Israeli envoy talk cancelled by South African university

By Jennifer Lipman, May 22, 2012

A South African university pulled the plug on a scheduled talk by an Israeli envoy at the last minute following a campaign by pro-Palestinian activists.

Yaakov Finkelstein was due to give a non-political lecture on Monday at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which is in the east of the country.

Mr Finkelstein, the deputy Israeli ambassador to South Africa, was the subject of a concerted campaign by pro-Palestinian groups, who urged the university to cancel his visit on the grounds of an academic boycott of Israel.

According to the Independent Online, the university's deputy vice-chancellor cancelled the talk only hours before it was set to begin, emailing staff to tell them he had "reconsidered the sensitivities that the visit of the Israeli Deputy Ambassador has generated".

Professor Joseph Ayee added that he had cancelled it because of "reputational damage" and "the negative publicity".

A university spokeswoman said they aimed to reschedule the talk "in a collegial environment in the near future".

"The lecture was non-political, there was no reason to call it off but when threats and violence put pressure to prevent the presentation, it is a problem," said Mr Finkelstein, "There are several factions who want to sabotage academic freedom to politicise this, some are from the university and some outside."

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies expressed disappointment that the deputy ambassador had been blocked from "a place of dialogue, communication and debating".

"This would have been a perfect platform to discuss pressing issues," said spokeswoman Mary Kluk.

Last year the University of Johannesburg voted in favour of an academic boycott on Israel, despite longstanding ties with Israel's Ben Gurion University. Earlier this week South Africa's trade minister announced a plan requiring goods from the settlements to be labelled as such, a decision critcised as racist by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Last updated: 4:24pm, May 22 2012