South African university may cut ties with BGU

Johannesburg institution mulls action in protest of alleged Palestinian rights abuses.

May 24, 2010 12:33
1 minute read.
Ben-Gurion University.

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

The University of Johannesburg is considering cutting academic ties with Ben-Gurion University in protest against the Beersheba school’s alleged association with Palestinian human rights abuses.

An “extraordinary” meeting of the South African university’s senate debated the matter last week, the Mail & Guardian reported.

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The University of Johannesburg’s partnership with BGU dates from August, when the schools signed an academic cooperation and staff exchange agreement relating to water purification and biotechnology research.

In October, 52 UJ academic staff members signed a petition opposing the partnership. It states in part: “The Palestinian people are currently victims of an Israeli occupation, which violates their human rights as well as international law. Their plight has been repeatedly compared with that of black South Africans under apartheid.”

Prof. Steven Friedman presented the pro-boycott argument in the senate on behalf of the petitioners. “We are not asking UJ to join a boycott campaign against Israel,” said Friedman, who is the director of the joint UJ-Rhodes University Centre for the Study of Democracy. “But we are asking them not to sign agreements with institutions which collaborate with governments that commit human rights violations,” he told the Mail & Guardian.

The University of Johannesburg came into existence on January 1, 2005, as the result of a merger between the Technikon Witwatersrand and the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU). Prior to the merger, the Daveyton and Soweto campuses of the former Vista University had been incorporated into RAU.

The University of Johannesburg has more than 48,000 full-time students and 2,700 permanent staff, making it the largest residential university in South Africa.

A BGU spokesman on Sunday night called the proposed move “counterproductive.”

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