Academic boycott in works: Ben-Gurion University officials said Monday they were closely following political groups affiliated with Islam pressuring South Africa's University of Johannesburg to impose an academic boycott on the southern Israel institution.
Such boycott would see the termination of a signed agreement on a joint research project between the two schools.The project aims to solve water contamination problems in a reservoir near Johannesburg.
An official response issued Monday evening read, "The leadership of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) is deeply disturbed by the attempts of certain political groups...applying pressure on the University of Johannesburg to boycott BGU and cancel a signed research collaboration agreement."
President Prof. Rivka Carmi said that "those opposed to this collaboration accuse BGU of 'abusing academic freedom, abusing human rights and being an accomplice to an Apartheid government system in Israel.' These accusations – and others made in their statements – are totally false and based upon ignorance and prejudice."
Sources at Ben-Gurion University said the agreement between the two institutions was signed more than a year ago, prompting various elements to exert enormous pressure on the South African institution to cancel the agreement.
In addition, activists circulated petitions calling for an academic boycott on Israel.
As a result of the pressure, University of Johannesburg's directorate decided to convene the university's senate on Wednesday and hold a vote on whether to cancel the collaboration agreement and impose an academic boycott on the Israeli institution.
Professor Carmi said she was dumbfounded by the calls for an academic boycott, adding that "Ben-Gurion University was the epitome of co-existence and served as a role model for collaboration."
The boycott initiative was "completely detached from realities on the ground," she said.
The university's president warned of the possible consequences, saying that "an academic boycott on a university might risk activities that strengthen co-existence, and hinder academic collaborations for the general good. It must be noted that universities in Israel are not political organizations, and have no effect over the government's policy."
The two institutions have maintained close ties for many years. In 1997, South African President Nelson Mandela received an Honorary Doctoral Degree from Ben-Gurion University, applauded BGU's accomplishments and noted that "In Ben-Gurion University of the Negev we have a centre of excellence which represents the best in the traditions of the Jewish people: a sense of mission; internationalism; and inventiveness."
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