05 March 2013
TO THE ASSOCIATED STUDENTS OF STANFORD UNIVERSITY
Dear ASSU Senators,
The call by some members of Stanford’s community is both encouraging and in keeping with a proud history of ethical intervention by the university against institutions and states where human rights are violated. As South Africans, we will not forget Stanford’s divestment from companies doing business with Apartheid South Africa. We hope Stanford will once again be on the right side of history.
In recent times our university, the University of Johannesburg (UJ), was called upon to make a similar decision. Briefly, it related to re-instating an apartheid-era agreement on water research established between the predecessor of UJ, the Rand Afrikaans University and institutions in Israel implicated in discriminating against Palestinians. This attempt in August 2009 took place shortly after Amnesty International and others produced damning indictments of the acquisition of water and its discriminatory distribution to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (see reports ‘Thirsting for Social Justice’ and ‘ Troubled Waters: Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water’). The democratic, respectful and spirited debate which spanned over a year and involved almost all leading South African academic, cultural and faith-based leaders marked for all a turning point in the democratic evolution of our institution (see www.ujpetition.com).
It is unconscionable that Stanford has investments in companies that violate international human rights and humanitarian law as well as the opinion of the International Court of Justice on the ‘Separation Barrier’ referred to here in South Africa as the ‘Apartheid Wall’. We have no doubt at all that the companies named (by those sponsoring the motion to divest) are implicated in facilitating acts of collective punishment, building and maintaining the ‘Apartheid Wall’, engaging in practices that institutionally discriminate against particular groups, and operating within segregated, Israeli-only settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We can add to this list numerous other violations of human rights. By any social justice measure, these practices amount to “substantial social injury” and thus an infringement of the ‘SIRCES’ document on investment responsibility.
As citizens of a country with a history of brute racism on the one hand and both academic acquiescence and resistance to it on the other, we believe that it should not be ‘business as usual’ with those who cause social injury. A prominent feature in the UJ/water research imbroglio centred on the issue of academic freedom. Academic freedom in the case of violent occupation, apartheid, genocide and gross human rights abuse must surely bear some reference to these very conditions for the criteria of its determination. Failure to recognise this will mean that the very concept of freedom more generally, and academic freedom in particular, becomes both meaningless and bereft of any practical possibilities. We also echo both the brilliant American intellectual Howard Zinn and our own living icon, Archbishop Tutu, when they insist, “You cannot be neutral on a moving train”.
We urge Stanford University’s ASSU Undergraduate Senate to ponder over the words of Edward Said below and support the Bill sponsored by the SPER. If you do so on Tuesday the 5th of March, 2013 you will become part of a growing tide of humanity that is doing what a previous generation of students did against racist rule in South Africa.
Yours in solidarity.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign-South Africa.
Salim Vally (Phd)
Director, Centre for Education Rights and Transformation, University of Johannesburg, Adjunct Professor, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
“Nothing in my mind is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you need the approval of a boss or an authority figure; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship. For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits. Personally I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual”
Edward Said-Representations of the Intellectual, The 1993 Reith Lectures.