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Progressive Academics Condemn Discriminatory Declaration at Durban (South Africa) University

By Alliance for Academic Freedom

Violation of Progressive Values and the Legacy of the Struggle Against Apartheid

New York, NY – February 20, 2015

Professor Cary Nelson
Gideon Aronoff
212 366-1194 (After hours 347-583-7277)

The Alliance for Academic Freedom (AAF) condemns without qualification the call by the Students Representative Council (SRC) at the Durban University of Technology (South Africa) to expel Jews from the campus, particularly “those who do not support the Palestinian struggle.” That such a call for blatant discrimination against a particular community is taking place in South Africa makes the resolution even more appalling. Members of the AAF, and Jews in general, joined the struggle against South African apartheid, which makes our opposition to such bigotry a moral duty.

The student council has issued what it calls an apology, but this apology is almost as discriminatory as the first statement. The student council has “clarified” that it does not want to deregister “Jews,” but rather members of any faith who receive any funds or support from the State of Israel, because, they claim, they do not want their campuses to be “breeding grounds for Apartheid.” The student council has thus merely replaced its call for an ethno-religious litmus test for entry into the university with an ideological litmus test—one that goes against every principle that the AAF, or any faculty or student association, stands for.

Like many statements and actions emanating from the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement, the student council’s proposed policy, even modified, egregiously violates a host of fundamental rights.

•    First, denying individuals the right to education is a direct infringement on the right to education, codified in Article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

•    Second, the council’s proposal contravenes academic freedom and the very purpose of the university as a place for disagreement, debate, and dialogue among opposing views. We note that the student council has endorsed BDS, whose guidelines call for isolating Israel by boycotting Israeli students and faculty and anyone funded by “Israel or its lobby groups.” The council’s latest demands illustrate the ease with which anti-Israel activity can turn what should be a place of open discussion into one of exclusion, ideological rigidity, and discrimination.

•    Third, the call for expelling Jewish students (or even just those deemed insufficiently supportive of the Palestinian struggle) enshrines in student governance the intimidation and dehumanization of students for their peoplehood or their political views.

Members of the AAF deplore the occupation of the West Bank. But punishing Jewish students in South Africa for policies of the Israeli government explicitly violates the “working definition” of anti-Semitism put forward by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), which cites, as an example, “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.” The student council’s actions suggest a totalitarian mentality reminiscent of darker chapters in human history.

AAF members also oppose the discrimination that exists within Israel proper, as it does in other countries. But we reject the hyperbolic accusation of Israel as an apartheid state. In 1991 the United Nations General Assembly rightly revoked its infamous Resolution 3379, which perniciously singled out Zionism from all other forms of nationalism and falsely equated it with racism. Apartheid manifestly does not exist in Israel. Arab participation in some Israeli universities, although disproportionately low and subject to barriers, is increasing, particularly among Arab women.

Conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Palestinian citizens of Israel will be improved through renewed political efforts to reach peace with the Palestinians, good-faith dialogue among the antagonists, and mutual understanding and empathy from all parties to this conflict. Expulsions, blacklists, boycotts, and other one-sided actions targeting Jews (or Zionists, or supporters of Israel) will only justify and exacerbate those groups’ fears of victimization and discrimination, deepen hostilities, and make the prospects for peace—including an improvement in Palestinians’ lives—more elusive. They also indefensibly punish innocents.

The AAF agrees with the statement of the university vice-chancellor Ahmed Bawa, who called the council’s demands “outrageous, preposterous and a deep violation of our national constitution and every human rights principle.” We hope that clear-sighted university leadership can help to educate university students about the unequivocal moral wrong of discrimination, whoever the targets may be.

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