Desmond Tutu urges boycott of Ben-Gurion University

By Robyn Rosen, September 28, 2010

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has urged Johannesburg University to end its partnership agreement with Israel's Ben-Gurion University.

On Friday, more than 200 of South Africa's leading academics and writers published a statement supporting the termination on the grounds of BGU's "direct collaboration and involvement with the Israeli military and occupation".

The statement has been signed by high-profile individuals including Professors Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Antjie Krog, Mahmood Mamdani, Kader Asmal, Allan Boesak, and Barney Pityana, the vice-chancellor of University of South Africa.

The vice-chancellor and principal of Rhodes University have also signed the petition.

Archbishop Tutu wrote in an open letter, published in the South African Sunday Times: "I never tire of speaking about the very deep distress in my visits to the Holy Land; they remind me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.

"Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their own previous humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon?

"The University of Johannesburg has a chance to do the right thing, at a time when it is unsexy. Israeli universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice."

But Wendy Kahn, national director of the South African Board of Deputies, said: "It is highly regrettable that this practice of singling out Israeli academic institutions for unfair and discriminatory treatment has now also reared its head in South Africa.

"From the South African experience, we learn that boycotts and divestment are only effective, and indeed are only justifiable, where the party being boycotted refuses to make the necessary compromises and policy shifts necessary to remedy the situation.

"This is not, and never has been, the case with Israel, which has consistently showed a willingness in both word and deed to make far-reaching concessions to the other side in order to give peace a chance."

She added: "It is deeply regrettable that this boycott initiative should have come to the fore at precisely the time when Israel and the Palestinians are engaged in negotiations aimed at resolving the very situation at which the boycott is ostensibly aimed at addressing."

Last updated: 3:13pm, September 28 2010