Germany evasive over probe of academics for backing pro-Palestine students

Germany's Federal Education and Research Ministry tells Anadolu that professors' open letter was free expression, but probe still seems to continue

13:43 - 14/06/2024 Cuma
File photo
File photo

Under fire for investigating academics over their support for pro-Palestinian students, German officials were evasive when pressed about whether the probe has been called off, even after acknowledging that the academics' actions were within their right to freedom of expression.

On May 7, more than 100 German-based academics signed an open letter protesting the authorities' response towards pro-Palestinian student protesters during a demonstration at the Free University of Berlin. The letter accused the university administration of subjecting demonstrators to "police violence."

Afterwards, an email sent to the faculty members said their support for the students was being investigated and asked them provide a written defense of their actions.

In a written inquiry, Anadolu asked the Education and Research Ministry: "What is the outcome of the investigation? Have similar investigations been conducted in other contexts before? Do university lecturers need to fear having their funds cut in the future if they criticize government policies or disagree with the Federal Minister?"

In its response, the ministry said that the letter from the lecturers had been reviewed in light of the public debate concerning its legality and the constitutionality of individual expressions contained within it.

The statement said financial support should not be part of this legal review, explaining: "The legal review of the open letter has shown that its content falls within the scope of freedom of expression. This renders discussions about the official results unnecessary. The withdrawal of financial support in response to the open letter has not been a subject of debate."

Despite this, the ministry continued to criticize the content of the open letter.

The statement said nothing about the outcome of the investigation or whether it had been called off.

Earlier, in a written statement, Walter Rosenthal, president of the German Rectors' Conference (HRK), criticized the ministry's reported attempt to cut funding for professors who support pro-Palestinian protests, saying: “You can have different opinions about the specific expression of opinion and argue about the content … However, linking an expression of opinion that is not subject to criminal prosecution to the question of whether scientific work is further eligible for funding would constitute a violation of academic freedom.”

Rosenthal called the ministry's controversial move “outlandish.”

According to earlier reporting by North German Broadcasting, the ministry is investigating whether the financial support provided to academics should be cut off over their support for student protesters.

German universities, including in Berlin, Frankfurt, Leipzig and Bremen, have been the scene of massive student protests against Israel's deadly military offensive in Gaza over the past several months, an offensive that has killed over 37,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, and injured over 85,000 others, according to local health authorities.

Demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians under Israel's siege in Gaza have also spread across university campuses in the US and Europe.

#Germany's Federal Education and Research Ministry
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