Over 60 activists, including 10 professors wearing academic gowns, greeted the opening academic procession at the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven) in Leuven, Belgium on Monday, 25 September. The action demanded the university cancel its participation in LAW-TRAIN, the European-funded research program that partners with Israeli police to study interrogation techniques.
The annual event marks the launch of the academic year. This year, it was the first public event of the newly elected university Rector, Luc Sels.
Organized by the Leuvense Actiegroep Palestina (Leuven Palestine Action Group) with participation from a number of groups in Belgium, people carried “Stop LAW-TRAIN” posters along the sidewalks where the procession passes, and 10 professors wearing academic gowns participating in the procession also walked with “Stop LAW-TRAIN” posters. Several participants in the action presented Rector Sels with a cake marked with “3,000 thank yous,” urging him to cancel the university’s participation in the project and win the thanks of the over 3,000 Belgians who have signed a petition against the project.
Professor Lieven De Cauter delivered a printout of the 3,000 signatures to the university to Sels as well. The university’s newly-appointed vice-rector for research, Reine Meylaerts, had previously been active in supporting the campaign against LAW-TRAIN and other cooperation with human rights violators at the university.
Hundreds of Belgian academics and cultural workers have signed on to an open letter against LAW-TRAIN organized by BACBI, the Belgian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. During the procession at KULeuven at the start of the prior academic year, four activists blocked the street to demand the university stop legitimizing torture through its participation in LAW-TRAIN.
Activists across Belgium have emphasized the involvement of the Israeli police in the torture, repression and interrogation of Palestinians from Jerusalem and Palestine ’48, as well as their involvement in home demolitions and destruction of Bedouin Palestinian communities in the Naqab. The Israeli Ministry of Public Security, presided over by far-right minister Gilad Erdan, who also holds the state’s anti-BDS portfolio seeking to suppress the international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions, is also a partner in the project, along with Bar-Ilan University.
Portugal pulled out of the project after growing protests from Palestinian and Portuguese associations. There is a significant campaign in Belgium and a broad coalition urging both the state agencies and the university to end their participation in LAW-TRAIN, noting that it legitimizes and sanctions the Israeli police’s use of torture in interrogation and involvement in occupation, colonialism and repression. A delegation of high-profile Belgian lawyers and human rights experts traveled to Palestine where they studied the use of torture by the Israeli police.