Storm rages over involvement of Israeli academics in historical trauma forum
The conference, which is to be from December 5-9, is to interrogate “Recognition, Reparations, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma”, and will focus on trans-generational trauma and dealing with the repercussions of genocide, colonial oppression, and mass violence.
While the PSC statement did not call for a boycott of the conference itself, the objection was to the inclusion of six Israeli academics, given “the role that Israeli academic institutions play in planning, executing, justifying and whitewashing the Israeli state’s abuse of Palestinian human rights”, Roshan Dadoo of the PSC said.
In addition, said Dadoo, only one Palestinian academic, Mohammed Dajani from Al-Quds University, had been invited whom the PSC did not perceive as being representative of Palestinian views. The PSC had also taken issue with the title of one of the panels in the conference which it believes erroneously suggested the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a conflict between two equal sides.
The view of the organisers, however, was that none of the Israeli academics were representative of the position of the State of Israel, and were actually involved in the disruption of the Israeli narrative, encouraging young people to challenge the status quo.
The conference chairperson, Gobodo-Madikizela, had defended her decision to invite the Israeli academics in a letter to Dadoo and the PSC. But after a week of pressure the Israeli academics were removed from the programme.
Senior Israeli academics also entered the fray, with the rector of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Professor Barak Medina, writing to the rector of Stellenbosch University, Professor Wim de Villiers, to express concern that “the conference organisers have succumbed to political pressure directed against all Israeli academics, violating basic academic freedom and debate,” De Villiers said.
On the other hand, Professor Yuval Shany of Hebrew University, allegedly asked the sponsors to disassociate themselves from the conference. Shany is the chairperson in International Law and former Dean of the Law Faculty of Hebrew University and also chairperson of the UN Human Rights Committee.
Advocate Thuli Madonsela, chairperson in Social Justice at Stellenbosch University law faculty, believes that the call for the withdrawal of the Israeli-Palestinian academics is misplaced.
One of the participants who will attend, Hillary Hamburger, said, “The Israelis who were scheduled to come would have been thoughtful people who could have told the truth of what goes on there this kind of exchange between progressive people supports the struggle.”
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media’s Group Foreign Editor.