UJ severs ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) has cut all ties with Ben Gurion University (BGU) in Israel.

In a heated debate that led to a secret ballot, the senate voted on Wednesday by a strong majority to sever all ties with the university.

Within an hour of the vote, UJ issued a statement saying that 72 members had voted in favour of terminating a memorandum of understanding between the two universities, while 45 members voted against.

“The senate vote effectively upholds an earlier resolution that placed conditions on its continued relationships with BGU, among them the inclusion of Palestinian university partners,” the statement said.

“Today’s senate vote does not preclude individual academics from UJ, BGU or any Palestinian university from any academic collaboration. The senate vote encourages academics at UJ, BGU and Palestinian universities to pursue research projects without formal institutional agreements,” the statement concluded.

“The vote was taken not by a show of hands, as is usual in the senate, but by a closed or secret ballot in which members indicated their vote on pieces of paper,” UJ spokesperson, Herman Esterhuizen, told the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday night.

‘Israeli apartheid’
The vote follows a UJ petition in September last year, calling on UJ academics and students to cut ties with BGU. According to Dasantha Pillay of the UJ Petition Committee, “As the UJ senate met today, over 400 South African academics, including nine vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors [highest non-ceremonial university positions], had joined the campaign.”

The M&G reported last year that cooperation between the two universities dates from the 1980’s, when the local partner was called Rand Afrikaans University. The agreement terminated by the senate vote today involved scientific interaction and was signed in August last year. That 2009 agreement renewed controversial apartheid-era collaboration, critics said.

In September last year, UJ gave BGU certain criteria that needed to be met within six months. This included that BGU include a Palestinian university as a partner in its research. “BGU resoundingly failed to meet this condition, as well as the other criteria set by the senate resolution, owing to the unanimous and principled support by all Palestinian universities to refuse to entertain any links with BGU on the grounds of that university’s complicity in Israeli apartheid,” said Nurina Ally of the Palestine Solidarity Alliance on Wednesday.

“Detailed evidence was placed before the senate showing clearly BGU’s active restriction and violation of political and academic freedom; its direct and deliberate collaboration with the Israeli Defence Force [an occupying military force in flagrant violation of international law]; and its maintenance of policies and practices that further entrench the discriminatory policies of the Israeli state.”

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David Macfarlane
Guest Author

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