SAfrican school cuts ties with Israeli university

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 11:26 AM

JOHANNESBURG -- A leading South African university is severing ties with Israel's Ben-Gurion University, acting on calls from hundreds of South African academics and intellectuals for an academic boycott.

It's a "landmark moment," the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions said Thursday, praising the University of Johannesburg for being first to sever such ties in a growing campaign to isolate Israel for its attacks on Palestinians in Gaza.

The University of Johannesburg will end the 25-year relationship on April 1, but professors can continue to work individually with Ben-Gurion, Vice Chancellor Adam Habib said.

More than 400 South Africans signed a petition calling for the boycott, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The campaign has resonance coming from a country where activists encouraged international boycotts and sanctions to help end the legalized race discrimination that was apartheid.

Habib said the university's senate committee discussed the issue for two hours on Wednesday then had a secret vote. Sixty percent voted to sever ties, outvoting the remainder who wanted relations with both Israeli and Palestinian universities.

"This is not a boycott of Ben-Gurion," said UJ's executive director for advancement, Kerry Swift. "The formal relationship between the institutions is in a sense an obstacle, and the feeling is that we would encourage relationships on an individual basis."

In Israel, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev said it regretted the decision.

"The only losers in this decision are the people of South Africa," Ben-Gurion president Rivka Carmi said.

Student association leader Uri Keidar wrote a letter to the South African university saying, "I find it difficult to believe that BGU, the home of 20,000 freethinking students of different religious and ethnic backgrounds, is under this brutal attack."

Alana Baranov of South Africa's Board of Jewish Deputies said South Africans "should be serving to provide a tolerant and respectful place where complex problems can be resolved and we can share resources.

"Academic boycotts are anti-freedom of speech and anti-academic," she said.

Baranov said the joint research had been done to improve the lives of average South Africans.

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