South Africa: Uni threatens to cut Israeli ties

Photo: Aprilzosia/Flickr

The abridged statement below was released by the South African Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) on September 29.

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After a huge mobilisation by South African academics, the senate of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) voted today “not to continue a long-standing relationship with Ben Gurion University (BGU) in Israel in its present form and has set conditions for the relationship to continue”.

The PSC welcomes the commitment of the UJ senate. Its decision — and the huge support given to the petition calling for the ties between UJ and BGU to be severed — should put Israeli apologists in South Africa on notice that the campaign for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions has begun in earnest.

Cooperation between BGU and UJ had begun in the 1980s (when UJ was an apartheid institution called the Rand Afrikaans Universiteit), and was recently encapsulated in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the universities.

Such relationships between the two apartheid states and their institutions was common before 1994, but they have no place in our post-apartheid society.

The conditions for UJ renewing its cooperation with BGU were:

• That UJ will not be involved in any activities with BGU that have “direct or indirect military implications” (in its statement, UJ acknowledged that BGU had a relationship with the Israeli occupation forces);
• That BGU respects UJ’s duty to take all allegations against BGU seriously;
• That BGU supplies UJ with information regarding the former’s “formal policies and informal practices”; and
• That the MOU between the two universities be amended to include Palestinian
universities — which will be chosen with UJ’s involvement.

If BGU is unable to fulfill these conditions within six months, UJ’s senate said the MOU will lapse. The PSC is convinced that BGU will not be able to meet these conditions because it cannot extricate itself from its apartheid culture and practice.

The lapsing of this deal with a university that unashamedly supports racism, apartheid, occupation and colonialism will signal South African academia’s refusal to deal with institutions whose very ethos violates the human rights, justice, and equality that South Africans fought for.

We salute the more than 250 academics who signed the petition calling on UJ to end its relations with BGU, a university whose racism is reflected even in its enrolment policies.

We are particularly thrilled that four university vice-chancellors have signed on to the campaign, and are sure this indicates that any suggestion of cooperation with institutions that support apartheid will immediately be dismissed by South African universities in future.

The range of signatories gives hope to those of us who opposed apartheid in South Africa and oppose apartheid against the Palestinian people. It also gives us hope for the possibility of a successful South African academic boycott campaign against Israeli institutions, and a successful boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign in general against Israel.