Press release from UJ Senate member - UJ's "boycott" of Israel stands

09 July 2011
South African Professor says "boycott" of Israel stands

Misleading reports in the Israeli media have suggested that South Africa's University of Johannesburg (UJ) has reinstated its partnership agreement with Israel's Ben-Gurion University (BGU). As a representative on the University of Johannesburg's Senate, its highest decision-making body, and a member of its Senate Academic Freedom Committee responsible for international partnerships, I confirm that UJ's decision to terminate its institutional relationship with BGU remains.

On 23 March this year, in a widely publicized decision, UJ's Senate resolved to terminate its institutional agreement with BGU. The termination of the agreement was the result of BGU's failure to comply with conditions set by the university - including BGU's refusal to end its links with the Israeli military. This decision, based on the "principle of solidarity with the oppressed", was the result of a twelve month democratic, transparent, and consultative process. The campaign for UJ to sever its Israeli links included the support of Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and over 400 prominent South African academics.

In line with the principle of academic freedom, UJ's Senate affirmed that individual researchers may continue research relations in their individual capacity, without institutional partnering. Thus Bhekie Mamba, an individual scientist from UJ, was allowed to enter into an individual agreement to participate in a water research study with researchers from several universities, including one from BGU.

The claims in the Israeli media that an institutional contract has been revived is false and reflects a desperate attempt to counter Israel's increasing isolation. There has been no revival of institutional ties between UJ and BGU. In fact, the decision to terminate UJ's agreement with BGU was reaffirmed in a recent Senate meeting (22 June 2011) when it unanimously adopted the minutes of its earlier Senate meeting.

In addition, this morning UJ's Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation, Professor Adam Habib, confirmed that Bhekie Mamba's agreement is not an institutional one but "is an agreement where two researchers have decided to continue their research. UJ, as part of its commitment to Academic Freedom, has opted not to oppose Mamba's project".

In the course of this very public debate at UJ, which resulted in the termination of its relationship with Israel's BGU, the university specifically and academic freedom in general faced immense pressure and threats from exceptionally wealthy individuals in the South African hospitality and banking industries. The affirmation of the rights of individual academics to pursue their research must be accompanied by a fierce denunciation of the very private assault by capital on academic freedom and democratic processes at the academy.


*Farid Esack is a member on the University of Johannesburg's Senate and a member of the Senate Academic Freedom Committee. The Senate Academic Freedom Committee is the official university body mandated to assess all UJ's international agreements. He writes in his personal capacity.