U. of Johannesburg signs research agreement with BGU

Move comes nearly four months after UJ decided to cut its ties to BGU over what it referred to as the university’s support of the IDF.

ben gurion university building 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
ben gurion university building 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the University of Johannesburg have signed a new research agreement, nearly four months after UJ decided to cut its ties to BGU over what it referred to as the university’s support of the IDF.
In a statement posted on the UJ website last Thursday, the university announced that an agreement had been signed between scientists from UJ, BGU and the University of California, Los Angeles, and Belgium’s Ghent University, “to pursue research collaboration on nanotechnology enhanced water treatment membrane materials and processes.”
Prof. Ihron Rensburg, vice chancellor and principal of UJ, is quoted in a separate announcement on the website as saying “the University of Johannesburg strongly upholds academic freedom and the right of its academic staff to develop relationships with whomsoever they wish.”
Rensburg added that “the signing of this contract by the institutions and between the researchers, which includes academics from the United States and Belgium, merely reinforces UJ’s commitment to academic freedom.”
According to UJ, the BGU professor who will take part in the project is Prof.
Yoram Oren from the department of desalination and water treatment at the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research.
On Friday, BGU issued a statement saying, “We are confident that the combined energies and passions of the researchers involved will produce results that will have a direct impact on South Africa’s clean water supply. It will also contribute to the development of a world-class cohort of scientists in South Africa.”
In March, UJ voted to allow the research ties with BGU to expire in April 2011, placing the future of the schools’ cooperative project on water purification and biotechnology in doubt.
The UJ vote was supported by 60 percent of the school’s senate. The vote did not preclude individual UJ academics from working with BGU counterparts, but required that such collaboration be done informally without institutional support.
The vote came after the university launched a petition supported by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in September 2010 that called for the university to cut its ties with BGU over what it said is the school’s support for the IDF. The petition was eventually signed by more than 250 South African academics.
Also in March, UJ published a report titled “Findings on Ben-Gurion University of the Negev: Institutional complicity and active collaboration with Israeli military, occupation and apartheid practices.” The report cited BGU’s program that awards scholarships to IDF reservists and IAF pilots.

The UJ vote in March received widespread condemnation from supporters of Israel, including the Anti-Defamation League, whose National Director Abraham H. Foxman said “the decision by the University of Johannesburg to sever ties with Ben- Gurion University was misguided and shortsighted.”
Foxman added 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.”