(JTA) — Fourteen Dutch universities said they are suspending their compliance with a freedom of information query from a pro-Palestinian organization regarding their ties with Israeli and Jewish entities.
The 14 publicly funded institutions, including the University of Amsterdam, the University of Utrecht and the Delft University of Technology, made the announcement Tuesday in a joint statement following an outcry last week over the query by The Rights Forum, which critics say was founded by an antisemite.
The query has led to “distress and a feeling of insecurity. We regret this,” read the statement by the Universities of the Netherlands, an umbrella group representing the country’s public universities.
Those institutions have asked for an undisclosed “time extension” in complying with the query, meaning that “currently no further steps are taken to retrieve, collect and/or transmit the information” sought in the query, the statement read. The universities will “balance” the legal requirements of the freedom of information law that gave the query its legal standing with “other legal frameworks, including those guaranteeing the safety” of university staff, the statement also read.
The universities began gathering the information because the query was certified as what is known in the Netherlands as a WOB request, compliance to which is legally required for public or state-funded organization.
In the request, Gerard Jonkman, director of The Rights Forum, wrote that under the WOB request, he is seeking documents or information on “institutional ties with Israel universities, institutions and businesses and with organizations that propagate support for the State of Israel.”
Among the dozens of entities Jonkman listed are Christians for Israel, the Israeli weapons and defense systems producer Elbit, and a right-wing, pro-Israel Dutch-Jewish association.
But the list also includes mainstream Jewish entities from the Netherlands and elsewhere that do not define themselves as Israeli or solely focused on Israel.
Those groups include the Anti-Defamation League, the Central Jewish Board of the Netherlands, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, B’nai B’rith and even the office of the Dutch government’s own National Coordinator for Fighting Antisemitism, which is headed by Edo Verdonner, who is Jewish.
The Central Jewish Board has called the request antisemitic and urged universities to refuse to comply with it in a statement Tuesday. Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, the chief rabbi of the Netherlands, also termed the request antisemitic and drew parallels between it and the conduct of Nazi collaborators.
The Rights Forum has not responded to a request for comment by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The group was founded by Dries van Agt, a former prime minister of the Netherlands whom the Central Jewish Board has called an antisemite. Van Agt has dismissed this as an attempt to delegitimize his criticisms of Israel.
Van Agt recently accused Israeli settlers of routinely poisoning their Palestinian neighbors, prompting critics to say he was reviving medieval antisemitic blood libels.
In 2008, he compared Israel to Nazi Germany and spoke at a rally in Rotterdam that featured a televised address by a leader of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel and others.
Van Agt has also said that the Jews “should have been given a piece of land” in Germany instead of Israel. In 2017, he praised the Dutch Labour party for being “good for the Palestinians despite the strong Jewish lobby” in its ranks, according to the Central Jewish Board of the Netherlands. And as the country’s justice minister in the 1970s, he cited his “Aryan” roots in explaining his plan to pardon four Nazi war criminals due to health reasons.