My initial response to Wednesday’s senate meeting, formalising the University of Johannesburg’s intention to sever ties with Israeli universities, was to resign immediately. It is a terrible tragedy that the university has chosen to forfeit collaboration with Ben Gurion University on water purification research, which could benefit a large portion of the South African population. I feel that, as a member of staff, I have the right to express my opinion on the issue since it affects me personally. In this letter I shall present an argument as to why drawing parallels between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Apartheid South Africa is completely invalid. I shall also demonstrate how the call to academically boycott Israeli universities stems from a pure, irrational hatred of any form of Jewish sovereignty and has nothing to do with Apartheid.
Apartheid is defined as the legislative segregation of populations based on race. In Apartheid South Africa, the mistreatment of non-whites was legislated: racial segregation was enforced by law in all spheres of life, including residence, education, and employment (to name just a few examples). Equating Israel to Apartheid is fiction since the Israeli Arab and Jewish populations are treated equally under the law. There is no legislated racial segregation act in Israel between Arab and Jewish citizens. In practice, all citizens, regardless of race, have access to the same level of education, medical care, and employment opportunities. Whereas in Apartheid South Africa, non-whites were denied the right to be professors, judges and doctors, in Israel, Arab (even Palestinian) doctors work together with Jewish doctors to heal both Arab and Jewish patients. There are Arab professors in Israeli universities. There are Arab judges on the supreme high court and Arab members of parliament. Israel has shown that it is possible to create a Jewish state while still ensuring the democratic freedom and equality of its minority citizens. Those who equate Israel with Apartheid are essentially insulting those who suffered under real Apartheid by using their suffering for extreme and sinister political\religious ends.
Furthermore, one cannot compare the Jews in Israel to the European colonialists in South Africa. The European colonialists had no right to settle in South Africa in the first place. They had no claim to the land. On the other hand, there has been a continuous Jewish presence in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean for the last 3000 years, preceding Islam by more than 1500 years. There have been two instances in history where Jews have established autonomous governance in that land. Hence the concept of Israel as a Jewish state is not unprecedented and is certainly not comparable to the colonial racist Apartheid South Africa. Very few, if any, other nation has such a rich historical connection to their country as do the Jews to Israel.
In light of the blatant problems which I have identified in referring to Israel as an Apartheid state, this begs the question as to what the motives are behind drawing this comparison to start with? I believe that this is an attempt at delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist, by painting a picture of a country which is supposedly ruled in a racist manner by a nation with no legitimate claim to the land. The Israel-Apartheid equivalence is thus clearly a fictional justification for denying Israel its legitimate right to exist.
Regarding the boycott, the claims laid down by boycott lobby only make sense if we accept the premise that Israel, as a Jewish state, does not have the right to exist. If Israel has a right to exist, then it would have the right and obligation to defend and protect its citizens against the constant threat of terror attacks. It would also have the right to establish academic institutions and form collaborations with academic institutions in other countries. Those institutions would have the right to provide technical education to members of the force mandated with the protection of civilians.
If Israel does not have the right to exist then every counter terror operation performed by the Israeli Defence Force is seen as an act of aggression and a violation of human rights, as opposed to self-defence and deterrence. Hence, Israeli universities which give technical education to Israeli soldiers are seen as supporting the so-called ‘oppression’. Furthermore, if it is assumed that Israel does not have the right to exist then it does not have the right to establish academic institutions, hence the institutions should be boycotted.
Saying that Israel, as a Jewish democratic state, does not have the right to exist is tantamount to saying the Jewish people do not have the basic human right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland. This view is only held by radical Islamic movements such as Hamas and the formal endorsement of this position by boycott lobby can only be described as discriminatory and racist. Why should the Jews’ basic human right for self-determination be delegitimised and denied? Thus, the motivation behind the boycott is not to get rid of apartheid in Israel, since there is no apartheid in Israel, but rather to completely delegitimise Jewish self-determination.
Just while the senate was voting to boycott BGU, a bomb went off at the central bus station in Jerusalem. If it was not for the IDF deterrence then there would be many more such incidents. I challenge you to find me any other country which would tolerate the indiscriminate bombardment of its civilians, to the same extent that Israel has done. Such a bombardment can only be justified if it is assumed that the very presence of the victims is illegal (although I find it really hard to justify the slaughter of a 3 month old baby, no matter how illegal the settlement).
I find it shameful that the university can allow itself to be manipulated for blatant political ends in what amounts to a cutting formal ties with an independent university in a strongly democratic nation, while at the same time keeping silent, or worse, actively collaborating with countries having atrocious human rights records. The boycott can only be described as irrational, clearly motivated by an indelible hatred towards Israel, and the desire to see a world devoid of any form of Jewish sovereignty.
Nevertheless, I have decided not to resign but rather to continue fighting this blatant bigotry, as an academic. I will fight for academic freedom, and for the right to collaborate with whomever I see fit. I sincerely hope this letter clarifies some of the facts, so terribly clouded by an irrational, sensationalised hatred of all things Israel.
Sincerely, Meir Perez
Staff Number: 720022028
Reprinted with permission of the author