An international conference in South Africa has caused a stir. Several Israeli scholars were persuaded to withdraw their participation due to pressure from the BDS movement. "Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma" is scheduled to take place from 5 to 9 December 2018 at the University of Stellenbosch. The conference intended to "deepen understanding of trans-generational trauma, and develop strategies to deal with the repercussions of genocide, colonial oppression, and mass violence."
27 November 2018
Dear Conference Delegates,
Update: Statement issued by the Palestinian Solidarity Group
Since the publication of this statement, I, in my capacity as Chair of the Conference Committee and its lead organizer, have been in conversation with three members of the group, Roshen Dadoo, Armien Abrahams and Umesh Bawa. I have also been in contact with the Israeli academics, and they have all since rescinded their participation at the conference and will no longer be part of the programme.
Last night, I received another statement from the group as part of our on-going dialogue. This second statement points out that in terms of the guidelines of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), our conference falls outside the call for a boycott. To quote:
Our action is led by the advice we have received from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). They pointed out to us that this conference does not fall within the call for a boycott in terms of their guidelines. However, the lack of representative Palestinians and the number of Israeli participants points up a pro-Israeli bias. They state that “The only Palestinian speakers are deeply involved in normalization.”
We would like to point out that from its inception, the conference was organized as an event that would focus attention on the impact of violence and oppression across generations globally, and examine the different strategies that various countries have used to deal with these repercussions of history that reverberate over several generations. For this reason, the oppression of Palestinian people is always on our minds when organising these conferences, and in the past (this is our fourth conference on these themes) we have had Palestinian delegates who managed to find their way to attend our conferences through difficult encounters with visa problems. None of the Israeli participants we invited to speak at the conference represents the position of the state of Israel against Palestinians. Nor do they represent an “institutional” position. On the contrary, they are academics who have been engaged in research and interventions that have involved disrupting the Israel narrative, nurturing a group of young students who are moving in fields that are beginning to challenge the status quo.
The call to boycott is an important one. The problem is whether a distinction can be made to permit an Israeli academic to take part whose work clearly exposes, rather than normalizes, experiences that are painful and traumatic. Clearly, the rationale for the boycott does not call for the exclusion of someone whose work unambiguously exposes the very conditions that led to the call for a boycott, and the statement quoted above from the Palestinian Solidarity Group confirms this.
We have an exciting programme next week and almost 350 people from 23 countries have registered for the conference. Discussions are based on the great work that many of you are doing across several continents from New Zealand, Australia, to South America, Asia, the United States, Europe and the African continent. We have much to learn from one another and on behalf of the organisers of this important conference, I look very much forward to welcoming you to Stellenbosch University.
Chair of Organising Committee
Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation:
The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma
Gobodo-Madikizela responds to calls for Israelis to withdraw from conference
OPINION / 28 NOVEMBER 2018, 4:00PM / PUMLA GOBODO-MADIKIZELA
Several South African pro-Palestine solidarity groups this week called for the withdrawal of the participation of Israeli academics at a conference to be held at the University of Stellenbosch from 5-9 December ("Activists call for Israeli academics to withdraw from Stellenbosch conference").
The aim of conference entitled “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma” is to deepen understanding of trans-generational trauma, and develop strategies to deal with the repercussions of genocide, colonial oppression, and mass violence.
The conference committee is chaired by author and scholar, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, and the 4-day gathering features several prominent academics and activists, including Achille Mbembe, Homi Bhaba, Albie Sachs, Zackie Achmat and Lindiwe Hani. The closing ceremony will celebrate 20 years of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Here Gobodo-Madikizela responds to Roshan Dadoo from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and others.
Dear Roshan, Friends and Colleagues,
Conference at Stellenbosch University on “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma”.
First, please note that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is not the main funder of the conference. The grant that I received from Mellon supports post-graduate students’ work and post-doctoral research. The only event for which we have used Mellon funds is a pre-conference workshop/symposium that is organised by two of our post-doctoral fellows.
Please bear with me as I tell the story behind this conference, what inspired it - and other thoughts that are relevant to your statement to the organisers, speakers, sponsors and participants of the conference.
In the closing weeks of South Africa’s democratic parliament in February 1999, Nelson Mandela led the debate in parliament on the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which he received twenty years last month in October 1998. The parliamentary response to the issues raised by the TRC report, Mandela said, was the start of a national debate that required that South Africans “remain seized with the matters that the TRC process brought to the fore.”
Engaging with these issues, however, would “require a process of many years that calls on the contributions of religious leaders, poets and artists as much as those of politicians, academics and investigators.” For Mandela this was a “the historic responsibility” that all South Africans should embrace, because our transition to democracy requires nothing less than “the dismantling of apartheid and the measures that reinforced it. It requires that we overcome the consequences of that inhuman system which live on in our attitudes towards one another and in the poverty and inequality that affects the lives of millions.”
Twenty years after Mandela received the TRC report, and almost twenty-five years after we cast our first votes for democracy, the hope that was envisioned then, and the racial reconciliation that these historical moments of 1994 and 1998 promised are only barely visible.
Every day we drive to work through Kalk Bay, Muizenberg and past Khayelitsha, we witness the increasing number of squatter homes, fast encroaching toward the first vineyard on the Stellenbosch wine route. Sometimes I stop and have conversations with the young people who are mainly the ones building these homes; some of them are the same age as undergraduate students at our universities, and they are eager to go to university.
Some of them will no doubt be awarded free, first year tertiary education. I have met students whose homes are built with their own hands on arid land during my tenure at various universities: the University of Cape Town, the University of the Free State, and Stellenbosch University.
What has struck me the most in my encounters with black students in previously white institutions is how racial integration at these universities has created the potential for another problem: “the proximity problem.” For, while many black students know that they are less privileged than their white counterparts, the everyday proximity with white students heightens this awareness and makes them realise just how unequal their worlds are. This problem has many layers that I cannot get into here, and it has led to major consequences in our higher education institutions.
For instance, some of these students have to leave home at the break of dawn to catch more than one form of transport before reaching university. They may not be able to take full advantage of resources such as access to the library and to online resources, because they have to leave before the last train or taxi to their homes. They may have the capacity for excellence, and access to tertiary education through the free education scheme, but may still be without the means to achieve their full potential.
This begs the question: what is equal opportunity to higher education? The answer is an equal opportunity to succeed: addressing the need to access higher education on the one hand, and the structures that may sustain inequality on the other.
Every day I drive past the place that these young people call home, and especially now as many of us prepare to go to our various vacation destinations, I am reminded of words that continue to sit with me - and to evoke Mandela again: As we reached out across the divisions of centuries to establish democracy, we need now to work together in all our diversity, including the diversity of our experience and recollection of our history, to overcome the divisions themselves and eradicate their consequences.
“Twenty years” and “Twenty five years” are the lives of a whole generation who face dehumanized and humiliated living conditions. The violence of the circumstances of their lives may not be the spectacular, dramatic and the physical brutality of the stories recounted in the TRC report that Mandela received, although many, especially women, bear physical scars; however, the violence of betrayal of hope has left invisible scars.
This is the work we are concerned with in the Historical Trauma and Transformation research initiative at Stellenbosch University, for which I am professor and Research Chair. The conference we are organising is an attempt to connect the South African story of transgenerational wounding with many other countries - “Black Pain” is a metaphor for the suffering of the oppressed.
For this reason, the oppression of Palestinian people is always on our minds when organising these conferences, and in the past (this is our fourth conference) we have had Palestinian delegates who managed, through difficult encounters with visa problems, to find their way to attend our conferences.
Israeli scholars who have participated in our conferences have always been those involved in work that “speaks truth to power”- as the title of an Israeli speaker at the conference suggests.
