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Jewish Journal

South African university distances itself from student boycott of Israel

by Jeffrey Hensiek

September 4, 2012 | 9:27 am

Witwatersrand University in South Africa has distanced itself from a student association decision to boycott Israel.

In a statement released Monday, the university said that it does not share the initiative of the Wits Student Representative Council, adopted Aug. 31, which calls for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, and for further support of the annual Israel Apartheid Week.

''The Executive Committee of Convocation of the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg would like to distance itself from the views and opinions expressed by the Students’ Representative Council with regards to a boycott of Israel," the statement read. "We, as a convocation, value the diverse views of all our members (i.e. academic staff and alumni) regardless of their race, religion, gender, culture, language, ideology or otherwise, provided that they do not exceed the limitations explicated in our Constitution. In our view, the diversity of people, programs and ideas is one the greatest strengths that makes studying at Wits an enriching experience."

The South African Union of Jewish Students welcomed the statement from the Wits Executive Committee. Daniel Katzew, of the union, on Monday deplored the Student Representative Council decision, calling it ''a vicious and one-sided resolution aimed at shutting down all debate and discussion surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.'' The resolution by no means represents the majority of students at Wits, according to Katzew.

In a statement released Monday, the South African Union of Jewish Students condemned the resolution. ''The brazen pushing through of such a resolution does a serious disservice to all Wits students wishing to engage in discussion surrounding the conflict, as it effectively ends any dialogue on the issue. This is a new attempt to censor political viewpoints and this stands in direct contrast to the spirit of a liberal academic institution."

''The veiled threat by the SRC to boycott not only Israel, but also to 'promote the BDS (Pro-Palestinian forum, promoting boycott against Israel) campaign in terms of academic and cultural institutions relating to Israel' is a bully-boy tactic to silence those with differing opinions on campus. Different and often opposing opinions do exist within the student population and SRC’s decision to impose their viewpoint on the entire student body is unjustified and not 'representative' of their students. Surely such fascist behavior has no place at Wits University – a university that has always prided itself on embracing diverse views and even dissenting opinions."

Katzew said that he intends to meet with Student Representative Council representatives to further discuss the issue.

Wendy Kahn, national director of the South Africa Jewish Board of deputies, told JTA that the resolution is ''deeply disturbing," as ''the SRC has chosen to silence debate on the Middle East situation by accepting this resolution." According to Kahn, this resolution "compromises the principles of academic freedom that have always been such a cornerstone of the Wits ethos."

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