University in South Africa cancels Israeli official’s lecture

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (JTA) — A South African university canceled a lecture by Israel’s deputy ambassador to the country following a pro-Palestinian campaign of "intimidation and threats."

The University of KwaZulu-Natal said in a statement that it regretted the decision to cancel Monday night’s lecture by Yaakov Finkelstein, but it had done so "in view of the sensitivities of the visit and in the best interest of all parties concerned," the Independent Online reported. The university nixed the address with less than 24 hours notice.

In an email to staff informing them of the development, the university’s deputy vice chancellor, Joseph Ayee, referred to "the negative publicity" the visit would generate for the university.

Israeli Embassy spokeswoman Hila Stern said the lecture was canceled in cooperation with the university. A pro-Palestinian campaign of "intimidation and threats" had resulted in a situation where there was "a genuine threat to the diplomat’s well-being," she said.

Stern added that anti-Israel elements had embarked on a campaign of "intellectual terror," and it was worrying that a country that had fought for freedom of speech would allow a minority to shut it down.

The University of Johannesburg last year became the first South African university to impose an academic boycott on Israel, despite a long-standing academic relationship with Ben-Gurion University.

Meanwhile, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies defended his call for public comment on whether goods manufactured in Israeli-occupied territories should state that fact on their labels, according to a report in the Cape Times. Distinguishing between products manufactured from within the 1967 borders and those from territories outside such as the West Bank, Davies said consumers had a right to make buying decisions based on accurate labeling.

If Israel wishes to make a representation on the matter it will be considered, Davies said.

The Jewish umbrella body, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, has slammed the move to re-label products as being "based on communications with lobby groups that have a pronounced anti-Israel, political agenda."

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