A South African university is ending a research collaboration with an Israeli university, a step hailed as a "boycott" by proponents of an international academic campaign to shun Israeli researchers.
On 23 March, the faculty senate of the University of Johannesburg in South Africa voted to terminate a collaborative agreement on water pollution studies with its 25-year research partner, the Ben Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in Israel. The administration has agreed to honor the decision by 60% of voting faculty members as of 1 April--making this campaign the first of its kind to succeed.
A campaign petition  explains that the vote to break with BGU was taken because of its "complicity in Israeli apartheid"—its failure to involve Palestinians in research projects—and "its direct and deliberate collaboration with the Israeli Defense Force," among other things. Pro-boycott activists were angered that BGU gives scholarships to military personnel, for example. About 400 South African academics endorsed the petition, as did Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a celebrated Christian cleric. The Congress of South African Trade Unions praised the "watershed moment," calling it the "first South African institutional boycott of an Israeli institution ," reports University World News.
The Jerusalem Post reported  that BGU issued a statement before the vote, calling the petition "a collection of lies and mistruths about BGU and the State of Israel," adding that "it would be unfortunate to cancel a research agreement that is meant solely to improve the quality of life for the residents of South Africa."
Some sought to downplay the vote's significance. University of Johannesburg Vice Chancellor and Principal Ihron Rensburg issued a statement  yesterday saying the vote was not a boycott but simply recognized that the research agreement had become "an insurmountable obstacle to either institution [BGU and Johannesburg] facilitating a wider dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian academics." Rensburg said "peer-to-peer" academic partnerships between Johannesburg and BGU staff should continue, and Johannesburg "stands ready ... to support these relationships."