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Op-eds

Stellenbosch University denies being anti-Israel

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
In December 2018, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) was involved in a public spat with Stellenbosch University after several Israeli academics, as well as a Palestinian peace activist, were removed from the speaking programme of an upcoming conference.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Feb 07, 2019

Their removal was in response to threats by agitators from the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement to disrupt the event – whose official title, somewhat ironically, was “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma”.

In spite of persistent denials on the university’s part, it became all too clear in the course of our liaising with the academics involved that their sessions had indeed been cancelled in response to BDS pressure. We found it particularly objectionable that the removal from the programme of Palestinian scholar Professor Mohammed Dajani was due to his having been brought out as a speaker by the SAJBD the previous year. In our correspondence with the institution and media statements, we ensured that the real facts of this disgraceful situation were made public.

On 26 January, the board met the senior leadership of Stellenbosch to clarify what had happened and discuss a way forward. Amongst those in attendance was Professor Thuli Madonsela, Law Faculty Trust Chair for Social Justice and law professor. Madonsela stressed that the university’s actions were aimed at ensuring peace and security for the conference following calls to exclude Israeli participants, and that it had never been its intention to undermine academic freedom nor to make Israeli participants feel unwelcome.

While our position remains that the conference organisers should have stood their ground and not allowed themselves to be influenced by politically-motivated intimidation by outside parties, we can now accept that their actions, however ill-conceived, were aimed at preventing the conference from being disrupted rather than an endorsement of the campaign to boycott Israeli academics.

Stellenbosch, for its part, reiterated its commitment to academic freedom, and confirmed that Israeli academics, no less than those from any other country, were welcome there. In an official statement released earlier this week, the university stressed its “continued adherence to the principles of freedom of expression and academic freedom”, in which regard it would continue to welcome academics from all over the world, including from Israel.

Stellenbosch University is a respected academic institution of genuine global standing. It is to be hoped that going forward, the institution, as it has in years past, will firmly adhere to the above-stated principles.

The incident at Stellenbosch showed once again how universities the world over have been turned into a battleground by those intent on excluding Israel and its citizens from every conceivable international forum. To date, fortunately, these efforts have met with little success at official level. The board continues to monitor the situation on our own campuses. As we have done in the past, we will render whatever assistance we can to those, including Jewish students, who take a stand against this pernicious, dishonest, and fundamentally immoral phenomenon.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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