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SAfrican school presses Israelis on Palestinians

University of Johannesburg professors rejected calls to sever ties with an Israeli university Wednesday, but called on Ben-Gurion University to work with its Palestinian counterparts.

Calls for similar academic boycotts to protest Israel's Palestinian policies also have failed in the West.

The South African university's faculty senate met Wednesday to vote on the proposal, which had been endorsed by anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but instead accepted a compromise without a vote. They asked Ben-Gurion University to work with Palestinian universities on research projects, and to start the collaborations within six months if it wants to maintain ties with the University of Johannesburg.

UJ Vice Chancellor Adam Habib said the compromise reflected his institution's values.

"We believe in reconciliation," Habib said. "We'd like to bring BGU and Palestinian universities together to produce a collective engagement that benefits everyone."

The universities have joint research projects and academic exchanges on biotechnology and water purification.

Relations between Ben-Gurion University and Rand Afrikaans University, a formerly all-white university under South Africa's apartheid system, began in 1987. The University of Johannesburg, created in 2005, took over various campuses including Rand Afrikaans University and a university in the black township of Soweto as part of efforts to ensure higher education was transformed with the rest of South Africa after the end of apartheid.

Israel officially opposed apartheid, but its ties with the white government were seen as close. South Africa's post-apartheid government has been a sharp critic of Israel's Palestinian policies. The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was among the guests at Nelson Mandela's 1994 inauguration as South Africa's first black president.

Tutu and more than 200 prominent South African academics had supported ending UJ's links with the Israeli institution.

"Israeli universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice," Tutu wrote in an essay that appeared in a South African newspaper Sunday. "While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation."

UJ Professor Farid Esack, who teaches Islamic studies, said he disagreed with the decision.

"The university could've gone much further — Israel is an apartheid state and we should be disconnected from it," he said.

Academic boycotts of Israeli universities have been inspired by boycotts of South African institutions during apartheid. A 2003 proposal for British universities to sever all ties with Israeli academic institutions was defeated. Two years later Britain's Association of University Teachers voted to boycott Israel's Haifa and Bar Ilan universities. That decision was overturned only a month later under fierce international pressure.

U.S. professors and students also have called for academic and cultural boycotts of Israel.

The moves have prompted sharp criticism. Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz once threatened legal action that would "devastate and bankrupt" anyone who boycotts Israeli universities.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League described the British moves as anti-Semitic, arguing Israel was being singled out while human rights violators such as Iran, Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe were ignored.