Prof: Johannesburg Israel boycott 'not a boycott'

The vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has denied that his university supports an academic boycott of Israel despite announcing earlier this week that it is severing ties with its longtime Israeli partner Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).

Professor Ihron Rensburg said he wanted to make clear that the move to cut the partnership between the two institutions, including in fields such as water purification research, did not represent an academic boycott.

The decision, the next step in an anti-Israel campaign orchestrated hundreds of South African academics and intellectuals, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was condemned by Jewish and Israeli groups. Uri Keidar, the leader of the BGU student association, called it “a brutal attack”.

But Prof Rensburg said: “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.”

He also denied that the vote to “bring an end to the formal institutional agreement between the two universities”, supported by 60 per cent of the university's senate committee, meant UJ intended “to sever all ties”.

Prof Rensburg added: “This senate resolution does not prevent individual academics from continuing and engaging in research and other partnerships with their peers from BGU.”

He even claimed the decision would encourage “peer-to-peer engagements” which UD would be ready to assist with.

This week’s events made UJ the first university in the world to sever ties with an Israeli institution.

Last updated: 12:38pm, March 25 2011