CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION March 25, 2011
Two days after the University of Johannesburg Senate voted to cancel a research agreement with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, hailed as a victory by the anti-Israel boycott campaign, the vice chancellor of the Johannesburg university issued a statement saying that "UJ is not part of an academic boycott of Israel."
On March 23, 60 percent of the Johannesburg Senate voted to end a joint project with Ben-Gurion University, in Beersheba, involving research to prevent algae from forming in Johannesburg's reservoir.
The University of Johannesburg's Petition Committee, which had led the campaign to cancel the project, called the vote "a landmark moment in the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel campaign,"and said it hoped the move would trigger "a domino boycott effect."
The vote was condemned by many Jewish groups. The Anti-Defamation League in New York called it "misguided and shortsighted," saying it "would ill-serve South Africans, Palestinians, and Israelis, and do nothing to promote reconciliation and understanding."
But Ihron Rensburg, vice chancellor and principal of Johannesburg, issued a statement on Friday saying that "UJ is not part of an academic boycott of Israel. UJ holds the view that given the current situation in the Middle East, the formal institutional agreement between UJ and BGU is an insurmountable obstacle to either institution facilitating a wider dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian academics."
"It has never been UJ's intention to sever all ties with BGU, although it may have been the intention of some UJ staff members," said Mr. Rensburg.
"This Senate resolution does not prevent individual academics from continuing and engaging in research and other partnerships with their peers from BGU and other institutions around the world, as is currently the practice in many cases," he added.
"The UJ Senate vote, in fact, encourages peer-to-peer engagements, and UJ stands ready to assist in facilitating this effort and to put resources in place to support these relationships," he added.
A representative of Ben-Gurion University described the statement as "an interesting twist, although it looks like semantics."