Various articles published on IOL have caused misunderstandings about the intervention by a number of Palestine solidarity groups and concerned academics regarding the imminent conference taking place in Stellenbosch University entitled “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma”. We would, therefore, like to set the record straight.
Eleven Palestine solidarity groups signed a statement issued to the conference organisers on 22nd November after wide consultation with Palestinian and Israeli academics and academics at Stellenbosch and other South African Universities. We collectively expressed our unequivocal support for the conference and gave detailed reasons for our concern about the Israeli participation.
After issuing our statement we had a fruitful and open engagement with Prof Gobodo- Madikizela. We were surprised that Prof Gobodo-Madikizela’s letter to us was published in full without our collective response which was sent and received by Prof Gobodo- Madikizela. Her letter was part of a constructive process including meetings and correspondence but was published outside of this context.
In order to clarify our position on a number of points, we draw readers' attention to the short statement issued by Palestine solidarity groups on 1 December:
Palestinian solidarity groups welcome the conference chair’s willingness to engage us with integrity and her principled stance to side with social justice despite the pressure she has faced.
In line with guidelines and advice received from the Palestine Academic and Cultural Boycott Initiative (PACBI), we have at no point called for a boycott of the conference as we made clear in our initial statement . The guidelines call for an institutional academic boycott, which is not appropriate in this instance, and take a firm stance against individual boycotts, including of Israeli academics.
We questioned how the conference was structured so as to give primacy to the Israeli narrative, that of the oppressor community, over that of oppressed Palestinians. We viewed this to be a deviation from the conference’s laudable goals.
It is common sense that had Saudi academics been invited to a conference to speak about the war on Yemen from a Saudi perspective, with complete disregard of the Yemeni narrative, we would have raised the same concerns.
While the media and pro-Israel groups have attempted to falsely portray our actions as part of PACBI’s institutional academic boycott, we wish to reiterate that we acted as groups committed to social justice making common sense objections to distortions of the conference’s aims. Indeed, we share the aims and objectives of the conference and encourage participants to ensure it is a success.
Our concerns over the participation of individual Israeli academics in this context were not relevant to their identity or nationality. We questioned the participation of Israeli academics in the absence of representative Palestinian speakers, the attempt at normalisation and the false impression of symmetry between oppressed and stateless Palestinians and a brutally oppressive Israeli state.
We are united in our view that full human and civil rights should extend to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and end to the occupation of Palestinian land and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. All these demands are consistent with international law.
We note that the pro-Israeli South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and some articles in the media have referred to “violent threats” made against the Israeli academics resulting in their withdrawal. We state categorically that we have made no such threats of violence or of disrupting the conference. These accusations seek to deflect attention away from the apartheid nature and practices of the Israeli state and are, instead, an attempt to cast Israel's apologists as victims.
The true victims are Palestinians - those who face periodic atrocities and war crimes, more than a decade-long medieval-like siege of Gaza, daily repression, detention without trial, hundreds of child detainees, military courts, ethnic cleansing and a violation of education rights and the lack of academic freedom.
As South Africans, we see in the recent promulgation of the nation-state law, a culmination and a consolidation of racism, discrimination and apartheid-like policies. Israel is now a fully- fledged apartheid state - a crime against humanity and a violation of international law.
Our statement has communicated our legitimate concerns based on our desire for a just peace in Palestine and an appeal to people’s conscience. Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
arguably the moral conscience of the world, and a person this conference correctly pays homage to, has on many occasions reminded us of the need for solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for dignity and basic human and democratic rights, rights we were once denied.
As apartheid Israel’s crimes become more unconscionable and the need to take a principled stand becomes more urgent, it is crucial to provide meaningful solidarity, not platitudes, rhetoric and homilies.
Solidarity with Palestinians is now an international movement as the struggle against apartheid South Africa once was. We call on all participants of this important conference to play a role in this movement and to be on the right side of history.
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.