She has been engaged in teaching about the role of film in confronting the silence about the actions of soldiers involved in the war against Palestinians. The films she works with were condemned by the Minister of Culture, who referred to these productions as an "anti-Israeli narrative” that spreads “lies in the form of art.” He condemned the artists for what he termed the “outrageous ... incitement of the young generation against the most moral army in the world.”
It is therefore not surprising that when this colleague organised teaching and panel discussions around these films, she was vilified, and verbally attacked, not least by some students.
Our Israeli colleague’s work - on speaking truth to power through film - is very much the kind of contribution that we had in mind for the “light and shadow” side of historical trauma, art as visual conscience of society, to appropriate Mandela and Chilean scholar Ariel Dorfman.
We were encouraged by the PACBI’s response last month to the disciplinary action against a faculty staff at Michigan University that “[e]ducators who bravely act on principle should be championed, not punished.” We applied this injunction - some may say over-eagerly - as part of our reflection on the question of how best to respond.
None of the Israeli participants we invited to speak at the conference represents the position of the state of Israel against Palestinians. Nor do they represent an “institutional” position.
On the contrary, they are academics who have been engaged in research and interventions that have involved disrupting the Israel narrative, nurturing a group of young students who are moving in fields that are beginning to challenge the status quo.
The conditions under which Palestinians live are worse than apartheid. Some say the continuing dehumanization of millions of South Africans who suffer the everyday conditions of humiliation, and the betrayal of hope in the face of corruption that defies imagination is violence that is worse than apartheid. What we are witnessing in our countries is beyond apartheid - I hope for an opportunity to meet with you Roshan.
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
Israeli academics pull out of South Africa conference after pro-Palestinian pressure
Palestinian solidarity groups had called for invitations to Israelis to be withdrawn to honour South Africa's 'history of struggle against apartheid'
Tuesday 27 November 2018 16:37 UTC Last update: Tuesday 27 November 2018 19:35 UTC
Several Israeli academics have withdrawn from a conference scheduled for December following pressure by Palestinian solidarity groups in the country, Middle East Eye can confirm.
The University of Stellenbosch confirmed to MEE that all seven academics from three Israeli institutions had “rescinded their participation” in the “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma” conference scheduled between 5 and 9 December at the University of Stellenbosch.
Their decision purportedly comes after Palestinian solidarity organisations in South Africa called for their withdrawal from the four-day-event featuring prominent activists and speakers like Achille Mbembe, Homi Bhabha, and Albie Sachs. According to organisers, some 350 people from 23 countries have registered for the conference.
In a letter endorsed by at least 18 organisations in the country, activists said they wanted conference organisers to rescind the invitations of seven academics from Israeli universities and “make a public statement in unequivocal support of the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural boycott of apartheid Israel.”
“Many academic, human rights, research and legal bodies throughout the world, including the South African Human Science Research Council (HSRC) have recognised Israel as an apartheid state according to the international legal definition of apartheid,” the letter read.
“We ask the organisers, speakers, participants and sponsors to act courageously in a show of moral, political and historical conscience by honouring the South African history of struggle against apartheid [and] honouring the integrity and importance of the conference theme”.
Pumla Gobodo-Madikazela, chairperson for the conference, said in a statement released on the conference website, that the Israeli academics who pulled out had done so after consultations with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), part of the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
According to a statement sent by the academics to Gobodo-Madikazela, the PACBI told the academics that though “this conference does not fall within the call for a boycott in terms of their guidelines … the lack of representative Palestinians and the number of Israeli participants points up a pro-Israeli bias. They state that 'The only Palestinian speakers are deeply involved in normalisation'.”
Individual affiliation not grounds for boycott
According to PACBI, the call for boycott extends to Israeli universities or representatives (such as spokespeople or university leaders) and not to individual academics.
“Mere affiliation of Israeli scholars to an Israeli academic institution is therefore not grounds for applying the boycott,” its guidelines says.
