by Higerta Gjergji

Massive protests have been taking place at universities across the United States for weeks. Students have occupied campuses to demand a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and an end to the universities’ partnerships with Israeli institutions and the close ties they have with the arms companies.

Map of pro-Palestine protests in Italian universities

The echo of these protests has reached Europe. In most European university cities, the pro-Palestinian climate is growing rapidly. European students are calling for a change in policy and condemning the brutality of Israel’s military actions in Gaza. In countries such as the UK, Germany, Netherland, Spain and Italy. In Italy, the student intifada has spread across the country, including in Florence in Piazza San Marco since 15 May. The square was renamed “Shireen Abu Akleh”, in memory of the journalist of Al Jazeera killed on May 11, 2022, while she was working and recounting an attack by the Israeli army.

The requests built-in meetings attended by several universities in Florence are:
– “Stop genocide, Zionist occupation and apartheid: clear stance by university institutions against genocide and for the Gaza ceasefire.”
– “Boycott, divest, sanction. We demand that any agreement with the companies that arm the genocide and the Israeli Universities be terminated.”
– “Support to schools and universities in Gaza. We call for concrete assistance and support to Palestinian academic communities to ensure their freedom of thought and expression.”
– “Protect academic freedom and the right to protest. Anti-Semitism other than anti-Zionism. We demand that any attempt to overlay anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism to delegitimise support for Palestine be condemned.”

In the manifesto, also relaunched by the Union of Researchers of the Academic Council of the European University Institute (EUI), students urgently ask that each university publicly expose itself for the ceasefire and against the Israeli invasion of Rafah. But not only: they demand that universities make their economic activities public, that they “disinvest and cut ties with any organization complicit in the genocide.”

The University of Florence, in addition to its relations with Israeli universities, has relations with a military company, the largest European arms producer and the third largest arms exporter to Israel, the Italy’s State-owned company Leonardo group (former Finmeccanica). It is based in Florence and the university has several internship agreements. Leonardo has acquired an Israeli company, Rada Electronic Industries, and Leonardo Drs is an American company, one of the largest arms manufacturers in the USA, which exports to Israel. The Dean of the University of Florence, Alessandra Petrucci, is a member of the scientific committee of Med-Or, a foundation created by Leonardo to bridge the gap between academia and business.

The Academic Council of the European University Institute (EUI) issued a statement on 15 May on the ongoing protests, “condemning the ongoing violence against civilians in the Middle East conflict and calling for an immediate ceasefire and the release of hostages; it is committed to ensuring that the EUI remains a safe space for all, in particular its students and researchers, to freely express diverse opinions and engage in peaceful protest; it reaffirms that open dialogue is vital for the EUI as a research university.”

On 16 May, the President of the EUI, Patriza Nanz, made a personal appearance in St Mark’s Square: “As President of the European University Institute, I intend to guarantee a space where teachers and researchers can ask all the questions, even those that challenge what we take for granted, provided that this is done with intellectual rigour and respect for the dignity of the people involved.” Encourage those in politics and academia who immediately opposed the protests to “distinguish between the various appeals and slogans that emerge from these protests – some of which may not be shared – and their deep roots in the defence of peace, the rule of law and human life”.

There have not yet been interventions by the Dean of the University of Florence Alessandra Petrucci. For this reason, the students decided to present a motion to the Academic Senate on 21 May, again calling for the university to take a stand and end its contracts with the war companies and Israel.

On the cover photo, the pro-Palestine student encampment at the university of Milan ©Anna Violante