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The Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Tygerberg Campus. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) on Thursday slammed the University of Stellenbosch for cancelling sessions with Israeli and Palestinian speakers at a conference as “highly ironic and contrary to good academic standards and attempts at reconciliation”.  

The SAJBD said that the organisers of the conference, which is scheduled for December 5 to 9, on ‘Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma’ had succumbed to pressure and threats from Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

“Instead of taking a firm stand against this bullying tactic, the organisers of the conference caved in by unilaterally cancelling the sessions at which the Israeli academics Prof Mohammed Dajani had been scheduled to speak,” the organisation said.

“There is no truth whatsoever in the claim that these speakers voluntarily agreed not to participate. It has since been confirmed that the decision to exclude them was taken without their knowledge, and that they were only informed about it after the fact.”

It said that the reason for Dajani’s exclusion from the conference were outrageous. 

“According to Prof Pumla Goboda-Madikizela, coordinator of the conference, it was because when Prof Dajani visited South Africa earlier this year, his visit was reported in these terms: ‘Dajani is visiting South Africa this week as part of his mission of moderation – during Israel Apartheid Week when feelings against Israel are running high – as a guest of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies’. 

“In other words, any speaker endorsed by the SAJBD must be regarded as tainted by association, regardless of what their views or academic record might be. We associate such reasoning with extremist, fringe groups and therefore find it a disgrace and an embarrassment to a respected university like SU,” the SAJBD said.

The SAJBD quoted former Public Protector and chairperson in Social Justice at the Stellenbosch University Law Faculty, Advocate Thuli Madonsela to support its protest at the stance of organisers.

Stellenbosch University Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) hosted Professor Thuli Madonsela, Chair for Social Justice and Law. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency 

“I believe the call for withdrawal of the Israeli-Palestinian academics is misplaced for several reasons. The first is this is a conference on reparations and reconciliation and thus could have a positive influence on the Palestinian Challenge.The second is that when there was a boycott on South Africa, that did not include its academics participating in peace and justice discussions,” the SAJBD quoted Madonsela as saying. 

“The third is that we don’t even know the views of the academics concerned and such views could provide insights into the impasse while providing opportunities to engage with a view to positively influencing change.” 

The SAJBD said the organisers should have been firm and stuck to the original conference programme. 

– African News Agency (ANA); Editing by Devereaux Morkel