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A lecture by an Israeli diplomat at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) was cancelled on Monday, less than 24-hours before he was to speak.
In a short statement, the university said it regretted the cancellation.
It said the decision to cancel deputy ambassador Yaakov Finkelstein’s lecture had been difficult.
“The university is committed to a non-racial and democratic society where debate, dialogue and divergent viewpoints are encouraged.
“However, in view of the sensitivities of the visit and in the best interest of all parties concerned the decision was taken to cancel this lecture,” it said
Invitations to the lecture were sent out on May 16.
According to a news statement issued by the anti-Israeli group Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in SA, the lecture was cancelled on Sunday afternoon.
The university’s deputy vice chancellor Joseph Ayee sent a short e-mail to staff informing them of the cancellation.
In it, he wrote: “I have re-considered the sensitivities that the visit of the Israeli deputy ambassador have generated.
“Given the negative publicity that the visit will give UKZN, I hereby cancel the visit and the lecture by the Israeli deputy ambassador scheduled for tomorrow, Monday, 21 May 2012.
“UKZN is bigger than all of us. I believe that for an event to be held under a cloud with likely reputational damage for the institution is not in the interest of all of us.”
BDS spokesman Muhammed Desai said in a statement that Ayee's announcement came at the request of students and staff, as hosting Finkelstein would have violated the “academic boycott” of Israel.
Israeli embassy spokeswoman Hila Stern said the lecture was a regular occurrence that had been cancelled in co-operation with the university.
She said a pro-Palestinian campaign of “intimidation and threats” had reached a level where “there was a genuine threat to the diplomat’s well-being”.
She said it was a concern that a country which had fought hard for freedom of speech would allow a minority to shut it down.
“Anti-Israeli elements have embarked on a campaign of intellectual terror which rejects everything that academia believes in, meaning dialogue, discussions, research, understanding and freedom of speech,” she said.
“The use of bullying to silence freedom of expression in an academic setting is a very sad development. As the saying goes, ‘There’s none so deaf as those who will not hear.”
The university said it hoped to host the diplomat in the near future in “a collegial environment”. - Sapa