Raya Marag, an associate professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and one of seven Israelis who were originally meant to present at the conference, told MEE that the call for their invitations to be withdrawn “violates basic principles of academic freedom and debate".
“Even the so-called 'Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel' (PACBI) formally recognises academic freedom and freedom of expression, and does not endorse discrimination on the basis of citizenship,” she said.
Haaretz reported on Tuesday that Marag withdrew after seeing “speaking in her own capacity” next to her name on the programme.
Other academics were from Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
Responding to the developments, Jacqueline Rose, a keynote at the conference and a noted supporter supporter of BDS, told MEE that while she supports an academic boycott, she does so conditionally.
“Institutions not individuals; no exclusions based on ethnicity; and – because I so value its work – no targeting of the West-Eastern Divan orchestra created by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said which brings together Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab musicians. As Barenboim stated at one of their concerts, the project is 'not normalisation, it is another way of thinking'," Rose said.
Rose said that she would have preferred creating a space at the conference for this issue to be discussed openly and critically.
“I am concerned that at this stage there appears to be minimal Palestinian participation.”
A spokesperson for the university of Stellenbosch told MEE that the university had a commitment to justice and healing for all.
“Opinions expressed at the forthcoming or any other academic conference do not represent the university's position on the Palestinian issue or any other subject.”
“The reconciliatory objective of the conference is consistent with SU's institutional values of compassion, equity, accountability, respect and excellence.“
South African groups urge Israeli academics to withdraw from Stellenbosch conference in South Africa
Publish Date: 2018/11/26
SOUTH AFRICA, Monday, November 26, 2018 (WAFA) - Several South African pro-Palestine solidarity groups called for the withdrawal of Israeli academics from a conference to be held at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa from 5-9 December.
Entitled "Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma", the aim of the conference is to deepen understanding of trans-generational trauma, and develop strategies to deal with the repercussions of genocide, colonial oppression, and mass violence.
The conference committee is chaired by award-winning author and scholar, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, and the 4-day gathering features several prominent academics and activists, including Achille Mbembe, Homi Bhaba, Albie Sachs, Zackie Achmat and Lindiwe Hani.
The closing ceremony will celebrate 20 years of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
"We are unequivocal in our support for the conference, and this is not an appeal to boycott the conference as a whole," says Roshan Dadoo from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).
"However, the participation of Israeli academics at a conference of such moral and intellectual significance is unacceptable, given the role that Israeli academic institutions play in planning, executing, justifying and whitewashing the Israeli state's abuse of Palestinian human rights, numerous violations of international law - and even war crimes," explained Dadoo.
In a statement, the groups are calling on the conference organizers, speakers, participants and sponsors to support the rationale of the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
"The rationale for the call of the cultural and academic boycott of Israel is for Israel to extend full human and civil rights to all citizens of Israel, to end the occupation and enable the Palestinian right to return. Notably, all these demands are consistent with international humanitarian law," says Dadoo.
"The heart of the statement represents a call of conscience" says Stiaan van der Merwe from Kairos Southern Africa, a Christian group in support of the Palestinian liberation struggle.
According to van der Merwe, the pro-Palestine groups are calling on organizers, and others associated with the conference, to act courageously in a show of moral, political and historical conscience. "We are calling on them to honor the South African and international history of struggle against apartheid; to act in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against Israeli apartheid and its occupation of Palestine; and to honor the integrity and importance of the conference theme."
According to Dadoo, none of the Israeli delegates are known for having publicly supported the reasons for the academic boycott of Israel. "We therefore must assume that they remain part of the silent majority implicated in a currently-unfolding historical trauma."
The statement also notes the seeming absence of authentic Palestinian academics.
One conference participant, Mohammed Dajani, visited South Africa in 2016 as a guest of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies as a counter to the annual global Palestine solidarity event, 'Israeli Apartheid Week'.
