OUTH AFRICA, Monday, November 26, 2018 (WAFA) – Several South African pro-Palestine solidarity groups called for the withdrawal of Israeli academics from a conference to be held at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa from 5-9 December.
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 develop strategies to deal with the repercussions of genocide, colonial oppression, and mass violence.
The conference committee is chaired by award-winning author and scholar, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, and the 4-day gathering features several prominent academics and activists, including Achille Mbembe, Homi Bhaba, 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.
“We are unequivocal in our support for the conference, and this is not an appeal to boycott the conference as a whole,” says Roshan Dadoo from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).
“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,” explained Dadoo.
In a statement, the groups are calling on the conference organizers, 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,” says Dadoo.
“The heart of the statement represents a call of conscience” says Stiaan van der Merwe from Kairos Southern Africa, a Christian group in support of the Palestinian liberation struggle.
According to van der Merwe, the pro-Palestine groups are calling on organizers, and others associated with the conference, to act courageously in a show of moral, political and historical conscience. “We are calling on them to honor 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 honor the integrity and importance of the conference theme.”
According to Dadoo, none of the Israeli delegates are 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.
One conference participant, Mohammed Dajani, visited South Africa in 2016 as a guest of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies as a counter to the annual global Palestine solidarity event, ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’.
According to the statement, Dajani was promoted by the pro-Israel lobby to posit a so-called ‘moderate’ Palestinian line, much as Bantustan and other figures were used by the South African apartheid regime to break international boycotts and sanctions and promote the idea that apartheid was a political dispute in which there were two equal sides in conflict.
Stellenbosch psychology professor, Ashraf Kagee stated: “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.
“If this conference on historical trauma turns away from the fact that the State of Israel is conducting a war against the Palestinian people’s very right to exist and is silent on this matter, then there can be little meaningful contribution to knowledge on the recognition of past and current world traumas, on the politics of remembering and interpreting historical and current traumas, and on articulating different understandings of reparations for the too many horrors of the 20th and 21st centuries,” cautioned Kagee.
“We take no pleasure in having to make this call,” says van der Merwe.
“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.”