On the Attempts to Smear Free Palestine Maastricht

Published on Tue Feb 08 2022 - modified on Thu Feb 10 2022

Student activist group Free Palestine Maastricht, dedicated to building solidarity and awareness on the Palestinian cause, is targeted in an escalating unfounded smear campaign initiated by a student at Maastricht University. The ELSC has been providing the group with legal assistance. In the statement below, Free Palestine Maastricht asserts its right to advocate for Palestinian rights and calls upon Maastricht University to protect students’ fundamental rights of freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

Free Palestine Maastricht (FPM) is a student-led organization that aims to amplify the voices of the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom and justice against the Israeli apartheid regime. We proudly support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which we, like many civil society organizations and renowned scholars, see as a legitimate inclusive and anti-racist movement based on respect for fundamental human rights. The members of FPM represent diverse backgrounds, beliefs and origins including Jewish students. Since our establishment in October 2020, we have developed a strong, inclusive community of solidarity with Palestine organizing several events and debates on- and off-campus in Maastricht.

The right to advocate for Palestinian rights, including the promotion, discussion and participation in boycott campaigns constitutes an integral part of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly which the University of Maastricht must protect. Accordingly, the University is required to offer a safe space to all its students for engaging in constructive debates and activism.

Recently, FPM was the target of a smear campaign based on inflammatory and completely unfounded accusations of antisemitism. This campaign was ultimately amplified by a network of pro-Israel lobby organizations with the clear aim to intimidate and silence us. This episode is part of a larger coordinated attack on Palestinian and European civil society organisations providing solidarity to Palestinians. A report published by the European Legal Support Center (ELSC) shows that over 70 incidents occurred in the Netherlands between 2015 and 2020, including attempts at restricting academic freedom, defamation and threats with lawsuits to intimidate advocates for Palestinian rights. Among them, the mobilization of smear campaigns that publicly discredit individuals and organizations was the most used tactic. What happened to us clearly aims to create a chilling effect and discourage our fellow students from participating in our activities.

Nevertheless, FPM stands strong. We are not intimidated nor will we be silenced. We are even more determined to organize and raise awareness on and off campus for justice in Palestine. We urge the University of Maastricht to support its students when their freedom of speech comes under attack and to firmly condemn the attempts to smear us.

Four Jewish organisations expressed their support to Free Palestine Maastricht in a letter addressed to Maastricht University. Read the letter here.

Jewish students at Maastricht University also supported FPM. Read the letter here.

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