Pro-Palestinian activists call for Israeli academics to withdraw from Stellenbosch conference

A Palestinian boy holding his national flag looks at clashes with Israeli security forces near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel east of Gaza City. Picture: AFP / Mahmud Hams.

The four-day gathering features several prominent academics and activists, including Achille Mbembe, Homi Bhabha, Albie Sachs, Zackie Achmat, and Lindiwe Hani. 

Several South African pro-Palestine solidarity groups are calling for the withdrawal of Israeli academics from a conference at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa from December 5 to 9.

Entitled “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma”, the aim of the conference is to deepen understanding of trans-generational trauma and to develop strategies to deal with the repercussions of genocide, colonial oppression, and mass violence, the Afro-Palestine Newswire reported on Monday.

Award-winning author and scholar Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela is the chairperson of the conference committee and the four-day gathering features several prominent academics and activists, including Achille Mbembe, Homi Bhabha, Albie Sachs, Zackie Achmat, and Lindiwe Hani.

The closing ceremony will celebrate 20 years of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) member Roshan Dadoo said: “We are unequivocal in our support for the conference and this is not an appeal to boycott the conference as a whole.

“However, 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.”

In a statement, the groups are calling on the conference organisers, speakers, participants and sponsors 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,” Dadoo said.

Dr Stiaan van der Merwe from Kairos Southern Africa, a Christian group in support of the Palestinian liberation struggle, said: “The heart of the statement represents a call of conscience.”

According to van der Merwe, the pro-Palestine groups are calling on organisers and others associated with the conference, to act courageously in a show of moral, political, and historical conscience.

“We are calling on them to honour the South African and international history of struggle against apartheid; to act in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against Israeli apartheid and its occupation of Palestine; and to honour the integrity and importance of the conference theme.”

Dadoo said none of the Israeli delegates is known for having publicly supported the reasons for the academic boycott of Israel.

“We, therefore, must assume that they remain part of the silent majority implicated in a currently-unfolding historical trauma.”

The statement also notes the seeming absence of authentic Palestinian academics.

Stellenbosch professor of psychology, Ashraf Kagee, said: “It is inconceivable that a conference dedicated to understanding historic trauma would only include the voices of Israeli academics.”

Kagee conducts capacity-building work with a community mental health programme in the Gaza Strip where he has seen first-hand the traumatic effects of Israel’s brutal military attacks on the besieged coastal enclave, the Afro-Palestine Newswire reports.

“We take no pleasure in having to make this call,” van der Merwe said.

“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.”

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