The University of Johannesburg’s decision to sever ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion University set a “worldwide precedent” in the academic boycott of the Middle Eastern country, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel workgroup said on Thursday.
“UJ is the first institution to officially sever relations with an Israeli university — a landmark moment in the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel campaign,” the group said in a statement.
“This boycott decision, coming from a South African institution, is of particular significance. This has set a precedent and must start a domino boycott effect.”
The movement to end ties with the university was boosted by the support given to the UJ Petition, a campaign in support of academics and students from the university calling for the university to cut ties with its Israeli counterpart.
The supporters of the campaign included Professors Neville Alexander, Kader Asmal, Allan Boesak, Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Antjie Krog, Barney Pityana and Sampie Terreblanche.
It also included cartoonist Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro, Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, Bishop Rubin Phillips, former minister Ronnie Kasrils and leading social activist Zackie Achmat also backed the campaign.
“Today UJ has made history by upholding and advancing academic moral integrity. Palestinians, South Africans and the international academic and solidarity community celebrate this decisive victory in isolating Israeli apartheid and supporting freedom, dignity and justice for the Palestinian people.”
The UJ officially severed ties with the Israeli university, it announced on Wednesday. It takes effect on April 1.
The Coalition for a Free Palestine also welcomed the decision on Thursday.
“This resonates with us in South Africa, as we are aware of the importance of international solidarity and realise the role that it played in dismantling South African apartheid,” the coalition said in a statement.
The SA Jewish Board of Deputies has described the move as “narrow-minded”.
“UJ’s senate’s decision to allow the formal relationship between UJ and BGU to lapse is playing to narrow-minded political prejudice and is a severe setback for constructive intellectual engagement in South Africa,” SAJBD national chairman Zev Krengel said in a statement.
For instance, BGU was working with UJ on finding a method to clean the algae which had infested South Africa’s drinking water, he said. The severing of ties meant the project was likely to come to an end, leaving UJ without access to BGU’s extensive water expertise.