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South African university to end relationship with Ben Gurion Univeristy

In a major victory for proponents of the academic boycott of Israel, the University of Johannesburg has voted to end its relationship with Ben Gurion University. This decision to boycott Ben Gurion University carries special significance given South Africa’s history of Apartheid and the successful boycott that was launched against the country in the 1980’s. The university’s decision is another confirmation of the efficacy of the global BDS movement which, in a remarkable short time, has had a major impact on Israel’s ability to continue its occupation of West Bank with little international regard. Below is the press release detailing the decision.

Today, setting a worldwide precedent in the academic boycott of Israel, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has effectively severed ties with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University (BGU).

This was after UJ’s Senate rejected a last ditch motion by pro-Israeli lobbyists to have two separate bilateral agreements – one with a Palestinian University and another with an Israeli University. UJ chose instead to uphold its previous Senate Resolution that required taking leadership from Palestinian universities. Palestinian universities unanimously rejected any collaboration with BGU (in any form) and have come out in full support of the the academic boycott of Israel. UJ chose to respect this.

UJ is the first institution to officially sever relations with an Israeli university – a landmark moment in the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel campaign. Throughout the campaign, academics and international human rights activists have been anticipating this decision. This boycott decision, coming from a South African institution, is of particular significance. This has set a precedent and must start a domino boycott effect!

The movement to end ties with BGU was boosted by the overwhelming support given to the UJ Petition (www.ujpetition.com) – a statement and campaign in support of UJ academics and students who were calling on their university to end its apartheid-era relationship with BGU. As the UJ senate met today, over 400 South African academics, including nine Vice-Chancellors and Deputy Vice-Chancellors, had signed the UJ Petition.

Included in the list of supporters are some of South Africa’s leading voices: Professors Neville Alexander, Kader Asmal, Allan Boesak, Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Antjie Krog, Barney Pityana and Sampie Terreblanche. South Africa’s popular cartoonist Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro, Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, Bishop Rubin Phillips, former Minister Ronnie Kasrils and leading social activist Zackie Achmat also backed the campaign.

Further, over 100 internationals began to lend their support, including several prominent international scholars: Professors Judith Butler, Vijay Prashad, Michael Burawoy, Wendy Brown, Ernesto Laclau, and acclaimed British author, John Berger.

Today UJ has made history by upholding and advancing academic moral integrity. Palestinians, South Africans and the international academic and solidarity community celebrate this decisive victory in isolating Israeli apartheid and supporting freedom, dignity and justice for the Palestinian people. UJ now continues the anti-apartheid movement – against Apartheid Israel.


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    1. Frank

      More on BDS: I am a boycott proponent. I think that it has proven itself to be a logical, moral and non violent tool for achieving social justice and human rights. This, I think, is correct only when the boycott is specific regarding a product or object (grape/lettuce)and it is similarly related to the direct harm against the individuals/group under oppression. Ok. that being said: I would suggest a different strategy regarding academic boycott of Israel – regarding Universities in Israel be specific… point out programs that may have a direct or semi direct effect on the Occupation… for example. Point it out, get it changed if not refuse to participate in it. We can call this, to borrow a less than liked term from my Anti South Africa Apartheid activism days, ‘constructive engagement’. As far as Israeli academic institutions OUTSIDE OF ISRAEL, i.e. in settlements adopt a policy of direct and complete refusal. That is such an academic facility is an institution of the Occupation. It is illegal. Thus it should have no academic standing, i.e. in Europe, and therefore faculty and students would have no academic standing, for instance to pursue advanced degrees in Europe or at UJ etc. Write a letter to Israel’s Council of Higher Ed. and explain the reasoning of the action being taken…

      This is a strong, principled and logical idea, I think. It promotes change, reduces Israeli Martyrdom claims when faced with boycott activities, eliminates collective punishment arguments and makes BDS activists seem to be more principled and strategically directed against the Occupation and its institutions, and it facilitates dialogue and builds alliances among the entirety of the anti-Occupation left.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Jack

      Frank – your suggestion is a good one, unfortunately it will not be adopted by the global BDS movement for the simple reason that the movement is opposed to the very existence of Israel and not simply to the “occupation.” BDS figurehead Omar Barghouti was asked if BDS would cease once a 2 state solution was achieved and he said absolutely not.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Zvi Baranoff

      Even when boycotts make sense, cultural & intellectual boycotts do not. The intelligent exchange of ideas is how progress on any front is made. Dialog and interaction is the best hope for peace.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Frankly Speaking

      Let’s be honest. UJ is not a major institution, its not even the best University in South Africa. BGU is a pretty impressive institution, they do not need UJ, rather UJ need BGU.

      Secondly, it is not conclusive that boycotting South African institutions had a direct result in the fall of Apartheid.

      Thirdly, its better to direct boycott, if one must, at illegal products and activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

      This will have no effect on the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Yitzhak

      Academic boycotts of Israel make absolutely no sense, as the university system is considerably more to the left than mainstream society. The voices being boycotted are the voices that can change Israeli policy.

      Well, I guess if it helps clear their South African consciences…

      Reply to Comment
    6. Borg

      I hope they include “Professor” Neve of BGU in their boycott. At least BGU students will be safer-more chances of being violently assaulted in Jberg than Beersheva

      Reply to Comment
    7. Abban Aziz

      This is a huge loss for South Africa. South Africa suffers from dirty water at a large scale and BGU has harnessed technologies to purify the water cheaply.

      This boycott of Israel is not only an injustice on the millions of impoverished South Africans who would benefit from Israeli technology, but also an assault on academic freedom and liberty.

      And as far as apartheid goes, even assuming the most extreme interpretation – post-apartheid South Africa is still many times more racist than Israel ever will be.

      And what is the life expectancy for South Africans? 50? In gaza is it 75.

      Facts, not rhetoric.

      Reply to Comment