According to the statement, Dajani was promoted by the pro-Israel lobby to posit a so-called 'moderate' Palestinian line, much as Bantustan and other figures were used by the South African apartheid regime to break international boycotts and sanctions and promote the idea that apartheid was a political dispute in which there were two equal sides in conflict.
Stellenbosch psychology professor, Ashraf Kagee stated: "It is inconceivable that a conference dedicated to understanding historic trauma would only include the voices of Israeli academics.”
Kagee conducts capacity-building work with a community mental health programme in the Gaza Strip where he has seen first-hand the traumatic effects of Israel's brutal military attacks on the besieged coastal enclave.
"If this conference on historical trauma turns away from the fact that the State of Israel is conducting a war against the Palestinian people's very right to exist and is silent on this matter, then there can be little meaningful contribution to knowledge on the recognition of past and current world traumas, on the politics of remembering and interpreting historical and current traumas, and on articulating different understandings of reparations for the too many horrors of the 20th and 21st centuries," cautioned Kagee.
"We take no pleasure in having to make this call," says van der Merwe.
"Sad as it might be towards the individuals as colleagues and as fellow human beings, we cannot avoid this difficult moment by calling for a strong message of solidarity with Palestinians and with resistance to Israeli apartheid and against the historic trauma currently perpetuated.”
Entitled “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma,” the conference is set to take place next week at Stellenbosch University.
In a letter calling on the organizers to disinvite the Israelis, activists cited the nation-state law and “many other egregious violations of basic human rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel,” the “draconian laws of Israel's military administration” in the West Bank, and – quoting academic Ilan Pappe – “incremental genocide" in Gaza.” The signatories included the South African Jews for a Free Palestine organization.
Seven academics from three Israeli universities – the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev – were supposed to attend.
South African Academic Conference Disinvites Israelis After Boycott Pressure
Citing nation-state law and 'incremental genocide' in Gaza, activists call on organizers of reconciliation conference to disinvite Israeli professors ■ 'Academia is being trampled by politics,' Israeli prof. responds
Nov 27, 2018 4:49 PM
Pressure from supporters of a boycott against Israel has led organizers of an academic conference in South Africa to disinvite Israeli participants.
One panel discussion was to be moderated by Prof. Shifra Sagy of Ben-Gurion University's conflict resolution center and four of her doctoral students, under the heading, “Is it possible to identify with the narrative of the enemy?” Another panel that was canceled was to include Prof. Sagy; Prof. Arie Nadler, a Tel Aviv University social psychologist; and Prof. Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, a political scientist from a Palestinian institution, Al-Quds University. A lecture by Prof. Raya Morag of the Hebrew University's communications department was not canceled, but after organizers added after her name on the conference program the words “speaking in her own capacity,” Morag canceled her attendance.
Sagy said this was the first time she had encountered such a blatant academic boycott.
“I am invited to many conferences in places where people aren’t necessarily fans of Israel,” the professor said. “I never hide my identity. On the contrary, most of my lectures open with a declaration that I come from a place of conflict, and I explain how this fact influences my research. To date I have never encountered such behavior. The feeling is that academia is being trampled by politics.”
In addition to having her lectures canceled, Sagy said she was told by a researcher whom she was to meet at Stellenbosch that their meeting was also canceled because of the boycott call.
“Beyond the basic ignorance and misunderstanding of the situation in Israel, I can only condemn the call to boycott Israeli academia,” said Ben-Gurion University rector Prof. Chaim Hames. “This is a dangerous capitulation by the conference organizers and a blow to the central values of academia – open and respectful discourse, listening even when you don’t agree with what is said, and openness to examining every issue from different angles.
“I understand that the not-so-distant history of South Africa makes it more sensitive to what’s perceived as undermining the rights of the weak," added Hames, "but unlike the universities that cooperated with the apartheid regime, Israeli academia represents a broad variety of views and parts of it work openly, using democratic tools, against the harm caused to Palestinians, against the policies of the current government, and in favor of a diplomatic resolution to the conflict.”
