Seven academics from three Israeli universities have had their invitations withdrawn from a conference at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, following calls by several pro-Palestinian groups that their participation would have betrayed the conference’s aims, and South Africa’s own struggle history.
Entitled “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma”, the aim of the conference, which will begin on 5 December, is to deepen understanding of trans-generational trauma and to develop strategies to deal with the repercussions of genocide, colonial oppression, and mass violence.
In a statement earlier this week, eighteen solidarity groups called on the conference’s organisers, speakers, participants and sponsors to withdraw Israeli participation.
“The participation of Israeli academics at a conference of such moral and intellectual significance is unacceptable, given the role that Israeli academic institutions play in planning, executing, justifying, and whitewashing the Israeli state’s abuse of Palestinian human rights, numerous violations of international law – and even war crimes,” said the group.
Chairperson of the conference committee, award-winning author and activist, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, confirmed that all seven academics from three Israeli institutions had “rescinded their participation” in the conference.
“We take no pleasure in having to make this call [for the Israeli academics’ participation to be withdrawn],” said Stiaan van der Merwe from Kairos Southern Africa, a Christian group in support of the Palestinian liberation struggle.
“Sad as it might be towards the individuals as colleagues and as fellow human beings, we cannot avoid this difficult moment by calling for a strong message of solidarity with Palestinians and with resistance to Israeli apartheid and against the historic trauma currently perpetuated.”
The groups are also calling on the conference organisers to support the rationale of the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
“The rationale for the call of the cultural and academic boycott of Israel is for Israel to extend full human and civil rights to all citizens of Israel, to end the occupation, and enable the Palestinian right to return. Notably, all these demands are consistent with international humanitarian law,” said Roshan Dadoo of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, one of the groups endorsing the statement.
Critics of the academic boycott claim that it threatens academic freedom. The pro-Palestine groups, however, argue that academic freedom does not take automatic precedence over human rights, as an earlier generation of academics who boycotted apartheid South Africa, demonstrated.
The four-day conference features several prominent academics and activists, including Achille Mbembe, Homi Bhabha, Albie Sachs, Zackie Achmat, and Lindiwe Hani.