University of Johannesburg is not boycotting Ben-Gurion University

This letter, by David Hirsh, is from the South African Jewish report.

The boycott campaign wants to make people feel that Israel is a unique evil and it makes progress towards this goal whenever its arguments are treated as a legitimate side of a public debate.

Even when the campaign loses, therefore, it also wins, when, unlike other antisemitic campaigns, it is treated with respect.

There is a sense in which the (mis)educative function of the campaign is more important than actually excluding Israelis from the cultural, academic and sporting life of humanity.

This can lead the boycotters into the realm of the absurd.  When celebrated intellectual Slavoj Zizek recently spoke in Tel Aviv, the campaign tried to spin his visit as a boycott because he spoke in an independent bookshop.

When Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, played a gig in Israel, the campaign tried to portray this as a boycott because he played in a mixed Arab/Jewish village.

Now, scientists from UJ and BGU are quietly resuming their important work together, both institutions have ratified the agreement, and UJ has, ostensibly anyway, re-doubled its commitment to academic freedom.

The antizionists are pretending that there is a boycott while the scientists and their universities carry on doing what they do, scientific collaboration.

The boycott of BGU has taken a dent but there remains enough mirage of the boycott for the campaign to carry on its work, which is to portray Israel as the pariah of humankind.

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths, University of London

19 Responses to “University of Johannesburg is not boycotting Ben-Gurion University”

  1. Ran Greenstein Says:

    Very funny piece: the boycott campaign has always insisted that it is about institutional relations rather than ostracizing individuals (UJ explicitly framed its decision in these terms). David Hirsh has denied that that was possible. And now, when this is exactly what is happening, Hirsh says that it is a vindication of his position… How absurd can you get?

    • David Hirsh Says:

      True: PACBI is a campaign for a boycott of Israel.
      True: PACBI welcomed the UJ decision to break links with BGU as a victory.
      True: The scientists aren’t taking any notice of the boycotters and are continuing with their collaboration.
      True: There is a new formal institutional agreement between UJ and BGU.

      Ran’s boycott is as hollow as his nervous laugh.

      But it doesn’t matter, he says. Because we’re not serious about boycotting Israel. The only thing that matters is the simulacrum of boycott.

      Ihron Rensburg, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg:

      “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,”
      http://www.uj.ac.za/EN/Newsroom/News/Pages/StatementbyProfIhronRensburgregardingacademicfreedom20110782.aspx

      PACBI is trying to spin the signing of a contract by academic instutions to do research with an Israeli university as a boycott of Israel.

      The Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UJ, Adam Habib, who is an Israel boycotter, spins it in the following way “We do not see this as an institutional agreement…”

      So it is an institutional agreement, which the boycotters “do not see as” an institutional agreement.
      http://www.myshtetl.co.za/community/community-orgs/community-orgs-news/habib-says-no-institutional-agreement-and-uj-boycott-is#comment-2361

      In our debate at UJ Na’eem Jeenah said that sometimes innocent people had to suffer when there was a boycott. I think he meant that sometimes they have to suffer by being boycotted. It is after all, a boycott campaign. The boycott campaign wants people to be boycotted and it doesn’t want people to be boycotted…

      Of course this imaginary boycott is still damaging – because the boycott is not only about excluding israelis, it is about spinning israel as an aparthied state. It is building up momentum for the boycott campaign.

      But so far, UJ is, in concrete terms at least, resisting the boycott campaign.

      • Ran Greenstein Says:

        Point is, it is an agreement between individuals, which the academic boycott campaign – and UJ specifically – has always exempted from its definition of a boycott. So, nothing has changed. See the letters in the SA Jewish Report protesting the capitulation of BGU, after its bogus position in which it had stated that it would not allow individual collaboration without an explicit agreement on institutional collaboration. UJ is proving that there is indeed a real distinction between institutional and individual relations.

        • Richard Gold Says:

          David Hirsh has given the evidence that it is an agreement betwen four academic institutions one of which is in Israel.

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          “Point is, it is an agreement between individuals, which the academic boycott campaign – and UJ specifically – has always exempted from its definition of a boycott.”

          “Ihron Rensburg, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg:
          “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,”
          http://www.uj.ac.za/EN/Newsroom/News/Pages/StatementbyProfIhronRensburgregardingacademicfreedom20110782.aspx

          We can take it, then, can we, Ran Greenstein, Associate Professor of Sociology, Witwatersrand University, that Ihron Rensburg, Vice-Chancellor, etc, doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Perhaps it’s _your_ signature on the document? Or are you really intent on making Alastair Campbell, spin-doctor-in-chief to Tony Blair, look like a model of straightforward reporting to the media from 10 Downing Street?

  2. Noga Says:

    I have to agree with Ran Greenstein’s assessment, especially in light of this letter found on the link David Hirsh provided:.

    ” THE OUTCOME of the contretemps
    between the University
    of Johannesburg and Ben-Gurion
    University of the Negev, just boggles
    the mind. UJ is patently anti-
    Israel and possibly anti-Semitic,
    despite some Jewish staff and students
    and if one may judge by the
    possible religious persuasions of
    Prof Adam Habib and Farid
    Essack. Their circumlocutions
    fool none but the most gullible.
    I lay most of the blame at the
    door of BGU. Why did they accept
    this intended deliberate slight?
    BGU should have suggested to UJ
    that they go take a hike and forget
    about us, particularly since “you
    need us more than we need you”.
    Let us forget about any further
    co-operation.”

    If this is a measure of the success of the anti-boycott push, it is a rather dismal one.

