Israeli academics dropped from conference in South Africa due to BDS pressure

Ben-Gurion University professor says she never before faced such fierce boycott calls, feels ‘academics is being trampled by politics’

Stellenbosch University (CC BY 3.0, Dfmalan, Wikipedia)
Stellenbosch University (CC BY 3.0, Dfmalan, Wikipedia)

Israeli academics have been dropped from a conference at a South African university following pressure from organizations that support boycotting Israel.

Tuesday’s decision by the organizing committee of the “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation” event set to be held next week at Stellenbosch University came after it received a letter last week from a number of groups that back the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

“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,” the groups wrote in the letter.

They also objected to the “seeming absence of authentic Palestinian representation” and said Mohammed Dajani, who is set to take part in the conference, is “promoted by the pro-Israeli lobby to posit a so-called ‘moderate’ Palestinian line.”

Illustrative: Pro-Palestinian protesters supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel demonstrate ahead of a Pharrell Williams concert outside Grand West Arena on September 21, 2015 in Cape Town, South Africa (Michelly Rall/Getty Images via JTA)

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, the head of the organizing committee, said she spoke to the Israeli academics in the wake of the letter and “they have all since rescinded their participation at the conference and will no longer be part of the program.”

According to the Haaretz daily, seven Israeli academics from three different universities were slated to attend the conference.

While expressing support for boycotts of Israel, Gobodo-Madikizela defended the initial decision to invite the Israeli academics, saying none of them “represents the position of the state of Israel against Palestinians.”

Professor Shifra Sagy of Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, one of the academics who was set to take part in the conference, said she had never before faced such strident calls to boycott Israeli academics.

“I’m invited to many conferences, to places that aren’t necessarily fans of Israel. I never ignore my identity, just the opposite: Most of my lectures start with a declaration that I come from a place of conflict and I explain how this fact influences my research,” she told Haaretz.

“Until now I never encountered such behavior. The feeling is that academics is being trampled by politics,” Sagy added.

Haim Hames, the rector of Ben-Gurion University, described the decision by conference organizers to drop the Israeli participants as a “dangerous capitulation” and said it undermined values at the heart of academic discourse.

“Beyond the basic ignorance and basic lack of understanding about the situation in Israel, I can only condemn the call to boycott Israeli academia,” he told Haaretz.

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