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Pro-Palestine uni protests to be debated in Swiss parliament

student protest
A protest at the federal technology institute ETH Zurich, May 7, 2024. Keystone / Michael Buholzer

The right-wing Swiss People’s Party says it will launch two postulates calling for government clarifications about the protests and occupations in recent weeks.

The first postulate calls for “an end to anti-Semitic ideas in public educational establishments in Switzerland”, the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper reported at the weekend.

The People’s Party believes that pro-Palestinian groups have occupied educational institutions in violation of the law and have prevented their proper functioning. It thus wants the government to shed full light on these events, which the party suggest did not occur spontaneously.

American NGOs are organising pro-Palestinian demonstrations, and the People’s Party believes that “the same thing is happening at Swiss universities”, Thomas Aeschi, chairman of the party’s parliamentary group told Swiss public radio, RTS, on Monday. Aeschi said the goal was now to see whether the protests were coordinated by “foreign networks present in Switzerland”.

+ Read more: Swiss student group condemns occupations

In particular, the party wants to find out how the demonstrations were planned and coordinated, and what the role of national and foreign networks was. It also wants information about how federal and cantonal authorities are ensuring that no discrimination based on origin or politics can take place in the establishments concerned.

Diversity and neutrality

In a second parliamentary postulate, the party wants to know whether universities consider political diversity to be an objective and, if so, how important this objective is.

It thus wants the government to explain how political diversity and neutrality in research and teaching are guaranteed at universities. Another point raised concerns criteria for choosing, for example, research projects: the postulate calls on the government to clarify that such criteria are scientific and not ideological.

+ Read more: our coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian war

Opposing visions

“We have the impression that the management of Swiss universities is becoming more and more politically left-wing, and some universities are supporting these protests,” Aeschi said. “And if the Swiss government gives money to the cantons for universities, it must more clearly ensure that management is not politically left-wing and supporting these anti-Semitic protests.’

Michaël Buffat, a People’s Party parliamentarian from canton Vaud, reiterated this view to RTS on Sunday. “The question is not whether we support the protests in substance. It’s the form: should universities be occupied by political groups? And the fact that we’ve seen professors speaking out is worrying.”

Representatives of the left, which has generally supported these student movements, denounce an attempt to undermine the credibility of the mobilisation.

“We don’t see why there should be a special investigation,” said Carlo Sommaruga, a Senator from Geneva. In his view, “young people are shocked by what they see and are organising themselves as a result. As for neutrality, universities are never neutral. Silence in the face of horror is complicity in horror. So I think that one way or another the subject will come up again in [parliament].”

Adapted from French by DeepL/dos

This news story has been written and carefully fact-checked by an external editorial team. At SWI swissinfo.ch we select the most relevant news for an international audience and use automatic translation tools such as DeepL to translate it into English. Providing you with automatically translated news gives us the time to write more in-depth articles.  If you want to know more about how we work, have a look here, and if you have feedback on this news story please write to english@swissinfo.ch

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