Sunday Independent: Academics object to UJ's link with Israeli university

By Maureen Isaacson
Sunday Independent - South Africa [26_09_10]

The University of Johannesburg must terminate its 20-year relationship with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University.

The relationship, which was based on joint research on water management, could have benefited South Africa. But although the agreement focuses on water management, the petition says that Ben-Gurion University (BGU) offers privileged positions to Israeli soldiers and airforce pilots and is thereby complicit in the occupation and the suffering of the Palestinian people.

This week’s nationwide academic petition has drawn attention to BGU’s direct and indirect support for the Israeli military. It has been endorsed by Kader Asmal, Allan Boesak, Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Mahmood Mamdani and Barney Pityana.  

It also has the high-profile backing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and former intelligence minister, Ronnie Kasrils.

It reads: “By maintaining links to both the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and the arms industry BGU structurally supports and facilitates the Israeli occupation.”

An example of BGU’s complicity is its agreement with the IDF to provide full university qualifications to airforce pilots within a special BGU programme. Furthermore, BGU is also complicit in the general discrimination at Israeli universities against Palestinians and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

“It is clear to us that any connection with an institution so heavily vested in the Israeli occupation would amount to collaboration with an occupation that denigrates the values and principles that form the basis of any vibrant democracy.”

Farid Esack a professor of religious studies and an associate at the Centre for Democracy at UJ, said the people who initiated this agreement “talk about the scientific value of this but also about the social worth and how this can help South Africans to manage water resources in a more efficient way.”

He said: “UJ signed the agreement with BGU about 20 years ago, when UJ was still RAU and that agreement in different forms at different times. It was renewed about eight months ago.”

The recent protest letter is due to be tabled before the Senate at UJ on Wednesday, where it will take a decision about terminating its relationship with BGU.

Esack says: “The university argues that there is a distinction between initiating an agreement and continuing an old agreement and, as others argue, 20 years ago many things operated differently in South Africa.

“Twenty years later a transformed UJ is not simply a continuation of RAU."

“We have a responsibility in a transforming South Africa to re-evaluate our partnerships and agreements that were entered into in a different era.”