South African Academics Call for Boycott of Ben Gurion University

A long brewing South African campaign at the prestigious University of Johannesburg to cut off academic links with Ben Gurion University due to its complicity and racist practices has won the endorsement of John Dugard, Desmond Tutu, Breyten Breytenbach, Allan Boesak, Mahmoud Mamdani and almost 200 other academics from 22 academic institutions in South Africa.


As members of the academic community of South Africa, a country with a history of brute racism on the one hand and both academic acquiescence and resistance to it on the other, we write to you with deep concern regarding the relationship between the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). The relationship agreement, presented as ‘merely the continuation’ of a ‘purely scientific co-operation’ is currently being reviewed owing to concerns raised by UJ students, academics and staff. For reasons explained below and detailed in the attached Fact Sheet, we wish to add our voices to those calling for the suspension of UJ’s agreement with BGU.

As academics we acknowledge that all of our scholarly work takes place within larger social contexts – particularly in institutions committed to social transformation. South African institutions are under an obligation to revisit relationships forged during the apartheid era with other institutions that turned a blind eye to racial oppression in the name of ‘purely scholarly’ or ‘scientific work’.

The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has had disastrous effects on access to education for Palestinians. While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation. BGU is no exception, by maintaining links to both the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and the arms industry BGU structurally supports and facilitates the Israeli occupation. An example of BGU’s complicity is its agreement with the IDF to provide full university qualification to army pilots within a special BGU programme. Furthermore, BGU is also complicit in the general discrimination at Israeli universities against Palestinians and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

It is clear to us that any connection with an institution so heavily vested in the Israeli occupation would amount to collaboration with an occupation that denigrates the values and principles that form the basis of any vibrant democracy. These are not only the values that underpin our post-apartheid South Africa, but are also values that we believe UJ has come to respect and uphold in the democratic era.

We thus support the decision taken by UJ to reconsider the agreement between itself and BGU. Furthermore, we call for the relationship to be suspended until such a time that, at minimum, the state of Israel adheres to international law and BGU, (as did some South African universities during the struggle against South African apartheid) openly declares itself against the occupation and withdraws all privileges for the soldiers who enforce it.


The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has had disastrous effects on access to education for Palestinians. Palestinian students face immobilisation, poverty, gendered violence, harassment and humiliation as a result of Israeli policy and actions [1]. Israel has also explicitly mounted direct attacks on Palestinian education, with complete closures of Hebron University and the Palestinian Polytechnique in 2003 and the targeting and bombing of more than 60 schools during the attacks on Gaza in 2009 [2].

Israel’s assault on the access to education of Palestinians is illegal under international law. The right to education is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 as well as other international declarations and instruments.

Ben-Gurion University is complicit in these illegal actions. President, Rivka Carmi, describes the University as a ‘proudly Zionist institution’ [3], which effectively supports the official ideology of the Israeli state. Beyond this general support to the State of Israel, some of BGU’s direct links to Israeli racism and occupation are detailed below.


BGU maintains material links to both the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) [4] (and the arms industry) and therefore structurally supports and facilitates the Israeli occupation. This is evident through various examples, including the following:

• BGU aids and provides academic scholarships and has official protocols for providing support to army reservist students [5].

• BGU offered scholarships and extra tuition to students who served in active combat units during the attack on Gaza in 2009 [6] in which 1400 Palestinians were killed, in acts described by Judge Richard Goldstone as war crimes.

• BGU offered a special grant for each day of service to students who went on reserve duty, in addition to other benefits [7], during the period of operation “Cast Lead”—Israel’s attack on Gaza that had resulted in the killing of more than a thousand Palestinians.

• BGU also initiated the idea of, and tendered for, a military medicine school [8] designed specifically to train medical staff for the Israeli Armed Forces.

• BGU collaborates with the IDF by providing full university qualifications to Israeli Airforce Pilots within a specialised program [9].


• While Palestinian citizens of Israel constitute more than 20% of the country’s population, only 9.5% of B.A. students, 4.8% of M.A. students, 3.2% of Ph.D. students and a mere 1% of the academic staff in Israeli academic institutions are Palestinians [10].

• The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report detailing how Palestinian applicants are three times as likely to be rejected by Israeli academic institutions than Jewish applicants [11].

• BGU has no programs of study conducted in Arabic in spite of Arabic being an official language of Israel and the first language of more than a fifth of Israel’s population.


• BGU has been publicly criticised for disciplining academic staff, such as Professor Neve Gordon, the head of the politics department, for supporting the non-violent boycott of Israeli companies and institutions which profit or are complicit in the Israeli occupation.

• BGU maintains obstacles that prevent students from mounting legal political demonstrations and activities. This was intensified during Israel’s military attack on Gaza.

• Constituting a form of intimidation, security guards at BGU photograph and intrusively monitor anti-occupation political activists [12].

