Correspondence | Published:

Did an academic boycott help to end apartheid?


The assertion made by Steven and Hilary Rose in Correspondence (Nature 417, 221, 2002) that the boycott of South Africa by the world's academic communities “was instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa” is a deception. Apartheid was actually terminated by two pivotal and interrelated political events.

First, the United States Congress, on 29 September 1986, overrode President Reagan's veto and imposed strict economic sanctions on South Africa. Second, F. W. de Klerk was elected president of South Africa on 14 September 1989. Two months later (16 November 1989), de Klerk announced the scrapping of the Separate Amenities Act, then, on 11 February 1990, freed Nelson Mandela from prison. The rest is historical detail.

So if the Roses, and the signatories of their petition, wish to bring Israel even further to its knees, they may need to persuade Europe and the United States to increase by an order of magnitude the stringency of the Arab-led international trade boycott of Israel that has been in place since 1948.

As it stands, the petitioners have not made a cogent argument for why they selected Israel alone — from the many imperfect nations of the world — for their proposed academic boycott.

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