“Damning” report on University of Johannesburg's relations with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University

15 March 2011

Today, a fact-finding report commissioned on the University of Johannesburg’s relationship with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University (BGU) was released. The report, titled, “The UJ-BGU Report”, is attached to this media release and can be accessed at http://www.ujpetition.com/.

The UJ-BGU Report reveals "damning" evidence of BGU’s active collaboration with the Israeli military, its discriminatory practices, contributions to human rights abuses and suppression of academic freedom.

The report will form part of a discussion at a joint Amnesty International and University of Johannesburg seminar on Wednesday, 16 March at 15h30 (UJ  Council Chambers Conference Room, Kingsway Campus, Johannesburg).

Early in 2010 members of UJ’s academic, worker and student community called on their university to end its Apartheid-era relationship with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University (BGU). The call stemmed from BGU’s direct support and active collaboration with the Israeli military and illegal occupation.

Subsequently, on 29 September 2010, UJ’s Senate (its highest decision-making body) imposed certain conditions on BGU that have to be met by the 01st of April 2011 – or else face automatic termination of relations. These conditions include inter alia the addition of a Palestinian University into the current UJ-BGU agreement; as well as a requirement that the UJ-BGU relationship “will not entail any activity, including teaching and research, which has any direct or indirect military implications or contributes to the abuse of human rights.”

In light of UJ's Senate Resolution, members of the UJ Petition Committee undertook an investigation into UJ's links with Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.  The resulting 45-page report represents 6 months of research and constitutes a broad overview of BGU's practices in relation to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), Israel's illegal occupation, discriminatory practices and the suppression of academic freedom.

Documenting detailed, factual evidence and information regarding BGU’s direct and indirect role in further entrenching the violations of human rights and international law by the Israeli state, the report is divided into four parts.

Part 1 of the report exposes BGU's ongoing, deliberate and wide-ranging support for the Israeli military and illegal occupation, including participation in programs specifically sponsored by and benefiting the IDF. For example, through its technology transfer company, BGU has an ongoing partnership with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd (“Rafael”). Rafael ‘develops and produces state-of-the-art armaments for the IDF and Israel’s defense system’. This is just one of many collaborations highlighted by the report.

Part 2 of the report documents the manner in which BGU conspicuously and actively supports attempts by the Israeli Government to curb academic freedom and dissenting voices on Israeli University campuses.  In light of the current dangers posed to academic freedom through Israeli state measures such as the widely-condemned Prohibition on Instituting a Boycott Bill, the report reveals a concerning institutional position adopted by BGU. For example, BGU's Senate recently reviewed its Code of Ethics and has instituted an effective prohibition on lecturers; preventing them from voicing their political opinions during classes, as well as referencing their university titles when speaking publicly (including via oped articles and news items) about politics or their personal opinions.

Part 3 deals directly with the controversial water research project that is the subject of the agreement between UJ and BGU. The findings of the report demonstrate how the research supported and undertaken by BGU forms part of an intricate nexus which supports and entrenches the discriminatory policies on water availability consumption within Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Furthermore, the partners that BGU chooses for its water research, like the Jewish National Fund and the Arava Institute, are themselves involved in activities that undermine human rights.

Finally, Part 4 of the report analyzes and systematically uncovers how BGU not only mirrors Israeli discriminatory policies and practices, but actively reinforces its exclusions and differential treatment, particularly through preferential treatment for military enlisted students.

The findings of the investigation demonstrate the multi-faceted support which BGU actively nurtures and thereby furthers the policies of the Israeli state and its violation of human rights. On the basis of these findings, the report concludes that there is a clear failure by BGU to meet the criteria established by the UJ Senate Resolution.

BGU’s practices and policies, the report concludes, are incompatible with UJ’s values.

The report has been tabled by the University of Johannesburg's Senate, which will meet on Wednesday the 23rd of March 2011. All signs indicate that BGU has not met the conditions imposed on it by UJ and that relations will terminate.

Furthermore, these findings call into question any relationships that other institutions currently engaging with BGU may have.

The call for ending of relations has been supported by a petition of more than 350 prominent South African academics, including: Kader Asmal, Breyten Breytenbach, Alan Boesak, Antjie Krog, Mahmood Mamdani, Barney Pityana, Sampie Terreblanche and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (http://www.ujpetition.com/). Last week NEHAWU, and a day later COSATU, came out in full support and backing of the campaign.