The New Age: Union salutes UJ for cutting ties with Israeli varsity

Union salutes UJ for cutting ties with Israeli varsity
The New Age- Johannesburg -[25_03_11]               

The University of Johannesburg's (UJ) severing ties with Israel's Ben-Gurion University (BGU) was the right thing to do, the SA Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) said yesterday.

"Samwu encourages all other South African universities and academic institutions to refuse to deal with any institution that openly supports Israeli apartheid and or oppression of fellow human beings," spokesman Tahir Sema said in a statement.

Yesterday, UJ announced it had cut ties with BGU over concerns it was supporting the Israeli military, in particular its occupation of Gaza. A petition was circulated last year calling for UJ to end the relationship. Supporters of the campaign included Neville Alexander, Kader Asmal, Allan Boesak, Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Antjie Krog, Barney Pityana and Sampie Terreblanche.

It also included cartoonist Jonathan "Zapiro" Shapiro, Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, Bishop Rubin Phillips, former minister Ronnie Kasrils and Aids activist Zackie Achmat.

Vice-chancellor Adam Habib said UJ would end its 25-year relationship with BGU on April 1. Professors could, however, continue to work individually with the Israeli university, he said.

Sema said, "It is a proud day for UJ, indeed for all South Africans, particularly for the over 400 academic signatories to the UJ petition." He said other South African universities now had an example to follow.

"Apologists for apartheid Israel will try to hypocritically criticise and threaten UJ for their valiant and noble decision."

Sema said a Congress of South African Trade Unions-led coalition for a free Palestine also welcomed the UJ''s decision. It had begun discussions to work out how to give practical support to the university.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel group described UJ''s decision as a "landmark moment".

"UJ is the first institution to officially sever relations with an Israeli university, a landmark moment in the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel campaign," the group said in a statement.

Not everyone supported the move however. The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) expressed "deep disappointment".

"This is indeed a sad day for academic freedom in South Africa," chairman Stephanie Hodes said in a statement.

"SAUJS regrets the one-sided nature of the discussion and deplores this asymmetrical treatment of Israel as being reflective of narrow political agendas, rather than a broad-based human rights culture," she said.

"We have yet to see UJ take any action on any other university, anywhere else in the world, whose country''s foreign policy they object to."

She said Israel was a democracy that "strictly upholds academic freedom" and pointed out that UJ was maintaining ties with a dictatorship like Belarus.