Wits University Vuvuzela: Wits academics sign UJ petition

By Yumna Mohamed
Wits University Vuvuzela Newspaper - Johannesburg - South Africa [17_09_2010]

A number of Wits academics have signed a petition encouraging the University of Johannesburg to cut academic ties with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University (BGU).

With 26 signatures, including 11 professors, Wits has so far shown more support for the petition than any other university.

The petition, which was submitted to UJ on Monday, has been signed by 150 academics from 14 universities, including Rhodes and UCT.

 “The fact that this petition has been supported by so many academics indicates that any decision to get into a relationship with Israeli academic institutions will be challenged because of a growing, principled position among South African academics against having collaborations with the state of Israel,” said Muhammed Desai, a former Witsie and part of the movement who formulated the petition.

Among the signatories are Wits academics Professor Greenstein, an Israeli and sociology lecturer, and Professor Daryl Glaser of the politics department.

“I signed the petition because I was protesting against the honour conferred on the Israeli state and academic establishment by the special relationship between BGU and UJ,” said Glaser.

Critics of the petition have said that politics have no place in the academic sphere.

“Universities, like all organisational spaces and social practices, have a political element,” said Glaser.

“There is nothing neutral about forging a special relationship with a prominent Israeli university at a time when, for example, progressive academics there are under siege. As academics, we have a right and, perhaps special obligation to protest against restrictions on educational access and academic freedom, such as those in place or threatened in Israel.”

Professor Steven Friedman, a lecturer at UJ and one of the petition’s initiators, said:“As beneficiaries ourselves of such a campaign during apartheid, South Africa has an important potential role in the boycott movement.”

Friedman said there were those at UJ who viewed the petition as unnecessarily bringning politics into academic activity.

“But there is a significant portion of the UJ community who recognise this as an attempt to draw attention to the issue of human rights and the parallels between South Africa and Palestine. Who wins this argument is what we will see.”