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Belgian Campus Protests Over War in Gaza Take Different Tone

WorldBelgian Campus Protests Over War in Gaza Take Different Tone

On the leafy campus of a Dutch-speaking university, students have for months been demanding that their institution break ties with Israeli academia over the war in Gaza.

Their campaign borrows extensively from the U.S. campus protest playbook. The students have set up an encampment. They have staged daily demonstrations. And they have sometimes used slogans that many Jews view as a call for the elimination of Israel, like, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

In the United States, the protests have taken place amid a hyper-polarized political environment, contentious relations between students and administrators, and acrimonious hearings in Congress. But in Belgium’s capital, the protest at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, or V.U.B., has been far more peaceful because of a unique combination of factors: a supportive political environment (Belgium is a vocal critic of Israel); a proactive rector; strict protest rules; and, crucially, a tiny campus Jewish community that has chosen not to confront protesters despite discomfort over some of the protests.

As a result, and as like-minded protests incited by the war have brought disorder and violence to campuses in the United States as well as in Europe, the students on the Brussels campus have taken pride not only in the success of their protest, but also in its vibe.

“It’s really crazy to look at the United States and see what’s happening there,” said Ruaa, a protester who has Palestinian roots, who said she did not want her full name used for security reasons.


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