Academics for Palestine criticise universities over ‘neutrality’ and lack of action on war in Gaza

Group expresses dismay over lack of response to call it issued last month to presidents of third-levels institutions to take action

Ireland’s universities have been criticised by a group representing many staff over what they call their failure to abandon links to Israeli institutions and investments in the wake of the war in Gaza.

The group, Academics for Palestine (AfP), had a letter published in The Irish Times in November which has now been signed by about 950 university staff.

The group said on Thursday it has been dismayed by the lack of response to a call it issued last month to presidents of third-levels institutions to take action.

To date, it says, only the University of Galway has given an undertaking to review its links and policies.


“Two other institutions have provided responses, both of which have been entirely inadequate,” the group said on Thursday.

“They are hiding behind contrived positions of ‘neutrality’, or deflecting and avoiding the substance of our request entirely. To be clear, it is not legally or morally defensible to be ‘neutral’ on the matter of genocide and violation of international humanitarian law,” says Dr John Reynolds of Maynooth University in the statement.

AfP’s references to the war as a genocide, along with some of its other language in relation to the October 7th Hamas attack that sparked the Israeli invasion of Gaza, were previously criticised by other academics.

Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 hostages seized in the surprise Hamas-led attack. It says 133 hostages have yet to be released by Hamas, though it is not known how many of them are still alive.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, more than 33,400 Palestinians have been killed since the war began.

“One of the things that is striking is that the universities haven’t even been keeping in step with the Government,” says Dr Patrick Bresnihan, also based at Maynooth, who is involved with AfP.

“You’d think that maybe they might take their lead from the Government, but the Government has been much stronger. The universities have either been silent or they’ve just said something mealy-mouthed about being neutral.

AfP cites the example of Trinity College Dublin – whose involvement in two research projects that included Israeli institutions reported to have links with the state’s armed forces or security forces as partners, as well as investments in companies operating in the occupied territories – as the sort of issue it wants action on.

The university’s links and investments were recently highlighted by the student-run paper Trinity News. AfP says it is undertaking research to establish the extent of such links at other Irish third-level institutions.

In a statement, Trinity said it “strongly believes in the right of everyone in its community to hold different opinions and views, and to express them in a manner that is lawful and within college policy on dignity and respect.

“Academic freedom permits academic institutions to work on research topics and with research partners of their choice, and to teach and discuss accordingly.

“Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Linda Doyle, has met with the Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland to discuss ways in which Trinity can support Palestinian students and contribute to the eventual rebuilding of educational capacity in Gaza.

“There is also an ongoing engagement with the Academics for Palestine group and others in the College community on these issues.”

In November, UCD president Prof Orla Feely responded to calls for action by saying: “Were it to be our practice to take an institutional position on geopolitical matters, we would be inhibiting the freedom of members of our community to express their individual positions and suppressing our ability to sustain and respect a diversity of views.”

Along with students’ unions and a number of trade unions, AfP is supporting a day of protests at universities around the country scheduled for next Wednesday, April 17th.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times