SAJBD reacts to calls to boycott UFS

Board says boycotters hopelessly out of step with developments in the Middle East itself

SAJBD reacts to calls to boycott UFS

21 October 2020

For the past three years, the University of the Free State (UFS) and Israel’s Haifa University have engaged in a framework for academic collaboration, in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).  One such collaboration was a seminar focussing on water security and trans-boundary water management from the perspective of the Middle East and SADC. A similar seminar was held between UFS and Israel’s Arava Institute. Clearly, this is a subject that is relevant and important to South Africans and our neighbours.

Last week, UFS and Haifa University jointly hosted a well-attended webinar on the changing dynamics of Middle Eastern geo-politics. The outcomes of the conference are soon to be published online, making the content of discussions available to all. 

Sadly but predictably, certain groupings continue to raise a clamour against partnerships of this nature, regardless of what benefits might flow from this.  They include BDS-aligned Cosatu and Nehawu, who have come out calling for the cancellation of the MOU and threatened to picket Free State University if they do not get their way. 

In a changing world, exchanges of ideas between academics are an ongoing reality and cannot be stymied by ideological pressure groups. Similar initiatives and aims have been defeated at UCT and academic freedom had been upheld. 

Furthermore, the boycotters are also hopelessly out of step with developments in the Middle East itself. As the good will created by the recent agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain shows, people on the ground are tired of being held hostage to radical political agendas and want to move forward. The peoples of today’s Middle East region are looking beyond the narrow ideological rivalries that for so long divided them to a common commitment to building a better shared future. A recent survey further shows how widely supported the latest initiatives are in the greater Arab world (https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/washington-secrets/surprise-majority-of-arabs-back-trump-middle-east-peace-plan-79-of-saudis).

We call on the University of the Free State to continue to build on the partnerships it has forged with its Israel counterparts and not to be intimidated by the typical bully-boy tactics used by those who cling to outmoded and discriminatory boycott strategies against Israel. We further commend UFS for upholding the core principles of academic freedom and encourage it to continue to do what is right for the institution and for the benefit of the country as whole. 

Issued by Charisse Zeifert, Head: Communications, SAJBD, 21 October 2020