After months of pressure the University of Johannesburg (UJ) finally decided to cut ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion University (BGU) on March 23.
The call to do this was largely motivated by the belief that their association with BGU was morally wrong because it has collaborations with the Israeli military occupying Palestinian territories.
“This is indeed a sad day for academic freedom in South Africa” was the response of the Wits branch of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) after hearing of the decision.
The broader international campaign called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel was initiated in 2005 by Palestinian NGOs who believed it had to stand until Israel complied with the Universal Principles of Human Rights.
“Palestinians themselves go to BGU and they don’t see the reason to boycott it, so I don’t see why we should”, says Devan Mogg, a member of SAUJS.
However, The Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee (Wits PSC) feels this is a positive development.
“This is a landmark moment in the fight against what amounts to apartheid…The campaign calls for all people to be given equal rights, to have their basic human rights respected,” says Kate Joseph of the organisation.
Sifiso Nkabinde, an international relations honours student, says this decision might be detrimental for South Africa’s endeavours of bringing in the best technological minds. “What’s going to happen to the water project now?”
Professor Daryl Glaser of the Wits department of political studies and a signatory to the petition says the issue for him is not the boycotting of individual academics or isolating Israelis from global academic debate, but the ending of formalised relationships with Israeli institutions that support a racist and expansionist system.
He says the support of this process by Wits academics is necessary because “it is important that this does not look like the concern of UJ academics alone”.
Mapaseka Sangweni, a 3rd year media studies student, agreed with the decision, saying it was a good thing some Wits academics also supported it. ‘I admire their moral stance on this one…they need to be applauded.”