Statement on the Monday Evening Talk

15/12/2023
 

RWTH Aachen University sees itself as both a welcoming, inclusive place and a hub of critical discourse. In science, freedom of teaching and research is the highest good. However, if the space for critical, science-based discourse is threatened by political or ideological disputes or even by extremist and one-sided propaganda, the University has to react. It must consider whether the safety of an event and the well-being of all those involved, and in particular our students – for whom we have a duty of care – is at risk. This is a fundamental principle of the University. RWTH aims to create a protected, safe, and non-discriminatory space for its members at all times.

In order to achieve this, it is essential to investigate background information, identify moods, seek a fair exchange of views, and consider all aspects of a situation before making a decision. This is what we did in the case of the canceled Monday Evening Talk. In the run-up to the event, Jewish and Israeli students wrote to the instructor in charge and to University management, reporting hostile incidents at the University that unsettle and even scare them. They expressed fears that holding an event like this, as happened elsewhere, could further aggravate this situation. When we talked to these students, we understood the urgency of their appeal. We condemn these expressions of hostility, including the anti-Israel and antisemitic graffiti on University buildings and the discriminatory leaflets recently found on campus: they have no place at our University. RWTH has filed a lawsuit in this matter.

In a consultation, the students told us that their University life is currently characterized by fear and that they are very worried about being recognized and threatened as Israeli-Jewish students. We cannot accept this. To us, the safety and well-being of our students is paramount, especially in light of recent incidents at other German universities such as UdK Berlin, the University of Kassel and, most recently, FU Berlin. Such incidents must be prevented in the interests of all students and employees of our University.

The Forensic Architecture organization invited to the Monday Evening Talk on December 11 is doing valuable, internationally recognized work. However, the flood of comments and forwarded messages on social media that we became aware of in the wake of our decision shows us that the original purpose of the event scheduled for December 11 – a specialist talk on architecture – has been pushed into the background

Jewish and Israeli students told us that they consider the event to be offensive, as the founder of Forensic Architecture, Eyal Weizman, has repeatedly advocated for the BDS campaign on different occasions, including by signing a letter to the German federal government. Leading representatives of BDS deny Israel's right to exist; and the German federal and state governments condemn BDS for its antisemitic stance, urging universities not to give this movement a forum for their activities. The students and the Rectorate fear that a platform is being offered here for those who, like BDS, deny Israel's right to exist, even if Forensic Architecture does not specifically take an antisemitic position.

It would not be appropriate to hold an event with Forensic Architecture at present, as a neutral, scientifically grounded critical discourse cannot be guaranteed during this sensitive and very emotional time characterized by global political tensions. The decision to ask the host of the Monday Evening Talks to postpone the event was made solely due to the current circumstances, as was explained in detail in a personal conversation with him. However, our request was rejected by the professor in charge, so that in the end the decision to cancel the event for December 11 was made after weighing up all the circumstances.

On the part of RWTH, the event cancellation does not at all indicate a general stance towards the work of and discursive exchange with Forensic Architecture. All of the above aspects were discussed both before and after the decision to cancel the event, most recently also by the RWTH Senate. The University considers the recent decision of the administrative court as confirmation of its stance.