In a move backed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the University of Johannesburg (UJ)
has severed its links with Israel‟s Ben-Gurion University (BGU) over its complicity with
Israeli violations of international law and abuses of Palestinian human rights.
Following a determined campaign backed by Palestinian academics, Archbishop
Desmond Tutu, the main South African trade unions, including COASTU and
NEHAWU, and over 400 South African academics, including Chancellors and Vice-
Chancellors,1 the UJ Senate resolved in September 2010 to sever its links with BGU
unless Palestinian universities were involved in the research relationship and BGU
ends complicity with the Israeli occupation.. Following the principled refusal by
Palestinian universities to adopt links with BGU due to its role in Israeli violations of
international law and after a scathing South African fact-finding report on this role, the
University of Johannesburg announced on Wednesday that it would allow its
relationship with BGU to lapse.2
In its September 2010 resolution, the UJ Senate concluded that “there is significant
evidence that BGU has research and other engagements that supports the military
and armed forces of Israel, in particular in its occupation of Gaza” and that BGU has a
“significant impact” on the continued subjugation of Palestinian citizens of Israel.3
Speaking in support of the move last September, Nobel Prize winner
Archbishop Tutu argued: “Palestinians have chosen, like we did, the nonviolent
tools of boycott, divestment and sanctions. South African universities with their
own long and complex histories of both support for apartheid and resistance to
it should know something about the value of this nonviolent option.”
“In the past few years, we have been watching with delight UJ's transformation
from the Rand Afrikaans University, with all its scientific achievements but also
ugly ideological commitments. We look forward to an ongoing principled
transformation,” he added.
The move is being heralded by campaigners as a significant victory for the
Palestinian-led movement for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions
(BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law. UJ is the first university
anywhere to end relations with an Israeli academic institution.
The Palestinian Campaign for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI),
representing a wide spectrum in the Palestinian academy, welcomed the move. In a
public statement released on Thursday4 it said: “The Senate‟s decision is a
commendable step in the direction of ending relations with Israeli institutions
implicated in apartheid policies and in supporting the occupation. This decision is
guaranteed to resound around the globe!”
“The real victory also lies in the intensive mobilization and awareness-raising effort by
key activists and academics in South Africa that indicated beyond any doubt the
groundswell of support for Palestinian rights in the country and that played a key role
in the UJ Senate vote,” the statement added.
Anti-apartheid campaigners such as Professors Neville Alexander, Kader Asmal, Allan Boesak, Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Antjie Krog, Rashida Manjoo, Barney Pityana and Sampie Terreblanche. South Africa's popular cartoonist Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro, Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, Bishop Rubin Phillips, former Minister Ronnie Kasrils and social activist Zackie Achmat all backed the campaign.
“We further call on all conscientious people in academies around the world to follow the path of UJ, adopt BDS as a comprehensive tool to end crimes against the Palestinian people, and call on their institutions to sever institutional ties with the Israeli academy,” the statement added.
The South African BDS Working group, who helped to initiate the petition which led to the historic decision, said: “UJ has taken an important and historic step today demonstrating its commitment to solidarity with the oppressed. Setting the precedent of no „business as usual‟ with Israeli institutions, other South African universities are expected to follow this lead.”5
Notes to Editors
1. For more information about the campaign at the university of Johannesburg, see http://www.ujpetition.com/
2. In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for boycotts, including academic boycotts, divestment and
sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law.6 A truly global movement has emerged
in response to this call.7
3. Academic boycott initiatives exist across Europe and North America.
4. Cultural performers including Pete Seeger, Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), The Pixies, Faithless, Elvis Costello,
Gill-Scot Heron and others have refused to perform in Israel and/or spoken of their support for BDS.8
7 For partial list of BDS campaigns and victories, see http://bdsmovement.net/?q=node/755
8 See various articles on www.pacbi.org
Posted on 29-03-2011