Sep 6, 2012

The Wits SRC unanimously votes to boycott Israel - a letter

A letter to the president of the University of the Witwatersrand's Student Representative Council after an unanimous decision to adopt a call to culturally and academically boycott Israel.

To:      Mr. Tebogo Thotela
           President of the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC)

Dear Mr. President,

I attentively listened to your statement1 explaining the reasons and decision-making process for the unanimous decision subsequently passed by your council to boycott Israel.

As a South African who grew up during the Apartheid era in South Africa, and as an Israeli living in Israel, I would like to request, with your kind permission, a few clarifications regarding some of your statements and the decision taken by your council.

You clearly state that the SRC "got a presentation from the PSC [Palestinian Student Council] around the situation going on in Israel/Palestine". As a result the SRC decided "to take deliberations, discuss, debate and do [your] own research" on the issue. After having apparently done this, the council resolved to "call for a total cultural and academic boycott of Israel".

As President of a Council, which by definition represents all students regardless of race, color, creed and religion, I am sure that transparency and disclosure are values upheld by the SRC. In light of this, I would like to request some information on the deliberations, debate and research undertaken by your council in reaching the abovementioned call. Specifically I would like to know what research was undertaken and who opposed the resolution and the final decision. Since debate, by definition, is a discussion in which opposing arguments are put forward, I am sure you can provide some information and light on the opposing arguments.

Pending your reply, I would not like to assume that very few arguments from the opposing point-of-view were debated. This would certainly not fall in line with categorical policies of the SRC and the prestige of the university whose students you represent.

Unfortunately you may have drawn an incorrect parallel between Apartheid South Africa and Israel based on the information presented, or lack thereof. The times are different, the histories, the peoples, the cultures and circumstances have absolutely no similarity whatsoever, unless one relies on cheap unfounded anti-Israel rhetoric and disinformation published by certain groups. As your own South African government official Mr. Kenneth Meshoe says2, "the claim that Israel is an Apartheid State minimize the pain of those who suffered under Apartheid" and expose ignorance by claiming doing so.

You also mention that you "feel that it is your duty to stand up to Apartheid even if it is miles away". I would also like to ask why Israel was singled out as the most urgent issue to address. In many countries surrounding Israel we see many types of Apartheid; gender Apartheid; religious Apartheid; sexual preference Apartheid, yet the SRC has chosen to single out Israel, a sovereign democratic country in which women, Christians, Moslems, gays and all other minority groups enjoy equal rights.  How so? Regretfully, I intuitively suspect that certain groups are cynically exploiting the pains of Apartheid to further their cause by turning the SRC into a propaganda tool since a cultural and academic boycott of Israel is so counterproductive to the interests of South Africa as explained by a fellow South African Maurice Ostroff in his article in The Times of Israel3.

I would like to believe that the SRC's one month of research and debate was undertaken in good faith while adhering to the moral ethics and standards which the university holds in the highest esteem.

I await your reply and thank you in advance for the attention that this matter deserves.

Laurence Seeff