Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - PEOPLE - SHAN­NON EBRAHIM shan­[email protected]

THIS week con­tro­versy erupted in South Africa and in­ter­na­tion­ally around the in­volve­ment of Is­raeli aca­demics in a con­fer­ence on his­tor­i­cal trauma hosted by the Uni­ver­sity of Stel­len­bosch and or­gan­ised by aca­demic and au­thor, Pumla Go­bodo-Madik­izela. By the end of the week the New York Times was even ask­ing ques­tions of the con­fer­ence’s fun­ders – the Mel­lon Foun­da­tion, and the Rosa Lux­em­burg Foun­da­tion – as the de­bate raged fol­low­ing a state­ment put out by the Pales­tine Sol­i­dar­ity Com­mit­tee (PSC) in South Africa.

The con­fer­ence, which is to be from De­cem­ber 5-9, is to in­ter­ro­gate “Recog­ni­tion, Repa­ra­tions, Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion: The Light and Shadow of His­tor­i­cal Trauma”, and will fo­cus on trans-gen­er­a­tional trauma and deal­ing with the reper­cus­sions of geno­cide, colo­nial op­pres­sion, and mass vi­o­lence.

While the PSC state­ment did not call for a boy­cott of the con­fer­ence it­self, the ob­jec­tion was to the in­clu­sion of six Is­raeli aca­demics, given “the role that

Is­raeli aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions play in plan­ning, ex­e­cut­ing, jus­ti­fy­ing and white­wash­ing the Is­raeli state’s abuse of Pales­tinian hu­man rights”, Roshan Dadoo of the PSC said.

In ad­di­tion, said Dadoo, only one Pales­tinian aca­demic, Mo­hammed Dajani from Al-Quds Uni­ver­sity, had been in­vited whom the PSC did not per­ceive as be­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Pales­tinian views. The PSC had also taken is­sue with the ti­tle of one of the pan­els in the con­fer­ence which it be­lieves er­ro­neously sug­gested the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict was a con­flict be­tween two equal sides.

The view of the or­gan­is­ers, how­ever, was that none of the Is­raeli aca­demics were rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the po­si­tion of the State of Is­rael, and were ac­tu­ally in­volved in the dis­rup­tion of the Is­raeli nar­ra­tive, en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo.

The con­fer­ence chair­per­son, Go­bodo-Madik­izela, had de­fended her de­ci­sion to in­vite the Is­raeli aca­demics in a let­ter to Dadoo and the PSC. But af­ter a week of pres­sure the Is­raeli aca­demics were re­moved from the pro­gramme.

Se­nior Is­raeli aca­demics also en­tered the fray, with the rec­tor of He­brew Uni­ver­sity of Jerusalem, Pro­fes­sor Barak Me­d­ina, writ­ing to the rec­tor of Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­sity, Pro­fes­sor Wim de Vil­liers, to ex­press con­cern that “the con­fer­ence or­gan­is­ers have suc­cumbed to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure di­rected against all Is­raeli aca­demics, vi­o­lat­ing ba­sic aca­demic free­dom and de­bate,” De Vil­liers said.

On the other hand, Pro­fes­sor Yu­val Shany of He­brew Uni­ver­sity, al­legedly asked the spon­sors to dis­as­so­ci­ate them­selves from the con­fer­ence. Shany is the chair­per­son in In­ter­na­tional Law and for­mer Dean of the Law Fac­ulty of He­brew Uni­ver­sity and also chair­per­son of the UN Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee.

Ad­vo­cate Thuli Madon­sela, chair­per­son in So­cial Jus­tice at Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­sity law fac­ulty, be­lieves that the call for the with­drawal of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian aca­demics is mis­placed. One of the par­tic­i­pants who will at­tend, Hil­lary Ham­burger, said, “The Is­raelis who were sched­uled to come… would have been thought­ful peo­ple who could have told the truth of what goes on there… this kind of ex­change be­tween pro­gres­sive peo­ple sup­ports the strug­gle.”

Ebrahim is In­de­pen­dent Me­dia’s Group For­eign Edi­tor

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