Last week, South Africa – which faces a severe water crisis that has grim implications for the country’s development – hosted a three-day event to mark World Water Day. However, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) decided that this was a good time to downplay South Africa’s water crisis and to focus instead on what really matters to them: ending collaboration with Ben Gurion University (BGU) on research intended to combat the algae that is contaminating the drinking water of Johannesburg.
The decision will take effect “as per protocol on 1 April” – I kid you not.
The cheerleaders for this preposterous act of academic April 1 foolishness are ecstatic. In their Orwellian world, “Palestinians, South Africans and the international academic and solidarity community rejoice at this decisive victory.” They hope fervently for a “domino boycott effect,” asserting that UJ has set a “worldwide precedent” by becoming the first academic institution in the world to hand supporters of the anti-Israel boycott campaign a victory by formally cutting ties with a university that Nelson Mandela once described as representing “the best in the traditions of the Jewish people: a sense of mission; internationalism; inventiveness. It is an institution that gives inspiration through its chosen mission, summed up in the words of the prophecy: ‘The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.’”
When battling the boycott efforts last year, BGU was certainly right to describe them as “based upon ignorance and prejudice,” but the problem is that it’s a carefully cultivated kind of “ignorance and prejudice.”
There is a huge treasure trove of arguments that demonstrate the hypocrisy, bigotry and political failure of the anti-Israel boycott campaigns at Engage; and since all of this material is written from a staunchly left-wing point of view, the many boycott enthusiasts who would describe themselves as “progressive” are actually working hard to give the left a bad name.
One issue that should be highlighted in this context is the racism of low expectations that is reflected in the fact that the anti-Israel boycott enthusiasts generally have no interest in making sure that the Palestinian universities they supposedly support with their activism conform to norms that are worthy of left-wing “solidarity.”
This is particularly relevant in the case of the UJ boycott decision, because one condition for continuing the collaboration was reportedly that BGU find a Palestinian partner university. Indeed, UJ vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib claimed that he had even sent a delegation to the Palestinian territories in an attempt to find an institute of higher learning to collaborate with BGU, but all these efforts were “to no avail.”
Habib also claimed last year in an interview with Al Jazeera that it was important to create “an enabling environment for reconciliation and the achievement of human dignity.”
It would seem that the pursuit of this worthy goal precluded UJ engagement with several Palestinian universities.
The most obvious example is Gaza’s Islamic University, a Hamas institution where students have a chance to be taught not only by hard-line Islamists and jihadists, but also by Iranian military experts who know everything about the manufacturing of explosives.
Then there is the problematic record of Al-Najah University in Nablus, which used to serve as a “stronghold for […] various terrorist organizations.”
Birzeit University provides yet another example of a campus that nurtured terrorism and remains active in propagating “resistance” and opposition to any “normalization” with Israel.
For the anti-Israel activists in South Africa, all this may not matter much – after all, as long as they boycott Israel, they don’t run the risk to be blown to pieces in places like the Hebrew University cafeteria or the parking lot of Sapir College.
But one thing is for sure: anybody who thinks that only Israeli universities should be expected to provide “an enabling environment for reconciliation and the achievement of human dignity,” while Palestinian universities should be entitled to glorify “resistance” and to oppose “normalization,” has precious little interest in peaceful coexistence.
Admittedly, it’s perhaps too much to expect the South African proponents of the boycott campaign to be interested in peaceful Israeli-Palestinian coexistence when problems much closer to home – like South Africa’s water crisis – seem of little concern to them. Indeed, Professor Habib dismissively opined that this was a problem that could easily be solved with money.
So no need to collaborate with Israeli experts, and really, no need to worry: even if it turned out that South Africa would find it difficult to provide the necessary financial resources, it’s safe to assume that Professor Habib would easily be able to afford buying imported bottled water for himself and his family.