Conference entitled ‘Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma’, hosted at Stellenbosch University, 5-9 December 2018
To the Conference Organizers, Speakers, Participants and Sponsors:
The Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation Conference is of great significance to South African society and the rest of the world as we face the legacies of historical traumas at a moment of seismic political shifts globally. While we are unequivocal in our support for the conference, we are concerned about the participation of seven academics from three Israeli universities. A group supported by the organizations listed below met to develop a response after approaches from concerned participants. After careful consideration and wide consultation, including with a conference organizer, representative Palestinian academics and a reading of the call for solidarity endorsed by the vast majority of Palestinian academics (https://bdsmovement.net/pacbi) we respond as follows.
We ask the organizers, speakers, participants and sponsors to act courageously in a show of moral, political and historical conscience by:
• honoring the South African history of struggle against apartheid;
• acting in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against Israeli apartheid and its occupation of Palestine;
• honoring the integrity and importance of the conference theme;
• supporting the rationale of the call for the academic and cultural boycott.
call on the conference organizers to withdraw the participation of the Israeli academics.
call on the conference organizers, speakers, participants and sponsors to make a public statement in unequivocal support of the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural boycott of apartheid Israel.
Background to our call
We understand that participants have already made commitments of their time and finances to attend the conference. However, we are also reminded of the words of Edward Said in his Reith Lectures ‘Representations of the Intellectual’ where he said:
“Nothing is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position that you know to be the right one, but you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you need the approval of a boss or authority figure; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream”
Many academic, human rights, research and legal bodies throughout the world, including the South African Human Science Research Council (HSRC) [http://www.hsrc.ac.za/en/research-data/view/4634] have recognised Israel as an apartheid state according to the international legal definition of apartheid.
Through Israel’s “matrix of control” Palestinians and Jewish Israelis are subjected to vastly unequal and differentiated legal, spatial and administrative methods of governance which meets the criteria of the definition of an apartheid state as defined by the United Nations and international human rights law.
The passing of the ‘Nation-State’ law in July 2018 has entrenched privileged citizenship rights for Jewish Israelis and negated the right to equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, amongst many other egregious violations of basic human rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank are subject to the draconian laws of Israel’s military administration which governs them whilst the approximately 400 000 Jewish settlers who live in settlements in these areas are subjected only to Israeli civil law.
Colleagues in Palestine have called on solidarity organizations and all people of conscience to ratchet-up solidarity work in the light of what Israeli academic, Ilan Pappe, has termed, ‘incremental genocide’ in Gaza. Most recent developments include the mass shootings of March of Return protestors in Gaza. In the past few months hundreds of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza including medical personnel, journalists and children have been killed for demonstrating for their right to return to their land.
The complicity of academic institutions
There are many ways in which Israeli academic institutions collude with and advance the occupation, ethnic cleansing and racism in fields as diverse as engineering, geography, demography, hydrology, archaeology, history and even psychology. (See for example, https://bdsmovement.net/files/2011/02/EOO23-24-Web.pdf) Academic institutional complicity with state practices of apartheid has produced an atmosphere of suspicion, fear and censorship with punitive consequences for open and critical inquiry. Academics and students who are outspoken in their dissent are surveilled by university administrations, colleagues, other students and state intelligence services.
At Palestinian universities conditions are incomparably worse with frequent Israeli military invasions and the bombing of campuses, arrests of students and academic faculty, the prevention of entry for international academics and students or renewal of study and work visas. Most significantly, the arduous bureaucracy involved for Palestinian academics to acquire permits and permission to travel for research, conference presentations and other scholarly events is often wielded so as to prevent the free movement of Palestinian scholars and graduate students.
This is in a context where the basic right of freedom of movement for Palestinians is already severely curtailed by the Apartheid Wall, check points, lock downs and an onerous system of permit applications.
