The Voice of the Cape: Applause for UJ

Applause for UJ
By Tasneem Adams
The Voice of the Cape [25_03_2011]

The Al-Quds Foundation SA has lauded the University of Johannesburg (UJ) for severing its academic relationship with Ben-Gurion University (BGU) for their ties to the Israeli military, and in particular its occupation of Gaza. In a statement issued on Thursday following the announcement, Al-Quds said it would extend its admiration and support to all the signatories for the strong position they have taken in "the call for justice" for the occupied Palestinian people. 

"The call to UJ to cut ties with BGU by the academic fraternity and the subsequent action that was taken by the administration of UJ is an example of a strong, conscious people, a people oppressed by events in history but determined to lend a powerful voice to the subjugated masses. This action, displays the exceptional character that is South Africa, borne out of its history of apartheid.  It is this history that has given us the power to assist others suffering the same humiliating and unjust tyranny," said the organisation's Sheikh Isgaak Taliep.

The Foundation's comments come as it hosts two prominent anti-Zionist activists, who have travelled around the world speaking out against Zionism and Israel's human rights violations. Former BBC journalist Dr Alan Hart and Holocaust survivor Dr Hajo Meyer have candidly addressed various audiences in Cape Town this week on the true understanding of Zionism and ideologies behind the building of a Jewish homeland.

According to Taliep, UJ's decision comes at a critical time for the global Palestinian solidarity movement and BDS campaign. Ultimately, increased sanctions and boycotting of Israel would force the country to redress its discriminatory policies. "UJ has done South Africa proud by breaking ties with supporters of oppression as was done to the oppressors during the South African apartheid era.

"It is known that these types of actions contributed to the freedom of South Africa so let us hope that it will bring justice, peace and freedom to the Palestinians as well.  We further call on all South Africans to support this call and the call for justice in Palestine and all other oppressed peoples."


Earlier on Thursday, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) also welcomes UJ's decision to cut ties with Israel's Ben Gurion University (BGU), adding their congratulations to the UJ community that it said worked tirelessly to realise this decision. "The campaign united academics, students, and workers at UJ, and brought together the academic community including Black and White, Gentile and Jew in an effort to ensure that UJ would take the correct moral and principled position," PSC said.

The decision, which will result in the lapsing of an apartheid-era agreement between UJ - formerly known as the Rand Afrikaans Universiteit when the agreement was first entered into - and BGU next week. "Those who supported UJ's ties with BGU argue that academic freedom has been compromised by this decision. But academic freedom does not exist outside political and moral considerations," PSG's Saleem Vally said.

"When a university - such as BGU - is an essential cog in a racist apartheid system as it exists in Israel, when it conducts research for an occupation army whose actions have widely been labelled as war crimes and crimes against humanity, and when it participates in ensuring that academic freedom is denied to other (Palestinian) academics, then morality and human solidarity dictate that linking with such an institution makes a mockery of academic freedom."

According to Valley, some people have also attempted to spin the issue as if South Africa's access to clean water depends on Israeli research. This he said was a red herring, as well as being a "racist" argument. As UJ's deputy vice-chancellor, Adam Habib, has pointed out, ensuring clean water in South Africa has nothing to do with Israeli research and assistance, and has everything to do with the South African government's investment.

"There has been quite a lot of scare-mongering that if the partnership breaks, South Africa will be confined to bad water quality. The quality of our water is suffering because we are not spending the type of money on cleaning water that we need to, and not employing skill sets required," Habib said.

Valley added: "Israel should be the last country anyone should attempt to learn from with regards to water policy. Amnesty International, in a damning report, has accused the Israeli government of using discriminatory water policies that deny Palestinians their right to access water."


The largest local Government Union, Samwu, also added its applause, calling it a "landmark victory" and "watershed" moment for the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign of Israel. According to Samwu spokesperson, Tahir Sema, this decision was a proud moment for all South Africans, particularly for the over 400 academic signatories to the UJ Petition.

The UJ campaign managed to gain the unprecedented support of over 400 South African academics, including 9 South African Vice-Chancellors and Deputy Vice-Chancellors; 11 Deans and Vice Deans; 19 Heads of Department; 175 University Professors and 125 Academic Doctorates. Sema said Samwu encouraged 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.

"Other South African universities now have an example to follow. We will make sure those academic institutions in this country, which have ties with Israeli institutions immediately begin talks to end these relationships. Apologists for apartheid Israel will try to - hypocritically - criticize and threaten UJ for their valiant and noble decision."

Sema said the Cosatu led Coalition for a Free Palestine has already begun discussions to work out ways and means to give practical support to UJ. "Intimidation may be the order of the day in Israel but it has no place in South Africa. Samwu will make sure that it fights for the rights of the subjugated, from Swaziland to Palestine. An injury to one is an injury to all," Sema said.


But not everyone applauded the decision. According to the Israeli institution, UJ's decision to end its 25 year relationship and their collaborative research will hurt South Africans. "Cancelling this agreement, which was designed to solve real problems of water contamination in a reservoir near Johannesburg, will only hurt the residents of South Africa," BGU spokeswoman Faye Bittker said.

BGU president Professor Rivka Carmi echoed her sentiments: "The only losers in this decision are the people of South Africa." Despite the decision, BGU reaffirmed its commitment to advance academic freedom, regional co-operation and social justice through education and research, Carmi said. However, Habib said professors could continue to work individually with the Israeli university.

The SA Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) also expressed "deep disappointment" in the decision. "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 the UJ was maintaining ties with Belarus, which she described as a dictatorship.