Provost breaks silence on Gaza: “I want Trinity to be a place where everybody can express the opinion they have”

In her first public comments, Doyle said “the suffering that’s going on in Gaza is just unbearable and it’s a horrific situation”

Provost Linda Doyle has made her first public comments regarding Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza.

At an event hosted by Sofia (the Society for International Affairs) earlier this week, the provost discussed the “horrific situation” in Gaza and addressed Trinity’s investments in Israeli companies.

Speaking in carefully neutral terms, Doyle expressed her dismay that people “around the world” have been “personally penalised” for their views on Israel and Gaza: “If you don’t the ‘right opinion’ – whatever the prevailing ‘right opinion’ appears to be – and you’re outside that club, you can’t speak.”

“I want Trinity to be a place where everybody can express the opinion they have, where they can express it passionately. I’d encourage everyone to make evidence-based expressions of those [opinions] and to debate it.”

The comments come amidst flaring tensions on university campuses around the world, most significantly in Columbia University, with which Trinity has close ties.

Speaking about Colleges ties to Israeli institutions, the provost said: “There’s a group of people who feel the best way forward is to maintain links with Israeli institutions, and there’s a group of people who think that’s the worst possible thing you can do. And when I look at the very broken world we have around, I dont think it’s obvious which one of those answers is right.”

“So from my point of view, from an academic freedom point of view, I’m leaving it to individuals to choose who they decide to do work with and to find whatever their ethical beliefs are in themselves to make those choices”, Doyle continued.

Researchers from Trinity have at least five ongoing collaborative research projects involving Israel, for which Trinity receives over €2.5 million in cumulative research funding from the European Commission.

Expressing a personal view on Israel’s assault on Gaza, Doyle said: “I think what’s happening in Gaza is utterly shocking. I agree what happened on October 7 is a horrendous thing to have happened – but the suffering that’s going on in Gaza is just unbearable and it’s a horrific situation.”

Doyle went on to acknowledge that Trinity continues to have investments in “a very small number of Israeli companies”.

“Somebody did say to me ‘oh, you’re just interested in a small amount of apartheid then’ and I get the point, that it doesn’t matter what the size is.”

“We do follow a set of investment guiding principles, [which are] very driven by a lot of what we hear from students,” Doyle said.

“The UN lists that are influencing our investment are updated on a regular basis and our investments get updated on that basis as well.”

“I do think we do need to push a bit harder there on what’s on those lists and for me it’s not about picking one country, it’s about those lists being more robust when negative things happen in the world.”

“It needs to work on a principle level and not on a one-country level”, said the provost.

In February, data released under Freedom of Information (FOI) revealed that College maintains investments in Israeli companies that are blacklisted by the UN for their links to illegal settlements in occupied Palestine.

“It’s a really, really, really difficult situation”, Doyle added.

Among all the challenges faced by the university, Doyle said that Gaza is one which causes her to “wake up in the middle of the night and worry ‘are we doing the right thing?’”

The provost’s silence on the ongoing genocide in Palestine has seen her face strong criticism from students and staff alike.

Academics for Palestine TCD have expressed their disappointment in the Provost for declining to meet with them about College’s response.

Yesterday, Trinity Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) disrupted a staff consultation meeting led by the vice provost in protest.

Doyle said: “Keeping all of what I hear and all of what I do into account, allowing people to make those decisions in terms of the academic side, and then reviewing where we stand and making sure we abide by international [investment] rules like that is important to me.”

“There’ll be people here who like that answer and people here who hate that answer, and that is one of the difficulties,” she concluded.

The comments were made at a Sofia (Society for International Affairs) event hosting former Irish Ambassador to the USA, European Union, United Nations and France Anne Anderson.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Trinity condemned the invasion and “[stood] in solidarity with the Ukrainian people at this most difficult time”. Its failure to respond similarly to Israel’s assault on Gaza has been a point of significant criticism from those who have highlighted its hypocrisy.

In a statement to Trinity News following the provost’s comments, a spokesperson for College said: “In sum, Trinity believes that academic freedom permits academic institutions to work on research topics and with research partners of their choice, and to teach and discuss accordingly.”

“Trinity strongly believes in the right of everyone in its community to hold different opinions and views, and to express them in a manner that is lawful and within College policy on dignity and respect.”

It added that Doyle has met with the Palestinian ambassador to Ireland “to discuss ways in which Trinity can support Palestinian students and contribute to the eventual rebuilding of educational capacity in Gaza”.

It further added that there is “ongoing engagement” with Academics for Palestine and others in the College community on the issue.

Since October 7, 34,262 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed with a further

77,229 wounded due to Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Additional reporting by David Wolfe

Aoibhinn Clancy

Aoibhínn Clancy is the Deputy News Editor of Trinity News and is currently in her Junior Sophister Year studying History and Political Science.