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South Africa: Victory for BDS campaign as university cuts Israel ties

University of Johannesburg terminates relationship with Israeli institution

By the Coalition for a free Palestine

March 24, 2011 -- The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) led Coalition for a free Palestine (CFP) welcomes the March 23 decision by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) to terminate its relationship with the Israeli institution, Ben Gurion University.

The termination translates into the first South African institutional boycott of an Israeli institution and is a watershed moment in the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of Israel campaign. This resonates with us in South Africa, as we are aware of the importance of international solidarity and realise the role that it played in dismantling South African apartheid. 

UJ was forced to reconsider its relationship with BGU following the launch of The UJ Petition (www.ujpetition.com). The campaign was in support of UJ academics and students who were calling on their university to end its apartheid-era relationship with BGU. The campaign received unprecedented support with over 400 South African academics, including nine vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors (highest non-ceremonial university positions), joining the campaign.

Included in the list of supporters were 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.

Palestininian civil society has called for the BDS of Israel and we are pleased that UJ has taken this historical step in promoting the international BDS campaign, and has taken a bold position to stand in solidarity with the oppressed.

[The Coalition for a Free Palestine (CFP) is a COSATU-led coalition representing a wide range of civil society organisations and trade unions. Some member organisations include the South African Council of Churches, South African Young Communist League, South African Communist Party, Muslim Judicial Council, Muslim Students Association, Palestine Solidarity Alliance, Palestine Solidarity Committee, Palestine Solidarity Group and the student society, the Wits University Palestine Solidarity Committee.]

PACBI: University of Johannesburg makes history: UJ Senate decides to sever links with Israeli apartheid

Occupied Ramallah

March 23, 2011 -- The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), representing a wide spectrum in the Palestinian academy, salutes our South African colleagues at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) for their principled support for the cause of justice in Palestine by upholding the 29 September 2010 UJ Senate resolution to sever its links with Ben Gurion University (BGU)[1]. The UJ press release notes that:

In a protracted and spirited debate, the Senate of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) today voted to allow its formal relationship with Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Israel to lapse on 1 April 2011.[2]

The Senate’s decision is a commendable step in the direction of ending relations with Israeli institutions implicated in apartheid policies and in supporting the occupation. This decision is guaranteed to resound around the globe! The real victory also lies in the intensive mobilisation and awareness-raising effort by key activists and academics in South Africa that indicated beyond any doubt the groundswell of support for Palestinian rights in the country and that played a key role in the UJ Senate vote.

A petition urging UJ to sever links with BGU remarkably gathered more than 400 signatures of academics from all academic institutions in South Africa, including nine vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors. The petition was also supported by main trade unions in the country, including COSATU and the National Health and Allied Workers' Union (NEHAWU).[3]  Moreover, there was unprecedented mainstream media attention, in South Africa as well as internationally, to the facts of BGU’s complicity and the heavy moral burden placed on the shoulders of South African institutions, in particular, to end all forms of cooperation with any Israeli institution practicing apartheid. In the end, views favourable to justice and upholding international law gained wide coverage and won the day.

PACBI warmly salutes all those who worked on and who endorsed the campaign to cut links with BGU. This precedent-setting initiative, endorsed by prominent leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Antjie Krog, Barney Pityana and Kader Asmal, does not mince words in calling for severing links with BGU; furthermore, it implies a termination of collaboration with all Israeli institutions complicit in violations of international law.

Archbishop Tutu defended the call to sever links with complicit Israeli institutions saying "It can never be business as usual. Israeli universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice."[4] Reiterating his unwavering support for the Palestinian-led global campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, he eloquently adds:

Together with the peace-loving peoples of this Earth, I condemn any form of violence -- but surely we must recognise that people caged in, starved and stripped of their essential material and political rights must resist their Pharaoh? Surely resistance also makes us human? Palestinians have chosen, like we did, the nonviolent tools of boycott, divestment and sanctions. [5]

This decision cannot but be viewed as a triumph for the logic of academic boycott against Israel's complicit academy, as consistently reflected in the positions of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE), as well as PACBI and its partners worldwide, including in South Africa. It is, indeed, a significant step in the direction of holding Israeli institutions accountable for their collusion in maintaining the state's occupation, colonization and apartheid regime against the Palestinian people. As former South African cabinet minister and ANC leader Ronnie Kasrils wrote in the Guardian, “Israeli universities are not being targeted for boycott because of their ethnic or religious identity, but because of their complicity in the Israeli system of apartheid.”[6]

BGU as an institution is as guilty of complicity in the Israeli occupation and apartheid policies as any other academic institution in Israel; nothing can make any "environmental" or "purely scientific" project it conducts with UJ morally acceptable until it comprehensively and verifiably ends this complicity. When science is used to cover up grave violations of human rights and international law, it forfeits any claim to “sanctity” and loses its moral raison d’etre. The culpability of the entire institution in violations of international law and human rights cannot be washed away by narrowing the focus or diverting attention only to details of the project with UJ.

As Archbishop Tutu said:

In the past few years, we have been watching with delight UJ's transformation from the Rand Afrikaans University, with all its scientific achievements but also ugly ideological commitments. We look forward to an ongoing principled transformation. [7]

A post-apartheid South African university that is in the process of transforming itself to a truly democratic institution has proven that it cannot possibly complete this necessary transformation while maintaining a partnership with an apartheid institution elsewhere. We sincerely salute UJ for completely severing its institutional links with BGU and look towards other universities around the world to be inspired by this historic precedent by ending their own links with Israeli institutions complicit in violating international law and all basic tenants of human rights. We further call on all conscientious people in academies around the world to follow the path of UJ, adopt BDS as a comprehensive tool to end crimes against the Palestinian people, and call on their institutions to sever institutional ties with the Israeli academy.

[Visit PACBI at www.pacbi.org. Email pacbi@pacbi.org.]

[1] http://www.ujpetition.com/2010/10/uj-senate-resolution-29-september-2010.html

[2] http://www.uj.ac.za/EN/Newsroom/News/Pages/UJSenatevotesonBenGurionpartnership.aspx

[3] http://www.ujpetition.com/

[4] http://www.timeslive.co.za/world/article675369.ece/Israeli-ties--a-chance-to-do-the-right-thing

[5] Ibid.

[6] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/29/south-africa-boycott-israel

[7] http://www.timeslive.co.za/world/article675369.ece/Israeli-ties--a-chance-to-do-the-right-thing

 

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