[1] “Right to Education Fact Sheet” , Birzeit University (30 April 2009)

[2] “Right to Education Fact Sheet: Gaza”, Birzeit University (15 June 2009)

[3] “Ben-Gurion University’s president responds to one of her professor’s call for a boycott of Israel” (1 September 2009)

[4] The IDF is publicised as a funding source for the University’s Research and Development Authority on the University’s website:

[5] Dean Of Student Office, 2009, “Protocol of treatment of students who serve in army reserve duty,” Ben Gurion University website:

[6] “Student, It Pays To Serve In Reserve Duty,” (March 16th 2009),7340,L-3687266,00.html

[7] “Student, It Pays To Serve In Reserve Duty,” (March 16th 2009),7340,L-3687266,00.html

[8] “Hebrew U, Ben-Gurion compete to create IDF medical school”, The Jerusalem Post (18 December 2008)

[9] Pilots receive a bachelor’s degree at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev after one year’s study. Levy, Gideon “The Shin Bet’s Academic Freedom,” Haaretz (8 September 2008)

[10] Hamda, Sharif “Handclap with one hand: Cheers for tolerance and pluralism in Israeli Academia,” Adalla (May 2005)

[11] Hamda, Sharif “Handclap with one hand: Cheers for tolerance and pluralism in Israeli Academia,” Adalla (May 2005)

[12] “Campus security guards photograph student protestors” Haaretz (26 June 2009)


– Prof Neville Alexander (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Peter Alexander (University of Johannesburg)

– Dr Stephanie Allais (University of Edinburgh)

– Dr Shireen Ally (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Waheeda Amien (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Kader Asmal (University of the Western Cape)

– Ivor Baatjes (University of Johannesburg)

– Dr Nasima Badsha (Cape Higher Education Consortium)

– Shahana Bassadien (University of Johannesburg)

– Umesh Bawa (University of the Western Cape)

– Dr Rashid Begg (Stellenbosch University)

– Prof Jane Bennet (University of Cape Town)

– Dr Shamim Bodhanya (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Prof Allan Boesak (Stellenbosch University)

– Prof Patrick Bond (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Prof Nico Botha (Stellenbosch University)

– Prof Breyten Breytenbach (New York University)

– Dr Andrea Brigaglia (University of Cape Town)

-Prof Heather Brookes (University of Johannesburg)

– Dr Mariza Brooks (University of the Free State)

– Imraan Buccus (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Prof Ronelle Carolissen (Stellenbosch University)

– Claire Ceruti (University of Johannesburg)

– Dr Janet Cherry (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University)

– Denzil Chetty (University of South Africa)

– Nicola Cloete (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Jim Cochrane (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Jacklyn Cock (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Ampie Coetzee (University of the Western Cape)

– Dr Linda Cooper (University of Cape Town)

– Stanford Cronje (Cape Peninsula University of Technology)

– Prof Yousuf Dadoo (University of South Africa)

– Prof Suleman Dangor (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Dr Marcelle Dawson (University of Johannesburg)

– Prof John Dugard (Leiden University)

– Vusumzi Duma (University of Fort Hare)

– Prof Jane Duncan (Rhodes University)

– Nazeem Edwards (Stellenbosch University)

– Prof Piet Erasmus (University of the Free State)

– Dr Zimitri Erasmus (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Farid Esack (University of Johannesburg)

– Dr Ahmed Essa (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Prof Faadiel Essop (Stellenbosch University)

– Prof Aslam Fataar (Stellenbosch University)

– Judy Favish (University of Cape Town)

– Dr Washiela Fish (University of the Western Cape)

– Dr Tony Fluxman (Rhodes University)

– Dr Kally Forrest (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Steven Friedman (University of Johannesburg)

– Dr Faaiz Gierdien (Stellenbosch University)

– Dr Kelly Gillespie (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Clive Glaser (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Daryl Glaser (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Sulaiman Gool (University of the Western Cape)

– Prof Keith Gottschalk (University of the Western Cape)

– Prof Pumla Gqola (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Ran Greenstein (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Janis Grobbelaar (University of Pretoria)

– Dr Jonathan Grossman (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Cornie Grownewald (Stellenbosch University)

– Dr Heidi Grunebaum (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Mohamed Haffajee (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Prof Muhammed Haron (University of Botswana)

– Dr Monica Hen- Dricks (Rhodes University)

– Prof Fred Hen- Dricks (Rhodes University)

– Zubeida Jaffer (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Jeff Jawitz (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Mohamed Jeebhay (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Jennifer Jelsma (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Shamil Jeppe (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Iqbal Jhazbhay (University of South Africa)

– Nadeema Jogee (University of Cape Town)

– Cyril Julie (University of the Western Cape)

– Zuhayr Kafaar (Stellenbosch University)

– Prof Ashraf Kagee (Stellenbosch University)

– Dr Feroza Kaldine (University of Johannesburg)

– Prof Andre Keet (University of Pretoria)

– Prof Bridget Kenny (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Fazel Khan (Durban University of Technology)

– Dr Saadika Khan (University of the Western Cape)

– Prof Sultan Khan (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Prof Gilton Klerck (Rhodes University)

