Dutch Royal Academy of Art Severs Ties with Israeli Art School Following Student Protests

The Dutch Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, Netherlands, has agreed to cut ties with Israeli’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design following a months-long campaign by the school’s student union. The administration at the school, known as KABK for short, announced the decision to student campaigners in a letter dated May 10 that was first reported by Artnet News

“It is the consensus of our community that our policies and actions, together with those of our partners, must actively support and uphold universal humanitarian rights at all times,” the KABK’s board of directors wrote in the letter.

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The academy, founded in 1682, is one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands. It is the first in the country to agree to an academic boycott of an Israeli institution, and it joins a growing list of colleges, mostly ones in the United States, that are facing calls from students to end collaborations with Israeli academies or cultural bodies, as well as corporations linked to weapons manufacturers.

In December, the KABK student union sent the academy’s administration a petition signed by 200 students, faculty, and alumni. The signatories condemned an initiative launched on October 16 at Bezalel Academy of Arts, known as the Bezalel Emergency Sewing Center. (Previously, the KABK also maintained an exchange program with the Bezalel Academy of Arts that was active between 2017 and 2019.)

Referring to the sewing center, the petition says, “Students are tasked with fixing uniforms for the Israeli military, the same military that goes into Gaza to enact genocide. Students are tasked to sew into every fixed uniform a tag that says ‘with love from Bezalel’. The very thought of this sounds obscene.”

The school did not immediately sever ties with Bezalel, citing a desire to “fight the reflex of adopting the conflict.” In a statement, KABK administration said, “In a world that is increasingly hostile, xenophobic, and aggressive, we ask you to side with us to enable all in our community to experience the safe place we must be.”

The student union subsequently organized a general assembly on April 24 that invited “a community-wide conversation on Palestine and the role of cultural boycotts.” 

In a letter sent following the assembly, the KABK’s board of directors thanked students for opening this dialogue and fostering an “internal alignment” over the school’s stance on an academic boycott. 

“We choose to discontinue to partner with an institution that is not opposing a government under serious investigation for breaching human rights and committing crimes against humanity or is supporting this,” the letter said.

The union also demanded that the KABK forge ties with the Dar al-Kalima University in Bethlehem, and provide the same tuition discounts to Palestinian students that were offered to Ukrainians after the start of Russia’s invasion in 2022. In response, the academy’s board said it will establish a humanitarian scholarship for two students from conflict regions beginning next academic year and will pursue the possibility of further partnerships. 

The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is also currently the target of a boycott by students, faculty, and alumni of Cooper Union, a prominent art school in New York City. Cooper Union’s exchange program with Bezalel first drew condemnation in 2010, when a student on an exchange program was reportedly blinded in one eye by a tear gas projectile shot by a member of the IDF. The student, a junior at Cooper Union, was participating in a protest against settler activity in the West Bank.

Last month, a petition demanding the end of the program began circulating within the Cooper Union community, and has so far accrued some 250 signatures.

Bezalel’s extensive exchange program with art schools also includes the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). After a pro-Palestine demonstration at the SAIC museum in May ended in dozens of student arrests, museum staff published an open letter in solidarity with the protestors. The letter called for an “end to any financial support of the Palestinian genocide, direct or indirect.” 

Source: artnews.com

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