South African Academics Call for an End to Ties Between the University of Johannesburg and Ben Gurion University, 2011

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Timing
Time Period:  
October
2009
to
1 April
2011
Location and Goals
Country: 
South Africa
Location City/State/Province: 
Johannesburg
Location Description: 
University of Johannesburg
Goals: 
The petitioners demanded that the University of Johannesburg end its relationship with Ben Gurion University.
 

Since the 1980’s, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in South Africa has held institutional ties with Ben Gurion University (BGU) in Israel. For most of this time, these ties were little more than a formality, with no active meaning. Then in August 2009, the two institutions signed an academic cooperation agreement to work together on water purification and a biotechnology research project.

In October 2009, 52 University of Johannesburg academic staff members signed a petition against the institutional ties with BGU. The petition challenged the relationship between the two universities, comparing the experience of Palestinians under Israeli occupation to that of black South Africans under apartheid, and supported an academic boycott of Ben Gurion University. Such a boycott would end the water research project and prevent further institutional partnerships.

In May 2010, UJ decided to hold a senate meeting, the highest form of University decision-making. Bertram Lubner, the vice-chairperson of BGU’s board of governors, flew from Israel for the meeting to advocate for BGU and its partnership with UJ. At this meeting, the UJ Senate instated a 9-person committee, led by Adam Habib (the deputy vice-chancellor), to spend three months investigating and reporting on threats to academic freedom at BGU, institutional discrimination against Palestinians, and BGU’s ties to Israeli military forces.

On 5 September 2010, the UJ Senate committee decided to form a new petition directed at the University Senate, calling for an end to ties with BGU. The petition offered many reasons for severing the relationship. It explained that Israeli Universities facilitate research, technology, and leadership that maintain the occupation in Palestine. The appeal also held the Israeli occupation responsible for Palestinians’ limited access to higher education. It also cited the connections between BGU and the Israeli Defense Force and the arms industry. The petition demanded that UJ suspend its relationship with BGU until BGU openly declares itself against the occupation and withdraws all privileges it grants to Israeli soldiers.

Within two days, over 100 academics had signed the petition including prominent leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Breyton Breytenbach, John Dungard, and others from 12 different South African universities. On 28 September 2010, the Congress of South African Trade Unions publicly called on the University of Johannesburg to end its ties with Ben Gurion.

On 29 September 2010 the UJ Senate committee presented its commissioned report, as well as the petition (now with over 250 signatures) to the Senate board. The Senate decided to make a list of conditions that BGU would have to meet within six months in order to retain relations with UJ. These conditions included the following: that BGU agree to include a Palestinian University in the cooperation agreement, that UJ would not be expected to participate in any academic activities having direct or indirect military implications, and that BGU would respond to any reasonable requests for information by UJ.

The UJ senate then decided that the UJ committee would undertake a follow-up investigation to determine if BGU met the conditions laid out for them within the next six months.

The committee released a 45-page report six months later that detailed BGU’s direct and indirect role in the illegal occupation of Palestine, discrimination against Palestinians, and suppression of academic freedom. The committee’s findings proved that the conditions were not met, as all contacted Palestinian universities refused to partake in any agreements with BGU. The committee further recommended that the practices of BGU were incompatible with the values of UJ.

At the release of the second report, the committee had expanded their petition to include over 400 signatures, including the chancellors and vice-chancellors of nine different South African universities.

On 23 March 2011, the senate met again to discuss the results of the report. After two hours of debate, the issue was put to a secret vote. Sixty percent of members voted in favor of cutting ties. The motion to end UJ’s relationship with BGU was passed.

On 1 April 2011, UJ ended institutional ties between the two universities. It should be noted that while the UJ cut ties with BGU, individual professors and students were still allowed to form any ties they desired, including joint academic projects.

Research Notes
Influences: 

No known influences

Sources: 
References

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Shnidman, Ronen. "200 prominent South Africans sign BGU boycott petition." Www.JPost.com. 25 Sept. 2010. <http://www.jpost.com/International/200-prominent-South-Africans-sign-BGU-boycott-petition>.

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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Emily Kluver 16/03/2014