UJ’s Ben Gurion decision will ‘hurt’ SA

2011-03-24 12:52

UJ’s decision to sever ties with Ben-Gurion University (BGU) and end their collaborative research will hurt South Africans, the Israeli institution said.

“Cancelling this agreement, which was designed to solve real problems of water contamination in a reservoir near Johannesburg, will only hurt the residents of South Africa,” BGU spokesperson Faye Bittker said.

BGU president Professor Rivka Carmi echoed her sentiments: “The only losers in this decision are the people of South Africa.”

Despite the decision, BGU reaffirmed its commitment to advance academic freedom, regional co-operation and social justice through education and research.

BGU said it intended continuing ongoing work with Palestinian academics in water, health care and sustainable development.

The UJ announced yesterday it was ending the 25-year relationship on April 1, based on its UJ Petition Committee finding “significant” evidence BGU had research and other engagements supporting Israel’s military, in particular in its occupation of Gaza.

UJ vice-chancellor Adam Habib said professors could however continue to work individually with the Israeli university.

Efforts to end ties with BGU began with the UJ Petition – a statement by UJ academics and students calling on their university to end its “apartheid-era relationship” with BGU.

The committee behind the petition claimed more than 400 South African academics, including nine vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors, had joined the campaign.

Several organisations, including the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel group welcomed the decision.

“Samwu encourages all other South African Universities and academic institutions to refuse to deal with any institution that openly supports Israeli apartheid and or oppression of fellow human beings,” spokesperson Tahir Sema said.

Sema added that a Congress of South African Trade Unions-led coalition for a free Palestine also welcomed the UJ’s decision. It had begun discussions to work out how to give practical support to the university.

Not everyone supported the move however. The South African Union of Jewish Students expressed “deep disappointment”.

“This is indeed a sad day for academic freedom in South Africa,” chairperson Stephanie Hodes said.

“We regret the one-sided nature of the discussion and deplore this asymmetrical treatment of Israel as being reflective of narrow political agendas, rather than a broad-based human-rights culture,” she said.

“We have yet to see UJ take any action on any other university, anywhere else in the world, whose country’s foreign policy they object to.”

She said Israel was a democracy that “strictly upholds academic freedom” and pointed out that UJ was maintaining ties with Belarus, which she described as a dictatorship.

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