On January 7-8, 2024, the University of Cologne temporarily banned a student from entering the university in order to prevent him from attending a talk by Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor. The Cologne Administration court later declared the ban illegal.
The ban occurred against the backdrop of a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, during which over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals were killed and more than 200 abducted, and the Israeli military’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of early February, has reportedly killed more than 27,000 Palestinians.The violence has led to heightened tensions on campuses globally. Prosor was scheduled to speak about the ongoing violence at the University of Cologne on Monday, January 8.
Some groups called for students to boycott Prosor’s talk. The banned student had “liked” a social media post that encouraged such a boycott. He had also previously used the slogan “from the river to the sea”–or possibly had just shared a post using the slogan–on social media. The university stated that it was concerned that the student would disrupt Prosor’s talk, and banned the student from entering the university on January 7th and 8th.
The student submitted an urgent petition to the Cologne Administrative Court appealing the ban. On January 12, the court ruled that the ban was illegal since there was not sufficient evidence that the student planned to disturb “domestic peace.” Moreover, in its ruling, the Court noted that a boycott is aimed at the opposite: non-participation in the event.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about an attempt by a higher education institution to prevent a student from attending a public, academic, on-campus event. Where there are legitimate security concerns, the university is obligated to take reasonable available measures to ensure security. In the absence of such concerns, bans on student attendance at events undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.