Friday 25 March 2011

U. of Johannesburg Official: 'UJ Is Not Part of an Academic Boycott of Israel'

Two days after the University of Johannesburg Senate voted to cancel a research agreement with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, hailed as a victory by the anti-Israel boycott campaign, the vice chancellor of the Johannesburg university issued a statement saying that "UJ is not part of an academic boycott of Israel."

On March 23, 60 percent of the Johannesburg Senate voted to end a joint project with Ben-Gurion University, in Beersheba, involving research to prevent algae from forming in Johannesburg's reservoir.

The University of Johannesburg's Petition Committee, which had led the campaign to cancel the project, called the vote "a landmark moment in the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel campaign,"and said it hoped the move would trigger "a domino boycott effect."

The vote was condemned by many Jewish groups. The Anti-Defamation League in New York called it "misguided and shortsighted," saying it "would ill-serve South Africans, Palestinians, and Israelis, and do nothing to promote reconciliation and understanding."

But Ihron Rensburg, vice chancellor and principal of Johannesburg, issued a statement on Friday saying that "UJ is not part of an academic boycott of Israel. UJ holds the view that given the current situation in the Middle East, the formal institutional agreement between UJ and BGU is an insurmountable obstacle to either institution facilitating a wider dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian academics."

"It has never been UJ's intention to sever all ties with BGU, although it may have been the intention of some UJ staff members," said Mr. Rensburg.

"This Senate resolution does not prevent individual academics from continuing and engaging in research and other partnerships with their peers from BGU and other institutions around the world, as is currently the practice in many cases," he added.

"The UJ Senate vote, in fact, encourages peer-to-peer engagements, and UJ stands ready to assist in facilitating this effort and to put resources in place to support these relationships," he added.

A representative of Ben-Gurion University described the statement as "an interesting twist, although it looks like semantics."

Thursday 24 March 2011

South African University Is First to Open Academic Boycott of Israeli Counterpart

By Matthew Kalman

The international campaign for an academic boycott of Israel claimed its first success on Wednesday when the University of Johannesburg Senate voted to pull out of a two-year-old joint research project with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to battle algae that are infesting the South African city's reservoir.

The vote means that the University of Johannesburg is the first academic institution in the world to formally cut ties with an Israeli university as a result of pressure by supporters of the international boycott campaign.

In a written statement, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel working group lauded the move, saying it set a "worldwide precedent."

The Senate vote followed a decision last September to end links with its Israeli counterpart if it found "direct or indirect military implications" to the relationship. The Senate had called on Ben-Gurion to form partnerships with Palestinian universities and ordered a review of the ties between the two institutions before April.

A fact-finding mission of officials from Johannesburg visited Ben-Gurion in February to see conditions on the Israeli campus for themselves. Ben-Gurion officials believed the visit had been a success. They are proud of the praise heaped on the university by Nelson Mandela when he accepted an honorary doctorate there, in 1997. The university conducts a number of joint projects, particularly on water and desert research, with Palestinian and Jordanian institutions and scholars.

The Ben-Gurion Student Association's chairman, Uri Keidar, who met the delegation from South Africa, wrote to its members afterward, saying, "I find it difficult to believe that BGU, the home of 20,000 free-thinking students of different religious and ethnic backgrounds, is under this brutal attack. These accusations, although faulty, are being presented as scholarly facts, which I find very disturbing."

But University of Johannesburg officials told the Senate before Wednesday's vote that no Palestinian university had been found to team up with Ben-Gurion on the algae project. Sixty percent of the Senate voted to cancel the research agreement in a secret ballot.

The University of Johannesburg's Petition Committee, which led the campaign, said in a prepared statement that the Senate had also found "significant" evidence that Ben-Gurion's research and other projects supported the Israeli military and, in particular, its occupation of Gaza.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but tensions and cross-border violence persist, including rocket fire from Gaza in recent days that was met with Israeli airstrikes.

The University of Johannesburg "is the first institution to officially sever relations with an Israeli university—a landmark moment in the growing boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel campaign," said the committee, hoping that it would trigger "a domino boycott effect."

Zev Krengel, national chair of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, condemned the vote as "playing to narrow-minded political prejudice and ... a severe setback for constructive intellectual engagement in South Africa."

"Rather than availing itself of a scientific cooperative project in the water-purification field that has enormous potential benefits for South Africa," Mr. Krengel said, the university "has chosen instead to further the agenda of a group of anti-Israel agitators."

Ben-Gurion University officials said they regretted the Johannesburg decision and stood by their record of cross-border co-operation with Palestinian and other institutions.

"Canceling this agreement, which was designed to solve real problems of water contamination in a reservoir near Johannesburg, will only hurt the residents of South Africa," said the university's president, Rivka Carmi. "The only losers in this decision are the people of South Africa."

Wednesday 23 March 2011


Story Image
Thursday March 17, 2011

By Matthew Kalman

Janice Abu Hani, 42, explains why she ditched her animal-loving life in the Midlands for the Israeli desert....

I HAD a typically English childhood. I grew up in Acocks Green in Birmingham with my parents and elder sister. I was always mad about horses and went riding every weekend. My grandad used to work on the railways with the big shire horses and my dad always kept a couple.

I dreamt of working with animals. Sometimes I used to go up to my dad’s smallholding with a sleeping bag and sleep in the stable.

My dream did come true, my house and yard are full of animals that I use to teach local children not to be violent. However, in all my fantasies of adult life I never pictured myself married to a Bedouin man, speaking Arabic and living in Rahat, a Bedouin town in the Israeli desert.

After I left school at 16 I got a job looking after a deaf and blind girl at the Elizabeth Gunn Centre in Birmingham.

I expected to spend the rest of my life in the city, working with the disabled, clubbing with friends in the evenings and riding horses at the weekend.

However, everything changed in 1988 when I turned 19 and went to Eilat, Israel, on holiday and met a waiter at a hotel. Talab was so good-looking and we hit it off.

After two weeks I came back home and we started writing to each other. After a month, I returned to Israel. I sold my horse and car and bought a one-way ticket. I didn’t know if it was going to be serious with Talab but I wanted to give it a try.

My friends thought I was nuts. My mum was worried but everyone said I could always come home if it didn’t work out.

Talab was different to my other boyfriends and the whole experience was like a big adventure.

Talab, now 48, got me a job as a chambermaid and we lived in the hotel. I experienced discrimination from a few Israeli workers and guests who asked me how I could go out with an Arab.

I was brought up a Catholic but I never had any reservations about being with someone from such a different background.

We stayed in Eilat for almost two years but after a few months I knew I wanted to marry Talab. We started talking about going to England but the British embassy said Talab could only stay for three months unless we married, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to get a visa or work.

M Y family had already met him when I took him home for my 21st birthday but his family was a different matter. Their plan was for him to go home and marry a good Bedouin girl. They knew he had a girlfriend but I hadn’t met them because Talab hid me from them.

In January 1990 we went to England and got married without telling Talab’s parents, though we sent them the photos. We stayed for three years and I continued my work with deaf and blind people while Talab worked as a waiter at the Metropole Hotel in Birmingham.

Our three sons, Michael, 18, Sammy, 17, and 16-year-old Adam were all born in Birmingham. When Sammy was six months old he was diagnosed with asthma and we thought the climate in Israel would be better for him. The night we arrived in Rahat, Talab’s family sent a convoy of cars to meet us at the airport and threw a huge party to greet us. They were really happy about our marriage. In Bedouin culture, having three sons is like hitting the jackpot so they welcomed me like one of their own daughters.

I finally met my mother-in-law and learned a few things about my new family. I noticed a woman hanging around the house who was really helpful but she didn’t seem to go home. Talab hadn’t told me his dad had a second wife. I knew Talab had two sisters and a brother but they were his own mother’s children. He also had six brothers and three sisters from his father’s second wife.

Talab, now a manager at a nearby hotel, has become more religious recently but he won’t be taking a second wife. Not if he wants to keep breathing!

I became a Muslim in a simple ceremony and we had a Muslim wedding but I didn’t change my clothes or my habits. It was difficult to adjust in the beginning because of the language. Some objected to me riding a horse because women don’t do that here but I insisted. My children were so young when they moved here they don’t recall any other lifestyle. Today I speak Arabic like any Bedouin woman but I don’t cover my hair or wear long robes. I don’t pray or fast at Ramadan.

The family don’t say anything about it and I’m very close to them. I try not to drink alcohol which is forbidden under Islam. I can put any animal I want in the garden and nobody complains. I have a horse called Prince, which I rescued from near death, Molly the goat, Shula the dog and a donkey called Shrek who has only one-and-a-half ears.

Sometimes when I walk through Rahat, people gossip and the kids tease me. I’m the only woman in the village who rides a horse and some people mind. Many have told me I’m not going to go to Heaven. I tell them I’ll get there first. I’ve done nothing wrong, I help animals and I help people. I’m sure God will make an exception that I didn’t cover my hair.

