Ilan Troen responds to the campaign at the University of Johannesburg to cut links with Israeli universities

Hijacking apartheid

This piece, by Ilan Troen, is from the Jerusalem Post

In 1997, I was sent to the University of Cape Town by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to be the master of ceremonies when the president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, received an honorary doctorate from BGU. Representatives from 40 universities from South Africa and neighboring countries marched in the academic procession.

Being Israeli and Jewish was a welcome and appreciated calling card at that the event, and at others over the years. As Mandela eloquently declared in his acceptance speech: “In Ben-Gurion University of the Negev we have a center of excellence which represents the best in the traditions of the Jewish people: a sense of mission, internationalism and inventiveness.”

This May, I was again in South Africa, but this time at a special hearing before the senate of the University of Johannesburg to help respond to a petition calling for a boycott of BGU, and by implication all Israeli universities. The petition charged BGU with violating the academic freedom of a colleague who urged a boycott of Israeli universities. It also claimed human rights violations in the theft of Palestinian water resources. This allegation in particular was used to support the demand that their university abrogate a signed and functioning agreement with BGU for joint research on water use issues. Both charges echoed the now familiar claim that Israel is an apartheid state.

The first two complaints were readily answered on factual grounds. BGU has a record of supporting academic freedom and a well-documented history of research to improve water quality for all the inhabitants of the region.

We further cautioned that South Africans should beware of having their experience with apartheid hijacked for the sake of polemical advantage in advancing the political causes of others, just as Jews guard against indiscriminate applications of “Holocaust” or “genocide.”

Yet the movement to discredit Israel by comparing it to apartheid South Africa is well orchestrated and has its own momentum.

It is hard to gauge what the final result will be. A subcommittee was to have reported back to the senate today, September 29. The vice chancellor and the university administration were then to deliberate and render final judgment in a month or so. We hope that common sense and courage will guide them in their decision and that they will dismiss the absurd arguments of the detractors and vote for cooperation and collaboration.

YET JUST last week, Bishop Desmond Tutu signed a second petition calling for the suspension of any relationship with Ben- Gurion University on the grounds that it is the creation of a criminal state and complicit in its noxious behavior. Even as sanctions were used to break apartheid in his country, he argues, sanctions should be used against Israeli universities.

This new petition nowhere mentions the issue of academic freedom or violations of water rights. A host of other outrageous charges raised against Ben-Gurion University at the May senate meeting and, answered at that time, have similarly disappeared. Instead the second petition makes far more general indictments.

They constitute, in effect, an accusation against Israeli society as a whole. It is hard to understand such animus, since it so patently and deliberately rejects both reason and self-interest.

I have not entirely overcome the frustration and anger at having to answer baseless and mendacious accusations.

Yet I believe it is clear that it is not BGU and Israel who are on trial, but the academics of South Africa.

Israel is a world leader in arid-zone and water research as in much else.

Literally scores of countries have collaborative agreements with Israeli institutions.

Students and academics from around the world come to Israel, from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, from across Africa and Europe, the US and Russia.

The University of Johannesburg cannot match that record of achievement and engagement. The much maligned water project will help produce pure water crucial for Johannesburg. To deny fellow citizens such a benefit on the pretense that this action demonstrates concern for the human rights of Palestinians and furthers their cause is a cynical effort to appear self-righteous in the absence of any serious commitment. It cannot compare with and should not be allowed to overshadow the agricultural, technical and health collaborations and assistance BGU has offered over the years to UJ and other South African universities as well as its Arab and Palestinian neighbors.

The sad irony is that the benefits of the UJ agreement are marginal for BGU.

There are many other suitors eager for cooperative arrangements. There is one benefit, though, that Mandela well expressed in welcoming an association with BGU. It is in the opportunity for service that is deeply embedded in the Zionist ethic that animates Israeli scholarship as a whole. Despite the indignity of confronting this assault on the university and the country, BGU has remained ready to reach out and share with colleagues everywhere who value what the application of good science can do for mankind.

The writer is professor emeritus of history and formerly dean of humanities and social sciences at Ben-Gurion University. He is currently director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University.

This piece, by Ilan Troen, is from the Jerusalem Post
Some links on the Israel/Apartheid analogy from Engage here

9 Responses to “Ilan Troen responds to the campaign at the University of Johannesburg to cut links with Israeli universities”

  1. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Tuesday added its voice to calls for the University of Johannesburg to cut ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion University.
    “… we call upon the University of Johannesburg to act in the interest of justice and terminate an agreement between itself and the Ben-Gurion University on the grounds of BGU’s direct and indirect support for the Israeli military and the occupation itself,” said Cosatu’s international relations secretary, Bongani Masuku, in a statement.
    “We support the demand by workers and students, together with progressive academics of the University of Johannesburg to have any relationship with any Israeli institution terminated instantly.”
    University of Johannesburg deputy vice chancellor, Adam Habib, could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Unisa vice-chancellor Barney Pityana
    and author Breyten Breytenbach joined academics this month in calling for co-operation between the two institutions to cease.
    The Mail & Guardian reported that the ties between the two institutions dated back to the 1980s. The report said UJ’s senate was expected to hear recommendations on the future of the university’s ties with Ben-Gurion on Wednesday.
    Israel National News online reported that the growing pressure on UJ could stop a research agreement between the institutions to collaborate on biotechnology and water purification.
    Masuku welcomed the growing number of calls globally for Israel to end its “illegal occupation” of Palestine.
    “Various universities and organisations, including companies all over the world, are now disinvesting in companies that have anything to do with propping up the apartheid regime in Israel.”
    He likened the struggle against apartheid in South Africa to the situation faced by the Palestinian people.
    “The UN declared apartheid a crime against humanity and called on humanity to fight against this barbaric political system wherever it appears and South Africans have a moral duty to lead this important struggle.”
    At its national general council last week, the ANC reaffirmed its support for peace in the Middle East. Delegates also reportedly called for an examination of economic ties with Israel. – Sapa

  2. Absolute Observer Says:

    But, surely, all it will take to stop this boycott is “phone call from the powerful” as Bishop Tutu himself remarks.

