OPINION

Don't be fooled by Stellenbosch University denials! - SAJBD

Board says a bad situation has been made worse by the university's blatant misrepresentations

Don't be fooled by Stellenbosch University denials!

3 December 2018

“Saying that Israeli and Palestinian academics “voluntarily” chose not to attend a conference at Stellenbosch University after being kicked off the speaking programme is like saying that a mugging victim has “voluntarily” surrendered his wallet after being threatened with a gun.”

Thus commented Prof. Rivka Carmi, President: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She was responding to claims by Stellenbosch University that eight academics – seven from Israel and one from Palestine - who withdrew from this week’s conference did so “voluntarily”, not because they had been prevented from participating.

To understand what really happened, we append the statement of Professor Mohammed Dajani, a Palestinian academic and peace activist from Birzheit University in Ramallah. Prof Dajani was removed from the programme as according to the BDS lobby, he was not an “authentic” representative of the Palestinians. Disgracefully, he was also represented by the conference organisers as being tainted because he had previously been brought out to South Africa by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies. It appears that BDS is no longer satisfied merely to call for boycotts against Israelis.  They now also want to ban any Palestinian who has engaged with the official representative body of the Jewish community in South Africa, the SAJBD.

The response by Stellenbosch University to the criticism it has received since the story broke is both dishonest and insulting. The facts are that last week, the conference organisers caved in to threats by radical anti-Israel factions by cancelling the sessions at which the academics in question were scheduled to speak. It was because they had been unilaterally kicked off the programme that those academics decided not to attend the conference. There was nothing “voluntary” about it. And Stellenbosch University knows it.

Even Stellenbosch admits that the conference programme was changed in order to exclude speakers that various BDS-aligned factions were objecting to. However, they have since tried to claim that this was no more than a temporary measure and that the intention had been to restore the original programme at a later stage.

Apart from being self-evidently preposterous, this claim is conclusively refuted by the banned academics themselves, who confirmed that they were simply informed that their sessions had been cancelled because of threats to disrupt the event. They were never told that the programme change was aimed at taking the pressure off and that they would be able to deliver their papers as scheduled. 

Sadly, when confronted with politically-motivated threats and intimidation, Stellenbosch University failed to stand its ground, thereby seriously compromising its own values of academic freedom. What has made a bad situation worse is how the University has resorted to blatant misrepresentation and cover-ups, instead of acknowledging what happened and undertaking to deal with the situation.  

Statement by Professor Dajani on Stellenbosch University cancelling his participation:

My statement on cancelling my participation in a conference in South Africa

I consider South Africa as a beacon for reconciliation and peace  in my talks, writing, interviews, or lectures.

In 2016 I went to South Africa to bring my message of moderation, reconciliation, and peace and to learn more about the rainbow vision of the great leader Nelson Mandela. When I gave my talk at one of the universities, I was distressed at the divisions I saw and my message to the students was not to import our conflict but to export to us the vision of reconciliation. In my talks I urged my audience not to take sides with one party against the other but to be pro peace and pro reconciliation and in this way they would be pro both.

To label me as not a “Genuine/authentic Palestinian” because I believe in peace and the need to end this vicious cycle of bloodshed from South Africa shows lack of empathy and understanding for the nature of our conflict. What serves our cause is to build bridges of trust and cooperation with each other to strengthen the peace camps on both sides not walls of enmity and hatred. I believe that Boycotts, incitement, and anti-normalization do not serve our common goal to seek a just and comprehensive solution to this struggle but rather do undermine the peace camps in Israel and Palestine.

It is not true that I do not recognize there is a huge asymmetry of power in this conflict between the two adversaries.

Our approach in resolving this conflict should be through dialogue, diplomacy, nonviolence, and seeking international support for both peace camps. Our generation had inherited this conflict from the past and we aspire that the heritage we leave for our  future generation to be freedom, liberty, democracy, security and prosperity.

Help us achieve that noble and moral objective.
May God guise us to the right path.

Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi
Founder, Wasatia Movement  - Palestine
Director, Wasatia Graduate Academic Institute

The session in the conference program that was cancelled as a result of the protest was the panel covering the Heart of Flesh not Stone Project which deals with studying empathy by exposing students to the suffering of other -by having Palestinian students visit the Holocaust concentration camps and learning about the Palestinian Nakba by having Israeli students visit refugee camps and speak with Palestinian refugees from 1948. The panelists were Palestinian and Israeli team leaders and the panel was chaired by a German scholar who heads the project.

ENDS

Issued by Wendy Kahn, National Director, South African Jewish Board of Deputies, 3 December 2018