The call for academic and cultural boycott
The vast majority of Palestinian academics and some progressive Israeli academics have agreed on an academic boycott until Israel agrees to extend full human and civil rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, to end the occupation and enable the Palestinian right to return [https://bdsmovement.net/pacbi/academic-boycott-guidelines]. All these demands are consistent with international law.
In the absence, to the best of our knowledge, of a publicly known position in support of the rationale calling for the academic boycott, we assume that the Israeli delegates remain part of the silent majority implicated in a currently unfolding historical trauma. We reject any kind of normalization of Israeli oppression in the context of the Palestinian struggle for human rights. Normalization is an entrenchment of the current status quo through participation in activities that bring together Palestinians and Israelis in ways that do not explicitly resist the occupation and all forms of discrimination, inequality and oppression of Palestinians including those who are citizens of Israel.
Our call applies to the seeming absence of authentic Palestinian representation as well. Indeed, one conference participant, Mohammed Dajani visited South Africa in 2016 as a guest of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies as a counter to the annual global Palestine solidarity event, ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’. Dajani is promoted by the pro-Israeli lobby to posit a so-called ‘moderate’ Palestinian line, much as Bantustan and other figures were used by the South African apartheid regime to break international boycotts and sanctions and promote the idea that apartheid was a political dispute in which there were two equal sides in conflict.
Given our own settler colonial and apartheid past, our freedom struggle and the legacy of inequality, violence, racism and trauma we live with today, we find the false symmetry between an aggressor state and the popular resistance movement to be egregious. We cannot abide by a move which effectively “normalizes” Israeli apartheid.
We therefore urge the organizers, participants and sponsors not to turn away from the urgent and discomforting issues we raise. We acknowledge that the conference organizers put out an open call for papers. This is not an appeal to boycott the conference as a whole. However, in the absence of the visiting Israeli academics’ support for the rationale behind the academic boycott, their participation at a conference of such moral and intellectual significance is unacceptable in the context of the worsening situation in Israel-Palestine and in respect of the call of the vast majority of Palestinian colleagues.
Sad as it might be towards the individuals as colleagues and as fellow human beings, we cannot avoid this difficult moment by calling for a strong message of solidarity with Palestinians and with resistance to Israeli apartheid.
If this Conference on Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation turns away from the fact that the State of Israel is conducting a war against the Palestinian people’s very right to exist and is silent on this matter, then there can be little meaningful contribution to knowledge on the recognition of past and current world traumas, on the politics of remembering and interpreting historical and current traumas, and on articulating different understandings of reparations for the too many horrors of the 20th and 21st centuries. The Palestinian people have made a clear and unambiguous call for us to respond that we cannot ignore.
PSC: Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SA)
SAJFP: South African Jews for a Free Palestine
KSA: Kairos South Africa
PSA: Palestine Solidarity Alliance
BDS SA: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions-SA
MRN: Media Review Network
TDP UKZN: Theology and Development Programme, University of KwaZulu-Natal
KPSG UKZN: Kairos Palestine Study Group, University of KwaZulu-Natal
PTBFC UKZN: Public Theology Book and Film Club, University of KwaZulu-Natal
PMB-4-P: Pietermaritzburg for Palestine solidarity group
KZN PSF: KZN Palestine Solidarity Forum
South Africa's Shameful Capitulation to anti-Israel Thuggery
As rector of Ben-Gurion University, I call out Stellenbosch University’s shameful, cowardly act - removing Israeli academics from their program. But who are the real victims? South Africans themselves
Nov 28, 2018 4:15 PM
The cowardly refusal of Stellenbosch University officials to stand up for academic freedom and intellectual honesty ahead of next week’s "Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma" conference is shameful, if not altogether unexpected.
The decision to remove Professors Shifra Sagy (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev), Arie Nadler (Tel Aviv University) and Raya Morag (Hebrew University) is only the latest "victory" in South Africa for the Boycott Israel crowd, for whom intimidation and threats have long been the tools of choice.
But the main victims of demands by (so-called) pro-Palestinian activists to disinvite the Israeli researchers from the 5-8 December gathering are not Israeli academics. They are the people of South Africa itself, and the country’s values of intellectual honesty and academic freedom.
There is little reason even to address the calumny of the comparison between modern Israel and apartheid South Africa. The comparison bears little resemblance to Israeli society, but does violence to the millions of black and colored South Africans who suffered under decades of pass laws, separate beaches, "Bantu education" requirements and a thousand more violations of civil rights and of basic human dignity on a daily basis.
Furthermore, as in other places, Stellenbosch’s boycott of Israeli researchers will have little effect on the groundbreaking research happening in Israel, in every field and at every university.
Despite the best efforts of a small cadre of activists, academic journals are hungry for research from Israel, and academics from virtually every country in the world – including South Africa, and including the Arab world – actively pursue collaborative projects with our scholars. None of that should come of a surprise: It is the natural outcome of a societal norm where the free exchange of ideas is sacrosanct.
Rather, the main victims here are South Africans themselves.
Twenty-five years after Nelson Mandela was elected president, and nearly 30 years after he was released from prison, South Africa remains mired in inequality.
A cursory glance at the country’s major cities confirms this: The leafy Johannesburg suburb of Sandton, located a short distance from the sprawling poverty in the Alexandra township, is still inhabited almost exclusively by whites. Same for Cape Town, where the mostly white residents of Hout Bay enjoy private swimming pools and luxury cars, adjacent to the Imizamo Yethu township where black residents are largely poor and lack basic sanitation and education infrastructure.
According to a 2017 government report, white people - nine percent of the total population - still own 72 per cent of the country’s farmland. Nearly 30 percent of black youth are unemployed, as opposed to fewer than 10 percent of their white counterparts.
Socially, too, black and white South Africans have failed to capitalize on Mandela’s vision of a Rainbow Nation, offering opportunity, security and equality to all. To the contrary.
The ANC's rural affairs minister Gugile Nkwinti says openly that the ANC "unequivocally supports" the expropriation of white-owned land without compensation. The Yes4Youth website, a government-sponsored initiative founded by President Cyril Ramaphosa to work with businesses to improve youth employment, says openly that the service "is only available to Black, Indian or Coloured South Africans."
How ironic, then, and how sad that the one of the subjects of this week’s boycott Israel protests was Professor Emerita Shifra Sagy, the chair of the Martin-Springer Center for Study of Conflict Management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and former chair of our Conflict Management and Resolution Program. Professor Sagy’s research would seem to be particularly relevant to the challenges facing South Africa today.
"We drafted a program to bring together Palestinian and Jewish Israeli students for a project we called: 'Can we empathize with the narrative of our enemy?'" says Prof. Sagy. "The Palestinian students were pressured and threatened not to participate in the project in the name of not 'normalizing' ties with Israel, so we were left without their input.
"What we found, however, was astounding. We studied the Palestinian narrative, met with residents of the Deheisha refugee camp near Bethlehem to hear their stories, heard lectures from Palestinian academics.
"The data we collected was astounding: The interaction with the Palestinian narrative forced our students to consider viewpoints they hadn’t encountered before, which in turn forced them to sharpen and clarify their own beliefs. We found that the students were able to empathize with their enemies’ story, even while remaining proud Israeli citizens," Prof. Sagy said.
Pro-Palestinian activists may well feel they have won this latest round of anti-Israeli thuggery. But their "victory" is a stolen one, wrested from South African students and society who would certainly have benefitted from drawing on the expertise of the Israel delegations personal experience and professional scholarship.
While the conference will probably go ahead, it will be much the poorer, morally and intellectually, for not having Israeli academics there.
Professor Chaim Hames is the rector of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel