South African conference caves to BDS, boots Israeli academics

Israeli academics were disinvited from speaking at a South African conference due To BDS pressure.


Ben-Gurion University psychology professor, Prof. Shifra Sagy is among several Israeli academics who have been disinvited from speaking at a conference at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

Sagy, who is also the chairwoman of the Martin Springer Center for Study of Conflict Management and Resolution at BGU, told TPS on Tuesday that she was told the decision to take her off the itinerary of speakers was made by the organizers after threats were made by BDS activists “to disturb the conference.”

The conference entitled “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma,” aims to deepen understanding of trans-generational trauma and to develop strategies to deal with the repercussions of genocide, colonial oppression, and mass violence.

Both her BGU panel and panel discussion with fellow professors were removed from the itinerary, and she was sent a letter of an apology explaining the situation. As a result, Sagy decided to cancel her trip to the conference.

Sagy said she was meant to speak about peace education, its advances, managing violent conflicts, and reconciliation, which are her areas of research and expertise.

‘Offended, shocked, and astounded’

“It’s very tough what’s happened,” Sagy said. “I travel all over the world sharing this knowledge. It’s a pity that this happened when this conference is all about reconciliation. It’s a big disappointment.”

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For her, threats are not a reason not to attend. “So they will demonstrate and they will try to interrupt, and do things during the conference, and during my talk – so what? It’s not a reason not to go.”

She said four of her students who were also supposed to attend and address the conference were not going either. “They were offended, shocked and astounded by all of this. Our names have already been erased from the conference [itinerary].”

Sagy added that that the organizers of the conference felt bad for making the decision, and had apologized adding that they “respect and appreciate my work.

“I also deeply respect the organizer’s work. She [the organizer] was under stress because of the threats and had to make the difficult decision,” the BGU professor added.

Sagy said that she knows the younger generation of South Africans “identify strongly and emotionally with the Palestinians, but they don’t differentiate between Apartheid and the situation here.

“They say the situation here is worse, but they don’t understand the complexities of the situation here – the comparison is not correct,” she said. “The situation here needs to change and so does the situation there. It cannot continue like this.”

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Are politics overshadowing academics?

However, Sagy emphasized that politics should not interfere with academia.

“If this is the academic world now, then I don’t know. I understand the political sphere doesn’t want to hear what I have to say, but for an academic conference to erase my name and my students names – this is very difficult to accept.

“The interference of the political sphere in academia is frightening – academics, also here, are frightened about it. Academia never use to allow politics to enter, but now the doors are wide open,” Sagy said.

She said she had received a “violent and aggressive letter” from BDS groups and activists in South Africa including South African Jews for Free Palestine, which had left her shocked, and which she had sent to the president of the university to ask for advice and support.

In the letter addressed to speakers and organizers, the groups including BDS South Africa, SAJFP, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SA) among others, wrote that they “call on the conference organizers to withdraw the participation of the Israeli Academics.”

“We call on the conference organizers, speakers, participants and sponsors to make a public statement in unequivocal support of the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural boycott of apartheid Israel,” they wrote in the letter.

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The groups also called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, saying that Israeli academic institutions are complicit in the advance of “Israeli-apartheid,” claiming that “there are many ways in which Israeli academic institutions collude with and advance the occupation,ethnic cleansing and racism in fields as diverse as engineering, geography, demography, hydrology, archaeology, history and even psychology,” adding that allowing the Israeli delegates to speak effectively “normalizes Israeli apartheid, a move we cannot abide by.”