Protesters from the Students for Palestine movement, demanding a boycott of Israeli universities, continued their protest outside the Porthania building of the University of Helsinki on May 13, 2024. LEHTIKUVA


Demonstrations by Helsinki University students in support of Palestine have entered their second month, with protesters continuing to camp outside the university's Porthania building. The protest, organised by the Students for Palestine movement, began in early May and shows no signs of abating.

The demonstrators are demanding that Helsinki University sever its ties with Israeli universities, including terminating exchange programs and ending research collaborations.

Vilja Hermansson, a student at Helsinki University and a member of the movement, stated, “Collaboration with Israeli universities clearly violates Helsinki University's ethical principles, as these institutions are complicit in genocide, apartheid, and violations of international human rights.”

Protesters have set up tents and brought camping gear, indicating their readiness for a prolonged demonstration. They accuse Israeli universities, such as Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, of significant involvement in the violence in Gaza, including developing military technologies used there and training military personnel in collaboration with the Israeli army. The boycott demands are institution-focused and do not target individual Israeli researchers.

The movement draws inspiration from actions in Norway, where five universities decided to cut ties with Israeli institutions in February. Hermansson emphasized, “Five Norwegian universities boycotted Israel in February, and Finnish universities must follow suit. We do not accept apartheid or genocide.”

Since November, the Students for Palestine movement has been advocating for an academic boycott of Israel at Helsinki University. The protest is part of a global wave of similar demonstrations, with significant student protests occurring across the United States, described as the most intense since the Iraq War protests of the early 2000s.

Helsinki University has responded by freezing its exchange programs with Israeli partners due to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza. The university expressed its concern over the conflict and announced plans for an ethical review before resuming exchanges. However, it does not intend to limit academic freedom, allowing researchers to continue collaborating with Israeli counterparts.

The university’s leadership has expressed deep concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza and committed to actively participating in the reconstruction of higher education and research once feasible. Nonetheless, the university maintains its dedication to research ethics and academic freedom.

On May 15, police detained thirteen protesters at Helsinki University following a demonstration inside the main building. The police cited the need to protect against crimes and disturbances, with charges including disobedience to police and obstruction of public officials. The demonstration included around a hundred participants and featured slogans such as "Free, free Palestine."

Protests in solidarity with Palestine have also taken place at other Finnish institutions, including Aalto University, where students marched out of lectures and gathered for a demonstration. The university had previously removed pro-Palestine banners from its premises, citing a policy of neutrality in political matters.

Meanwhile, a counter-protest in support of Israel was held at Helsinki's Rautatientori, with participation from around 200 people and included speeches from political figures such as MP Päivi Räsänen.