ADL slams Uni. of Johannesburg for cutting ties with BGU

A day after UJ cut ties with Negev school, Foxman calls decision "demonizing, misguided and shortsighted."

March 24, 2011 18:55
3 minute read.
Ben-Gurion University.

ben gurion university building 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev student union and the Anti-Defamation League on Thursday issued harsh rebukes of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), a day after the institution decided to sever its ties with BGU over what it called the university’s support of the Israeli military.

“We are not ashamed of the fact that the union and BGU support reserve soldiers,” union head Uri Keidar said Thursday, adding “the fact that the administration’s decision was made by way of a secret vote indicates that it was a cowardly step that is out of place with the complexity of the issues, and shows that the administration has opted for making unilateral decisions that ignore the complex reality,” union head Uri Keidar said Thursday.

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Johannesburg U mulls cutting ties with BGU

Keidar added that “the decision to use the term ‘apartheid’ to describe events in Israel at the least shows bad taste and also, it appears, terrible ignorance.”

“The decision by the University of Johannesburg to sever ties with Ben Gurion University was misguided and shortsighted,” ADL national director Abraham H. Foxman said, adding that “in demonizing and rejecting BGU solely because it is an Israeli academic institution, this highly political decision does nothing to promote Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and understanding.

Moreover, it will deprive all South Africans of the new technologies being developed by BGU scientists to purify water.”

The University of Johannesburg on Wednesday voted to allow its ties with Ben-Gurion University to expire in April 2011, bringing to an end a cooperative project on biotechnology and water purification between the two schools.

Sixty percent of the school’s senate voted in favor of allowing the ties with BGU to lapse on April 1, 2011, while 40% voted for bilateral agreements between the two schools.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the university said “the Senate of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) today voted to allow its formal relationship with Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Israel to lapse on 1 April 2011. This was one of two options put to the vote in the Senate, the second being to allow the formal relationship with BGU to continue and to develop bilateral relations with both BGU and Palestinian universities.”

72 members of the senate present at the meeting voted to allow the memorandum of understanding with BGU to lapse, while the remaining 45 members present voted for bilateral agreements. The agreement doesn’t mean that individual academics at UJ wouldn’t be able to pursue academic collaboration with counterparts at BGU, but they would be carried out without formal institutional arrangements.

The vote followed a campaign launched by UJ in September 2010 with a petition signed by more than 250 South African academics, with the support of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, that called on UJ to cut ties with BGU over what they claim is the university’s active support for the Israeli military.

Last Wednesday, UJ held a debate entitled “The Politics of Water Research and the Ethics of Academic Engagement – Should UJ terminate its water research with Israel?” to discuss whether or not to cut ties with BGU. The seminar discussed a report released the day earlier by UJ entitled “Findings on Ben-Gurion University of the Negev: Institutional complicity and active collaboration with Israeli military, occupation and apartheid practices.”

As evidence, the report mainly focuses on BGU’s scholarship programs for IDF reservists and Israel Air Force pilots, most of whom serve at the nearby Hatzerim air force base.

BGU issued a response on the day of the debate, calling the report “a collection of lies and mistruths about BGU and the State of Israel,” adding that “it would be unfortunate to cancel a research agreement that is meant solely to improve the quality of life for the residents of South Africa.”

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