– Prof Elize Koch (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University)

– Mariana Kriel (University of the Free State)

– Prof Johannes Kritzinger (University of South Africa)

– Prof Antjie Krog (University of the Western Cape)

– Dr Simangaliso Kumalo (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Prof Premesh Lalu (University of the Western Cape)

– Dr Lis Lange (Council For Higher Education)

– Dr Clint Le Bruyns (Stellenbosch University)

– Prof Lesley Le Grange (Stellenbosch University)

– Annie Leatt (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Martin Legassick (University of the Western Cape)

– Dr Llewellyn Leonard (University of Johannesburg)

– Kezia Lewins (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Suzana Molins Lliteras (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Gerrie Lubbe (University of South Africa)

– Lwazi Lushaba (University of Fort Hare)

– Rev Solomuzi Mabuza (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Dr Nawaz Mahomed (Cape Peninsula University of Technology)

– Tasneem Majam (University of Johannesburg)

– Prof Anwar Mall (University of Cape Town)

– Ayesha Mall (Durban University of Technology)

– Sue Marais (Rhodes University)

– Maud Marcinkowski (University of the Free State)

– Mohamed Shaid Mathee (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Achille Mbembe (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Ebrahim Moosa (Duke University)

– Prof Najma Moosa (University of the Western Cape)

– Prof Nicky Morgan (DVC) (Central University of Technology)

– Mopeli Moshoeshoe (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Aidan Mosselson (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Enver Motala (University of Johannesburg)

– Makhwênkwe Mvalo (Cape Peninsula University of Technology)

– Dr Munene Mwaniki (University of the Free State)

– Dr Lubna Nadvi (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Prof Rajen Naidoo (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Prof Andrew Nash (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Cobus Naude (Rtd.) (University of Johannesburg)

– Dr Nadia Navsa (University of Pretoria)

– Trevor Ngwane (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Dr Pamela Nichols (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Dr Noor Nieftagodien (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Dr Dhiraj Kumar Nite (University of Johannesburg)

– Lulamile Ntonzima (Cape Peninsula University of Technology)

– Dr Monde Ntwasa (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Dr Rashied Omar (University of Notre Dame)

– Prof Ruksana Osman (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Dr Sven Ouzman (University of Pretoria)

– Abdool Peer (University of Johannesburg)

– Dr Fathima Peerbhay (University of the Western Cape)

– Prof Gonda Perez (University of Cape Town)

– Gadija Petker (University of Johannesburg)

– Prof Innocent Pikirayi (University of Pretoria)

– Prof Kriben Pillay (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Dr Suren Pillay (HSRC)

– Richard Pithouse (Rhodes University)

– Prof Barney Pityana (VC) (University of South Africa)

– Dr Leonard Praeg (Rhodes University)

– Prof Aminur Rahim (University of Fort Hare)

– Brian Ramadiro (University of Fort Hare)

– Dr Thiven Reddy (University of Cape Town)

– Megan Riley (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Christian Rogerson (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Monty Roodt (Rhodes University)

– Dr Shamiel Salie (University of Cape Town)

– Dr Vishwas Satgar (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Dr Ursula Scheidegger (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Cassim Seedat (Durban University of Technology)

– Fatima Seedat (McGill University)

– Dr Fre- Drico Settler (University of Cape Town)

– Dr Sa’diyya Shaikh (University of Cape Town)

– Prof Mala Singh (Open University)

– Dr Luke Sinwell (University of Johannesburg)

– Dr Tahir Fuzile Sitoto (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Donato Somma (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Roger Southhall (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Dr Jane Starfield (University of Johannesburg)

– Prof Raymond Suttner (University of South Africa)

– Prof Leslie Swartz (Stellenbosch University)

– Dr Pe- Dro Tabensky (Rhodes University)

– Prof Abdulkadar Tayob (University of Cape Town)

– Yasmeen Thandar (Durban University of Technology)

– Prof Beverly Thaver (University of the Western Cape)

– Prof Fiona Tregenna (University of Johannesburg)

– Prof Rehana Vally (University of Pretoria)

– Salim Vally (University of Johannesburg)

– JC van der Merwe (University of the Free State)

– Maria van Driel (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Robert van Niekerk (Rhodes University)

– Carina van Rooyen (University of Johannesburg)

– Prof Shahid Vawda (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Dr Wilhelm Verwoerd (Stellenbosch University)

– Prof Shabbir Wadee (Stellenbosch University)

– Prof Everard Weber (University of Johannesburg)

– Prof Gerald West (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

– Dr Hylton White (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Prof Hein Willemse (University of Pretoria)

– Dr Clarence Williams (University of the Western Cape)

– Dr Michelle Williams (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Ben Winks (University of Johannesburg)

– Prof Leslie Witz (University of the Western Cape)

– Prof Tahir Wood (University of the Western Cape)

– Prof Eric Worby (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Dr Leo Zeilig (University of the Witwatersrand)

– Rev Sthembiso Zwane (University of KwaZulu-Natal)

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