Rahat is a Bedouin town on the edge of the Negev desert. There are about 200,000 Bedouin in Israel. They were semi-nomadic but they have been forced to settle in a few towns. It has created a lot of problems.

There is high unemployment so there are lots of young men just hanging around and there is a lot of violence. Arguments and disputes escalate quickly to guns and knives. That’s what I’m trying to address with my animal classes for children.

I’ve long been concerned about the violence towards animals in Rahat. If it’s got four legs and it moves, the kids will just kill it so I hold sessions in the house teaching children how to treat animals and be kind to them. We have a whole menagerie in the front room: ferrets, rabbits, mice, doves, gerbils, budgies and a disabled cat.

Violence is part of the culture here and it’s something that really needs to be addressed. If we can get in at nursery level and go into schools and teach them non-violence and respect for each other by being respectful to the animals, I think we have a good chance to change things. It’s better to start young than trying to change their attitudes later.

I opened my own daycare centre to provide good nursery education in 1996. In 2002 I worked in a residential home in Rahat with mentally and physically challenged Arab-Bedouin children and I saw how they were treated.

We decided to save at least one child from going into a home. That’s when we started fostering children with disabilities.

We then adopted a girl with developmental problems. I try to make real positive change in the lives of the most vulnerable children.

In 2008 I became director of the early childhood resource and training centre at the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace, a non-profit organisation promoting peace and development. I also co-ordinated its community education and family literacy project.

The violence and crime rate in Rahat is extremely high. Families fight and even shoot at each other. There are a lot of guns around and any dispute quickly gets violent but when friends from home ask if it’s hard to live here, I tell them: “Not at all.” I love Israel.

I don’t know what it is: there’s more time here, a slower pace to life and my Arabic is fluent.

When I speak Hebrew people laugh because I sound like a Bedouin. I speak English to my children although I’ve lost some of my Brummie accent.

Ultimately, if I weren’t happy, I wouldn’t stay. I’d never go back to England which is hard because my parents live there but I talk to them on the phone. This is my natural place. I’m a Bedouin and that’s that.

Janice Abu Hani is featured in the new documentary Back And Forth (Ruth Diskin Films, 2010). Visit

Friday 18 March 2011

For Einstein’s Birthday, Hebrew U. Unveils Online Archive of Physicist’s Work


WIRED CAMPUS March 18, 2011, 12:09 pm

Jerusalem—To mark Israel’s National Science Day on March 14, which by no coincidence is also Einstein’s birthday, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced that his entire archive of 80,000 documents held as a bequest by the university will be digitized and put online, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Polonsky Foundation of London.

“Our goal is to build a user-friendly, inclusive digital database,” said Menahem Ben-Sasson, president of Hebrew University and a professor of history.

The project will make the full archive accessible for students and researchers everywhere, as well as ensure its preservation for future generations.

Einstein’s papers were originally housed at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he was appointed to a professorship in 1933 after fleeing Nazi Germany and remained until his death in 1955. Einstein was among the founders of Hebrew University and left his entire archive to the university in his will.

The Einstein archives are considered one of the most significant resources in the world for the history of modern physics. They contain many of his original scientific manuscripts and Einstein’s personal correspondence to and from family and friends, as well as writings on political and other matters during his lifetime.

The digitization project is expected to be completed in about one year, when it will be readily accessible on the Albert Einstein Archives Web site.

“This project unites the Hebrew University Library with digitization projects of the Polonsky Foundation recently launched at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library and Cambridge University Library,” said Leonard Polonsky, executive chairman of Hansard Global PLC and head of the foundation that is backing the digitization.

Since 2003, the Einstein Archives Online has allowed viewing and browsing of 3,000 digitized images of 900 documents selected from Einstein’s writings, together with a Finding Aid allowing access to descriptions of the entire repository of Einstein papers at the university.

An archival database has allowed direct access to approximately 43,000 records of Einstein-related documents, but not to their content. Until now, Internet users have been only been able to access images of Einstein’s handwritten manuscripts. Facsimiles of correspondence, typewritten manuscripts, photos, and audio material have not been available online.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

After Abbas

Faced with upheaval across the Middle East, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called elections for September. But it’s unclear who might run to succeed him, if the aging leader really does step down.

The day after Hosni Mubarak fell in Egypt, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced [1] that elections for the president and legislative council of the Palestinian Authority would be held by September. Forty-eight hours later, he asked for the resignation of the current Cabinet. “The new government should concentrate its efforts on mobilizing its energies to prepare national institutions for the establishment of an independent state of Palestine before the deadline of next September,” Abbas said.
The Palestinian leader has just seven months to reach a working relationship with Hamas, which controls Gaza and which rejects the PA government, or the elections cannot be held in Gaza. Early indications are not promising. Hamas spokesmen flatly rejected the idea of rapprochement, despite an offer from Fatah Central Committee member Nabil Sha’ath to travel there and agree to “any conditions” the group might demand. “I don’t know if there will be an independent state around September and if we will see another president in the coming months or even after September,” Nabil Amr, a former Palestinian Cabinet minister and ambassador to Cairo and Moscow, told me. A confidant of both Yasser Arafat and Abbas, Amr has become a gadfly critic of the leaders he once advised.
While Abbas’ commitment to the September deadline could be dismissed as Palestinian rhetoric in the style of Yasser Arafat’s pledge to declare an independent state in September 2000, this time the Palestinian leadership may have no choice, given the wave of popular revolts rolling across the Arab world and the Palestinians’ own internal problems. A week after the fall of the Tunisian government in January, Al Jazeera began publishing the “Palestine Papers [2]”—a WikiLeaks-style trove of documents detailing confidential peace talks between Palestinian negotiators and Israel that portrayed the Palestinian team as weak and desperate. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat initially denounced the documents as forgeries, but he was later forced to confirm their authenticity and resigned. Meanwhile, attention shifted to events [3] in Egypt, where mass demonstrations led to Mubarak’s resignation on February 11.
The loss of Erekat, a key confidante, was a serious problem for Abbas. Even worse was the fall of Mubarak, a stout supporter of Fatah and opponent of Hamas. “The Palestinian leaders don’t have a good response to what is happening,” says analyst Hani al-Masri at the Palestine Media, Research and Studies Centre [4]. “They are afraid because they lost their big friend and ally.” Al-Masri adds that the only way to achieve the unity with Hamas necessary to conduct elections and a breakthrough in the peace talks that will bring about independence by the September deadline is for the Palestinian leaders to change both their tactics and leadership. “Abu Mazen”—as Abbas is known—“must say seriously that he is not running in the next election,” says al-Masri. “We must prepare ourselves for the future.”
Hafez Barghouti, editor of the semi-official Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida and a veteran Fatah insider, says the party is failing to prepare for the inevitable generational handover of power. “Abu Mazen is old and he doesn’t want to be like the Arab leaders, to be fired by the people,” says Barghouti. “But I don’t know who will be the new leader. From Fatah I don’t see anybody. I cannot see a good leader or a popular leader now from Fatah. Fatah till now is sleeping.”
Hatem Abdel Kader, a former Palestinian minister for Jerusalem and a prominent leader of the young guard with close connections to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah, echoes Amr’s call for Fatah to get its act together while still maintaining his support for Abbas.
“Fatah is the movement of our people, Fatah is the leader of our national project, and only Fatah can achieve our national project—but we need to clean up our home,” says Abdel Kader. “Right now we haven’t any choice, only Abu Mazen. After Abu Mazen, I don’t know.”
The absence of any natural successor to Abbas either now or in the future is likely to spell trouble for Fatah, for the Palestinian national movement, and for Israelis hoping for a peace partner. Observers agree that while Palestinian Prime Minster Salam Fayyad has built enormous political capital with his “Homestretch to Freedom” plan [5] for Palestinian statehood, his closeness [6] to the Americans makes him an object of suspicion, and there is no chance he can win an election as an independent.
“Salam Fayyad is a good man, but he is not from Fatah,” says pollster Nabil Kukali, director-general of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion in Beit Sahour. “If Fatah will support Fayyad I’m sure he will win the elections. But if Fatah have their own candidate it will be very difficult for Fayyad.”
Several members of the Palestinian Central Committee who were elected in 2009 appear to have dropped out of contention for a leadership role. Saeb Erekat’s chances were probably destroyed by the Palestine Papers leaks. Tawfik Tirawi, a former head of Palestinian General Intelligence, prefers to play a backroom role as chief security adviser to Abbas. Jibril Rajoub, former head of Preventive Security in the West Bank, is reveling in his new job as head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee and Football Association and refuses to discuss anything except soccer and athletics.
Polls suggest that the potential candidate likely to win the largest majority in a post-Abbas presidential election is Marwan Barghouti [7], currently serving five life terms in an Israeli jail for his part in launching terror attacks against Israelis during the intifada. While Fatah leaders respect Barghouti, they rule out his candidacy as impractical.
“Marwan Barghouti could be an excellent candidate, but he is in an Israeli prison,” says Hanna Siniora, a veteran Fatah leader in Jerusalem. Amr concurs: “I like him and he’s my friend, but who will nominate a president in prison? It will be a joke.”
Recent events also suggest that Abbas, far from encouraging a smooth leadership transition, is working hard to deter would-be successors from staking a claim to the presidency. Until November, one obvious front-runner was Mohammed Dahlan, 49, the feared former commander of Palestinian Preventive Security in Gaza. Dahlan’s U.S.-trained and -equipped forces were roundly defeated by the Hamas Executive Force and expelled from Gaza in 2007. Some 400 Fatah fighters and activists were killed in that battle. But Dahlan bounced back from that humiliation to secure a seat on the Central Committee in 2009. Dahlan had established close ties with U.S. and British intelligence during his tenure as Gaza security chief and amassed a sizable personal fortune, with which he began to build a power base in the West Bank.
But last fall, Dahlan was suddenly stripped [8] of his official duties and accused of financial and other misdeeds after he criticized the business dealings of the president’s family. An unprecedented attack on Dahlan published by the PLO’s official WAFA news agency announced a full-scale investigation into Dahlan’s alleged corruption and linked him to a plot to overthrow Abbas also involving Nasser al-Kidwa, Yasser Arafat’s nephew and a former foreign minister and PLO representative to the United Nations—and another possible successor to Abbas.
Indeed, al-Kidwa’s name comes up frequently in conversations with senior Fatah officials about successors. Now 57, al-Kidwa was talent-spotted in his teens by his uncle and charged with turning the General Union of Palestinian Students into an international force to help Fatah consolidate its control of the PLO while also serving as a nursery for future Palestinian leaders.
In the modest basement office he now occupies as the head of the Yasser Arafat Foundation [9], al-Kidwa is clearly caught between a desire to continue his uncle’s legacy, his frustration at the current leadership’s lack of progress in the peace process, and his shock at the public accusation that he was plotting with Dahlan to overthrow Abbas.
Al-Kidwa bears an uncanny resemblance to his late uncle—he favors business suits over military fatigues—but Fatah kingmakers are divided as to whether he has what it takes to fill Arafat’s shoes. His supporters cite his rich diplomatic experience, impressive intellect, and his freedom from the taint of corruption that swirls around many other Fatah officials. Detractors say he is largely untried on the domestic scene and his profile since returning from diplomatic service has been too low to attract much following among the 400,000 registered members of Fatah.
One Israeli diplomat who frequently locked horns with al-Kidwa at the United Nations said he was a force to be reckoned with. “He is very intelligent, extremely slippery, and he can be unnecessarily aggressive,” said the Israeli. Many Palestinians may feel that is exactly the kind of person they could use right now at the helm of their drifting ship.
Al-Kidwa says the conspiracy allegations published by the official news agency are symptomatic of a leadership that has lost touch with its own people and frozen democratic institutions like the legislative council.
“We are seeing a decrease in the amount of tolerance of other opinions, of opposition, of dissent,” says al-Kidwa. “There is an absence of democratic check and balance and a muting of opposition generally, especially after the military coup d’etat in Gaza. This led to more accumulation, more centralization of power. Part of this is not our making. Part of this is a result of the Hamas military coup in Gaza, the situation here, the lack of progress in the peace process. But irrespective of whose fault this might be, the results are not nice.”
He denounces the Hamas regime in Gaza as “authoritarian and merciless” but says the priority must be a power-sharing agreement that will allow Hamas to fully participate in the PLO and the Palestinian Authority without needing to join a government whose peaceful program they would be unable to endorse. He is confident that Hamas can be persuaded to drop its demands for Israel’s destruction.
“They have a really very serious problem,” al-Kidwa says of Hamas. “They don’t have answers either for the Palestinian people or for themselves.”
While he praises Salam Fayyad as “a serious man” and lauds his achievements in recent years, he says the idea that building institutions [10]can bring a Palestinian state into existence is “deeply flawed” in the absence of a coherent political program, both at home and internationally. He says there should be much more pressure on the Israelis from the United Nations and other international institutions to produce an agreement, since direct negotiations have clearly failed.
Evidently, he has thought long and hard about the new policies that could be pursued under a new leader. Will he run in the planned election, if it happens? “I’m not sure, to tell you the truth,” al-Kidwa replies. “There is total confusion when it comes to whatever might happen next.”
Matthew Kalman [11] is a foreign correspondent and filmmaker based in Jerusalem.