/ 24 March 2011

UJ split with Israeli University ‘narrow minded’

The severing of ties between the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and Israel’s Ben Gurion University (BGU) is a blow to academic and scientific freedom, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) said on Wednesday.

“UJ’s senate’s decision to allow the formal relationship between UJ and BGU to lapse is playing to narrow-minded political prejudice and is a severe setback for constructive intellectual engagement in South Africa,” SAJBD national chairperson Zev Krengel said in a statement.

BGU was working with UJ on finding a method to clean the algae which had infested South Africa’s drinking water, he said.

The severing of ties meant the project was likely to come to an end, leaving UJ without access to BGU’s extensive water expertise.

“Rather than availing itself of a scientific cooperative project in the water purification field that has enormous potential benefits for South Africa, UJ has chosen instead to further the agenda of a group of anti-Israel agitators,” Krengel said.

He called the decision unjust and unreasonable and said “academic boycotts are antithetical to the principles of academic and scientific freedom”.

UJ deputy vice-chancellor Adam Habib said earlier on Wednesday that the split would happen as per protocol on April 1.

“There has been quite a lot of scare-mongering that if the partnership breaks, South Africa will be confined to bad water quality,” he said.

‘We can deal’
“The quality of our water is suffering because we are not spending the type of money on cleaning water that we need to, and not employing skill sets required.

“We can deal with acid rain water in the region if we are prepared to spend money.”

Habib said individual professors from UJ would be allowed to keep up existing partnerships with BGU.

“That is something for individual academics to determine, but it depends on whether BGU allows this or not.”

UJ’s severing of ties with BGU came amid talk of steep water tariff increases and a warning that South Africa could run out of water within the next 10 years if nothing was done to supplement water resources.

The Environment and Conservation Association has said that by 2015, 80% of South Africa’s fresh water could be so badly polluted that no purification process in the country would make it fit for consumption.

The impending disaster which could be created by acid mine drainage, and sewerage and industrial pollution, had on many occasions been brought to the government’s attention, with no positive results, the association said.

The UJ Petition Committee said in a statement the university’s senate had found “significant” evidence that BGU had research and other engagements supporting Israel’s military, in particular in its occupation of Gaza. — Sapa