Palestinian appeal to Tshwane University of Technology not to collaborate with Israeli oppression
October 18 2016
To Tshwane University of Technology (TUT),
We, at the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), are troubled by the Tshwane University of Technology’s possible collaboration with Israeli academic institutions. All Israeli universities, without exception, have for decades played a key role in planning, implementing, justifying and whitewashing crimes committed by Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid against the Palestinian people.
As Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu wrote when he endorsed the 2010 academic boycott by the University of Johannesburg against Israel’s Ben Gurion University:
“Israeli Universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice. While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation.”
As part of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society including trade unions, political parties, popular committees and NGOs, which guides the global BDS movement, PACBI formed in 2004 to advocate for the boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions to end their complicity in Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights under international rights.
Israeli universities are deeply involved in Israeli human rights violations, from systematically providing the military-intelligence establishment with research — on demography, geography, hydrology, and psychology, among other disciplines — to tolerating and often rewarding racist speech, theories and “scientific” research. Other forms of complicity of Israeli academic institutions include the institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian Arab citizens, among them scholars and students; suppression of Israeli academic research on Zionism and the Nakba (the forced dispossession and eviction of Palestinian Arabs during the creation of the State of Israel); and the construction of campus facilities and dormitories in the occupied Palestinian territory, as Hebrew University has done in East Jerusalem, for instance.
Israel’s persistent attacks on Palestinian education and denial of academic freedom to Palestinian scholars reached a peak in the beginning of the first Palestinian Intifada (1987-1993), when the Israeli occupation authorities shut down all Palestinian universities -- some, like Birzeit, for several consecutive years -- and then closed all 1,194 Palestinian schools in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. Next came the kindergartens, until every educational institution in the occupied Palestinian territories was forcibly closed. This prompted Palestinians to build an “illegal network” of underground schools.
Palestinian scholars and students are methodically denied their basic rights, including academic freedom, and are often subjected to imprisonment, denial of freedom of movement, even violent attacks on themselves or their institutions. If exercising the right to academic freedom is conditioned upon respecting other human rights and securing what Butler calls the “material conditions for exercising those rights,” then clearly it is the academic freedom of Palestinian academics and students that is severely hindered, due to the occupation and policies of racial discrimination, and that must be defended.
More recently, in 2015, Israeli forces raided the Palestine Technical University at Khadoury, firing teargas and plastic coated steel bullets at the students. In an interview, Sabri Saidam, the Palestinian minister of Education and Higher Education noted that “The Israeli army is attacking universities within the scope of an Israeli systematic scheme designed to eradicate the Palestinian identity and tame the Palestinian young generation's libertarianism by disrupting the educational process.”
A telling example of Israeli academic institutions’ complicity is the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology. It has a partnership with Elbit Systems, which is one of Israel’s largest private weapons manufacturers and one of the two major providers of the “electronic detection fence,” a significant proponent of the apartheid wall. Additionally, Elbit manufactured the drones that Israel used in its crimes against civilians in Lebanon 2006 and Gaza 2008-09.
Furthermore, Technion rewards its students who perform their compulsory military service, granting Israeli army reservists who participated in the Israeli massacre of Gaza in 2008-2009 “academic benefits in addition to the usual benefits for reservists.”
Keenly aware of the growth of South African popular support for Palestinian rights and for BDS measures against Israel to achieve those rights, and cognizant of the fact that most South Africans remember that Israel was the apartheid regime’s closest partner at the darkest moments of the country’s history, the Israeli embassy in Pretoria is desperately trying to re-brand Israel, including through increased academic collaborations with South African universities.
By presenting Israeli universities as “centers of excellence” and “liberalism,” Israeli officials cynically obscuring the complicity of these institutions in the crimes of the state. But most South Africans recall that during apartheid the academic boycott of South Africa contributed significantly to isolating the regime and bringing about its ultimate collapse.
Similarly, the Palestinian-led academic boycott of Israel is gaining traction at an impressive rate, including in the US, where it counts most, given the deep complicity of US universities in sustaining Israel’s regime of injustice. Alarmed at the growth of the academic boycott of Israel, the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, in 2015 described it as a “strategic threat of the first order.”.
Engagement and collaboration by any South African university with Israeli academic institutions will serve to whitewash these institutions’ crimes against the Palestinians.
In support of the Palestinian plight and the call for boycott, the University of Johannesburg severed all ties with Ben-Gurion University in 2011. The campaign was supported by more than 400 South African academics, including 9 Vice-Chancellors and Deputy Vice-Chancellors; 11 Deans and Vice Deans; 19 Heads of Department; 175 University Professors and 125 Academic Doctorates. The list of supporters includes some of South Africa’s leading voices and anti-apartheid stalwarts such as: Desmond Tutu, Neville Alexander, Kader Asmal, Allan Boesak, Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Antjie Krog, Rashida Manjoo, Barney Pityana, Zapiro, Ronnie Kasrils, Zackie Achmat, and Sampie Terreblanche.
We appeal to TUT to follow the bright example set by UJ and refrain from engaging in any collaboration with Israeli academic institutions. We urge you to be on the right side of history, on the side of freedom, justice and equality.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel