Johannesburg — Eleven students at a South Africa university charged with disrupting a concert by an Israeli musician were sentenced to community service.
The students at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg forced the cancellation of a recital last March by pianist Yossi Reshef with their attempt to enforce a student-initiated cultural boycott of Israel on campus.
In a decision handed down last week by an independent advocate, 10 of the students were excluded from the university for one year, suspended provided that they are not found guilty of other misconduct for two years. The students cannot hold office in student government for one year and must perform 80 hours of community service.
One of the students also must perform an additional 50 hours of community service for not obeying a lawful instruction from a university employee.
The South Africa Jewish Board of Deputies said in a statement that the verdict “sends out a clear message that Wits remains committed to providing a free, open environment in which the values of freedom of expression and association are strenuously upheld and where any behavior aimed at preventing others from exercising those rights is not tolerated.”
In September 2012, the university’s Student Representative Council adopted a resolution calling for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. The resolution originated with a proposal by the university’s Muslim Students Association in collaboration with pro-Palestinian forums, including the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.
“Wits is renowned for encouraging freedom of expression, dialogue and debate on often diverse and conflicting views confronting society, provided that it does not exceed the limitations explicated in our Constitution,” the university’s vice-chancellor and principal, Adam Habib, said in a statement following the decision. “The University provides a platform for different constituencies to express their views and opinions through considered debate and intellectual engagement in the spirit of tolerance, respect and openness.”
The university held a follow-up concert several months after the March incident by a group of internationally renowned Israeli jazz musicians headed by Daniel Zamir. The university took measures to make sure a repeat disruption did not occur, according to the Jewish Board of Deputies.