  3. Noga Says:

    “Individual faculty members can arrange joint research projects with whatever institutions they choose, University of Johannesburg said in a statement.”

    http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/07/11/3088486/johannesburg-ben-gurion-universities-to-continue-joint-research

    “Individual faculty members” ? For a contracted period of time we will pretend that you are not really a part of that institution, because it serves our interests better ??

  4. Marj Parsnips Says:

    “The boycott campaign wants to make people feel that Israel is a unique evil and it makes progress towards this goal whenever its arguments are treated as a legitimate side of a public debate.”

    Where does allowing Ran Greenstein, tireless boycott campaigner, to comment on Engage fit in? Or Carol Gould, commenting here on a previous post, loud in criticism of those who refuse to debate the boycotters?

    “Last week one of the organisers did admit to me they had no end of difficulty getting anyone to appear on the anti-boycott side. Where are our rabbonim? Board of Deputies? Embassy personnel? Actors? Lawyers? Poets? Novelists? A few weeks ago I debated the PR head of Hamas who refused to face me and sat with his back to me, but I did it. A fortnight ago I debated Omowole Rupert, who spent the entire proceedings referring to my country as ‘US Satan’ and this past week took on four debaters live on al Alam — all four men detest the USA, the UK and Israel. Why is an American the only one defending Israel day in and day out at various venues and TV studios in the UK? We need more activists ‘out there.’”

  5. David Hirsh Says:

    Adam habib: “While confirming that he had signed the new agreement “as a bureaucrat” on behalf of UJ, Habib said this was purely to cover UJ in the event that “intellectual property emerges” that has commercial value.”

    http://www.myshtetl.co.za/community/community-orgs/community-orgs-news/habib-says-no-institutional-agreement-and-uj-boycott-is#comment-2361

    Habib signed a new institutional agreement with BGU but he is also leading an institutional boycott of BGU.

  6. Richard Gold Says:

    Good to see UJ and BGU working together. Good to see Habib signed a new institutional agreement with BGU.

  7. Absolutely Observer Says:

    Perhaps for Ran, “boycott-like” is akin to “apartheid-like”, you know, it looks like the real thing but, when examined, is actually not like the real thing itself.
    If past form is anything to go by, Ran will simply ignore the facts (such as the new institutional agreement as stated by the UJ itself – see above) and repeat his own point over and over and over again. More “debate-like” than debate. How very Ran.

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      “Perhaps for Ran, “boycott-like” is akin to “apartheid-like”, you know, it looks like the real thing but, when examined, is actually not like the real thing itself.”

      It’s more like “isn’t the real thing, looks nothing like the real thing, but has one or two tiny attributes in common so it MUST BE THE SAME!”. It’s the classic “Hitler ate sugar” argument.

  8. Paul M Says:

    Is this a boycott pretending to be a working relationship, or the other way round? Looks like the latter to me, and an transparent attempt by UJ pro-boycotters to have their cake and eat it.

    The more you spin it, Ran, and I appreciate you’re doing your best, the more farcical it gets. For one thing, it gives the lie to the fiction of “a boycott of institutions, not individuals”. You’ve just demonstrated that you can’t work with BGU academics and not work with BGU itself. But UJ actually prefers — and for this it deserves credit — to work with the best in its fields of interest regardless of where they are. And of course it also wants a bit of extra profit even if — rather less credit — it has to do a deal with BGU. So Adam Habib, like some case study from an Oliver Sachs book, awakens his bureaucrat’s persona and anaesthetises his principled-academic one and sits down with administrators from BGU and signs agreements. You’d think his principles would at least demand that he say “We’ll do the work to help bring clean water to our countrymen, but we must forgo profits rather than get in bed with an institution that oppresses Palestinians.” Not “On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I really, really care, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m only following orders.” So he cuts his deal and at the end of it he and you and all the others with similarly elastic principles simply pretend that what just happened didn’t happen. How do you people sleep at night? How exactly does someone argue out of one side of his mouth that the injustice to the Palestinians is so great that it trumps academic freedom, and out of the other side say that his duty to UJ’s bottom line trumps justice? Don’t you think he should have had the integrity to resign rather than prostitute his ideals for the university’s stockholders? Shouldn’t you resign rather than have your name sullied by association?

  9. Ben Says:

    These BGU professors have no self-respect. It’s a common failing among certain sectors of the Israeli intelligentsia, just as it is to be found among some their counterparts in the Diaspora.

  10. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    Ran Greenstein should be demanding that Adam Habib resigns from UJ. Has he really bought Habib’s excuse that he is “just a bureaucrat” and that UJ has to ensure that it protects itself in case financial gain accrues from the research?

  11. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

  12. Sunshine Says:

    The best that UJ’s Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation, Adam Habib, can do is call it an institutional boycott. A boycott that includes individuals would be damaging to the very relationships he is meant to foster in his position. It would, in fact, mean that he would lose the precious research project from which UJ gains a substantial amount of money in publishing terms. The lead researcher on the UJ /BGU project, Prof Bheki Mamba, just happens to be the top performing academic in terms of number of articles published within UJ. Now why would any Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation want to boycott that?
    http://www.uj.ac.za/EN/Research/NewsAnnouncements/ScholarsMove/Pages/ProfBhekieMamba.aspx
    Some individuals at UJ want a boycott and have chosen the most ineffectual and contradictory means of trying to achieve this. The signing of the research contract – which at the end of the day means that the institutions work together in some form – makes a mockery of UJ.

  13. When is a Boycott Not a Boycott? - Divest This Says:

    […] battling attempts at academic boycott in the UK for the better part of a decade, highlights other examples of these non-boycott boycotts (such as academics and celebrities who rejected calls to cancel […]


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