    It is also to be noted that for Tutu, on the one hand, Israel is just not Jewish enough for his “noble brothers and sisters” (Israel as a betrayal of Jewish ethics, blah, blah, blah,) whilst, on the other hand, a Jewish state is an apartheid state simply because it is a Jewish state.

    I do wish he and others would make up their minds.

    Oh well, at least, as BD notes, should the boycott go ahead, it means that the Jews can’t be accused of poisoning the wells and the water.

  3. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    It will be interesting to see what happens in 6 months time. Will Ben Gurion Uni agree to the new demands? Or perhaps it should tell UJ to get lost?

    Johannesburg – The University of Johannesburg (UJ) senate on Wednesday voted not to continue its link with Israel’s Ben Gurion University (BGU), unless certain conditions are met.

    “The conditions are that the memorandum of understanding governing the relationship between the two institutions be amended to include Palestinian universities chosen with the direct involvement of UJ,” the university said in a statement.

    “Additionally, UJ will not engage in any activities with BGU that have direct or indirect military implications, this to be monitored by UJ’s senate academic freedom committee.”

    The move followed calls from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, academics and the Congress of SA Trade Unions for UJ to cut ties with BGU due to its “direct and indirect support for the Israeli military and the occupation”.

    The UJ senate also requested BGU to “respect UJ’s duty (and) to take seriously, allegations of behaviour on the part of BGU’s stakeholders that is incompatible with UJ’s values”.

    It called on BGU to respond to reasonable requests from UJ seeking more information about the university’s formal policies and informal practices.

    Should these conditions not be met within six months, the memorandum of understanding will automatically lapse on April 1 2011, UJ said.

    The senate action is the result of findings by a task team established at a special meeting of the university senate on May 17.

    UJ’s deputy vice chancellor Adam Habib said: “The committee met five times with a view to finding a principled common ground on which a recommendation to senate could be advanced.

    “In developing this recommendation we were mindful that our recommendation would need to be consistently applied in other similar contexts where UJ’s central values were not upheld and where human rights abuses were identified.”

    More support

    Earlier on Wednesday, UJ’s student representative council (SRC) added its voice to the campaign.

    “As the student representative council acting on behalf of the student community of UJ, we publicly announce our support for the principled position of over 250 South African academics who have made a statement in favour of terminating the agreement,” the SRC said in a statement.

    The SRC said it joined Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s vice chancellor Professor Derrick Swartz, Rhodes University’s Professor Saleem Badat, Unisa vice chancellor Professor Barney Pityana and Durban University of Technology’s Professor Dan Ncayiyana in calling for an end to agreements between the two institutions.

    The Mail & Guardian reported that ties between the two institutions dated back to the 1980s.

    Israel National News online said growing pressure on UJ could stop a research agreement between the institutions to collaborate on biotechnology and water purification projects.

    The petition, signed by academics, called for the termination of the co-operation, arguing that scholarly work took place within a larger social context.

    “The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has had a disastrous effect on access to education for Palestinians.

    “While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation,” the petition reads.
    – SAPA

  4. Blacklisted Dictator Says:–safrican-university-keeps-ties-with-israeli-university-but-urges-palestinian-collaboration

    UJ Professor Farid Esack, who teaches Islamic studies, said he disagreed with the decision.
    “The university could’ve gone much further — Israel is an apartheid state and we should be disconnected from it,” he said.

  5. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    Absolute Observer,

    The Vice Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg is Adam Habib. Under the previous US administration he wasn’t allowed into the country, so he has impressive Islamist credentials.

    Habib’s role is to cut links with BGU. He is closely linked to Kasrils and Prof Steven Friedman who are leading the BDS campaign in SA.

    Interesting to note that Tutu is also one of the patrons of The Holocaust and Genocide Centre in SA. And of course, he uses the Holocaust to berate the Zionists..’ My non-Christian brethren, have you learnt nothing from your treatment at the hands of The Nazis etc?” Of course, he mentions nothing about The Inquisition.

  6. Absolute Observer Says:

    Yes, Tutu’s use of “never again” and his particularising of the dispute in Israel and Palestine as a “Jewish” matter was horrible (leaving aside the “calls from the powerful” comment.

    What is even more repulsive is that Tutu exploits Jews’ suffering at the hand of the Nazis as a become in his attempt to exclude contemporary Jews from the academic world – as if Hitler taught the Jews a lesson that they STILL have not learnt. He is at a loss at wondering what it will take for the Jews to see reason!

    So, yes, your comment about the Inquisition is nearer than you think

  7. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    It is interesting to speculate whose clean water will suffer most, if this breach goes ahead: that of Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt…or South Africa’s? Presumably, any results of the research are not necessarily free to all, but might well need to be licensed. The licence holder is under no obligation to agree that anyone (even if they pay) may use the technology, and any unagreed use of it may well result in a court case in SA.

    Anyway, UJ and its partners in the boycott shouldn’t _want_ to use the fruits of apartheid research.

  8. David Hersch Says:

    Well Gentlemen, what goes around does occasionally come around. See the following petition and consider signing it:

    Terminate Archbishop Tutu as a Holocaust Patron

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