Simon Van Beek has dropped out of the race for Graduate Officer citing “bias-driven bullying” and a campaign of “hate and harassment” after the publication of his candidacy interview with the UCDSU-funded student newspaper The University Observer. Van Beek said that there is a “case still ongoing with the Dignity and Respect services at UCD” regarding “hate [he] experienced the past week”.

What did the article say?

Van Beek drew controversy following statements he made in an interview with The University Observer. In the article, Van Beek was quoted as saying he had “stated a speech for the Israeli side” during a debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict at SU Council.

The Observer wrote that “Van Beek continued, stating that his “first very big culture shock” was coming to terms with Irish people’s support for Palestine, and continues to believe that “the truth is always somewhere in the middle”. Van Beek cites the “German Position” as his reasoning behind his muted support for Palestine, as he believes that “on both sides, people are suffering”.”

The article continued “The Business College Officer then offered up the following comment: “It’s not OK to do genocide on both sides”. His comment is not only unpopular, but undeniably wrong given the growing death toll in Palestine. His position contrasts the position of the union which has been vocally supportive of Palestinian liberation since 2018.”

What is Van Beek’s Position?

In an exclusive statement to The College Tribune announcing his resignation as a candidate, Van Beek labelled the article as “very biased” against him.

“I am disappointed that the University Observer have this very biased article against me and that it is being used as a reference to who I actually am. Everyone around me knows that I am a peaceful and realistic person who is nice to spend time with.”

He characterised the article published by the University Observer as “a strongly biased article against me, putting me in the worst light possible [and] focusing mainly on one point that isn’t even part of my manifesto.”

Van Beek said, “I expected to have an interview about my manifesto focusing on the work I do rather than the work I will not focus on. Instead, I received a strongly biased article against me putting me in the worst light possible focusing mainly on one point that isn’t even part of my manifesto. In addition, because of time constraints and assignments in my schedule, I was only able to hand in a draft manifesto prior [to] this interview that wasn’t finished at this point.”

Van Beek clarified his stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, “Violence has to end, the famine has to end. Give these poor people finally peace, end the occupation and let them rebuild their home country. In addition, Israel needs a new government, the current one hasn’t learned from its own history. I am for peace in all parts of the world not just in Palestine. I genuinely believe that in the 21st century, all conflicts should be solvable without the force of weapons, imperialistic ambitions, or the sorrow of civilians.”

The former candidate explains that his view on the conflict gradually changed when he came to Ireland from his native Germany after experiencing a “culture clash” around the prominence of the Palestinian flag which is different from his home country. “In Germany, it is prohibited to show the Palestinian flag and the Israelian flag is basically as visible as the Palestinian is here in Ireland. Even with participating at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, you are risking to be sued for incitement for hatred.”

It was this culture clash he says he was referring to in the interview with The University Observer.

“Hate and Harassment”

“I have experienced hate and harassment over the last weeks reaching its peak after the [publishing] of the article on Monday. I can overlook the bias-driven bullying out of the union, I have a thick skin, but the hate I experienced the past week broke me. I don’t feel safe anymore and I even felt unsafe using the welfare support of the Union itself. The case is still ongoing with the Dignity and Respect services at UCD, but I hope these hateful people see what kind of damage they have inflicted. The union has good people as well, but the debate culture is dominated by an ideologically driven unrealistic centre that barely allows engagement (in and outside the union) if you are not part of this ideology. This causes mistrust in the union, which has to be stopped to keep the democracy at our campus alive.”

Given the opportunity to respond to these statements, UCDSU President Martha Ní Riada said, “Our student union elections are founded on cultivating an ethos of inclusion and respect. The University’s Dignity and Respect policies are included in our election regulations and the independent Returning Officer considers complaints with the utmost respect while encouraging robust debate, freedom of expression, and exchange of ideas. It’s regrettable that Simon reached a stage where he felt he could no longer continue in the race and, as with all students, I and others within the Union would be happy to support him through the UCD Dignity and Respect services procedures and our own electoral complaints process. With that said, I reject wholeheartedly his assertion that those involved in students’ union activities are self-serving or purely idealistic. These comments do not represent the totality of our actions, the actions of our representatives, or the discussions that take place at Council. There have been several polarising debates in UCD student circles and it is wrong to equate one’s opinion not prevailing with it not being welcome.”

At hustings last Thursday, it was announced that Van Beek’s name had been struck from the ballot. The College Tribune reached out to the UCDSU Returning Officer Darryl Horan to ask if any complaints had been made; the “Returning office doesn’t comment on the potentiality of complaints, only the decisions made. The work of the University Observer is outside the remit of the Returning Office.”

The College Tribune reached out to University Observer Editor-in-Chief, Tessa Ndjonkou, to respond to the allegations that the article published in their Election Special dated Tuesday 26th of March was “strongly biased”, she said:

“The University Observer’s coverage, as with all candidates, is based on a recorded interview and transcript which is conducted thoroughly and to which candidates consent before the interviews. Candidates are made aware that whatever they bring up on the record in an interview may be used by the media in their coverage of a candidate.

“To date, The University Observer has not received any complaint about the coverage. If necessary, the recordings and transcripts can be made available to correlate. As a member of the Press Council of Ireland, The University Observer maintains fair procedures and honesty in the procuring and publishing of news and information.”

Hugh Dooley – Co-Editor