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A leading South African university is severing ties with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev after hundreds of South African professors called for an academic boycott.

The University of Johannesburg's vice chancellor Adam Habib said yesterday the university is ending a 25-year relationship with BGU on April 1. He said professors can continue to work individually with Ben-Gurion University should they decide to do so and should BGU agree to such an arrangement.

BGU President, Professor Rivka Carmi, said "the South African people will be the one to lose from this decision." She said the boycott was triggered by a report submitted to UJ, blasting BGU's cooperation with the IDF on a program for flight cadets.

The two universities have been working together on cleaning algae from South African drinking water, using innovative technologies developed in BGU, university officials said.

More than 400 South Africans signed a petition calling for the boycott, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Congress of South African Trade Unions called it a landmark moment in the campaign to boycott Israel.

Habib said the university's senate committee discussed the issue for two hours on Wednesday then held a secret vote. Sixty percent voted to sever ties, outvoting the remainder who wanted relations with both Israeli and Palestinian universities.

"This is not a boycott of Ben-Gurion University," said UJ's executive director for advancement, Kerry Swift. "The formal relationship between the institutions is in a sense an obstacle, and the feeling is that we would encourage relationships on an individual basis."

BGU began its relations with UJ when the latter was the whites-only Rand Afrikaans University during the apartheid era. South Africa's post-apartheid government has been sharply critical of Israel's policies regarding the Palestinians.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies criticized the decision, saying that it would be detrimental to "constructive intellectual engagement in South Africa."

"The UJ senate's decision to allow the formal relationship between UJ and BGU to lapse is playing to narrow-minded political prejudice and is a severe setback for constructive intellectual engagement in South Africa," SAJBD national chairperson Zev Krengel said in a statement published in the South African press.