Times Live: UJ cuts ties with Israeli University

UJ cuts all ties with Israeli university
By Charl du Plessis
Times Live- Pretoria -[23_03_11]

The University of Johannesburg has officially cut all ties with Israel's Ben Gurion University after it failed to find a single Palestinian university willing to be part of a collaboration between the two universities.

Late yesterday evening, 60% of UJ's senate committee voted to allow the relationship to lapse on April 1.

Professor Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, yesterday told The Times that it had recently sent a delegation to Palestine to determine whether a Palestinian university would participate in the academic relationship between Ben Gurion University and UJ, focused largely on research into clean water provision.

"All the Palestinian universities said they would not be party to such an agreement because they felt academic freedom was not prioritised by Israeli universities," said Habib.

This follows a preliminary decision by UJ's senate in September last year to allow its relationship with BGU to lapse if the Israeli university could not find a Palestinian partner.

At the time, a petition calling on UJ to sever ties with BGU included the signatures of over 400 academics and prominent South Africans including Kader Asmal, Allan Boesak, Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Antjie Krog, Barney Pityana and Sampie Terreblanche. It was also backed by Desmond Tutu, Ronnie Kasrils and Zackie Achmat.

Habib downplayed allegations that BGU was actively collaborating with the Israeli military, saying these issues merely formed part of the "spirited" two-hour senate debate yesterday.

But Brenda Stern, spokesman for the Friends of Ben Gurion organisation, slammed the decision, saying Habib had "intentionally sabotaged" the fact-finding mission by including the word "university" in the requirements "knowing full well there is a Palestinian boycott" of Israeli universities.

"There are numerous projects the BGU has with private Palestinian organisations . but the inclusion of the word 'university' was done to sabotage any attempt to salvage the relationship," she said.

She said BGU was among the world's top 250 universities and that yesterday's decision was "not important", but that BGU felt a "strong moral obligation to assist in the upliftment of South Africans by helping to provide them with clean water".

"We will continue our projects with other, more important, universities in the country," said Stern.