University of Cape Town blocks academic boycott of Israel

The higher-education institution said several issues require clarification.

Protestors call for the severing of diplomatic ties with Israel during a march in Cape Town, South Africa, May 15, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS)
Protestors call for the severing of diplomatic ties with Israel during a march in Cape Town, South Africa, May 15, 2018
Africa’s top university, the University of Cape Town has, for now, blocked a senate resolution to cut ties or boycott with Israeli academic institutions.
Last week, the university’s Senate, which is predominantly made up of academics, voted in favor of a motion to academically boycott Israeli institutions. The decision was passed in the Senate by a small margin of 62 in favor, 43 against, and 10 abstentions. According to a university statement, “the University of Cape Town Senate took a resolution in favor of a proposal for UCT to not enter into any formal relationships with Israeli academic institutions operating in the occupied Palestinian territories as well as other Israeli academic institutions enabling gross human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
The decision was made on Saturday by UCT’s Council, which governs the university.
In a statement Royston Pillay, the Registrar and Secretary to the Council, said that UCT “did not adopt this resolution of the Senate. It was the view of the Council that a number of issues required clarification.”
He added that this includes a “full assessment of the sustainability impact of the Senate resolution” and “a more consultative process was necessary before the matter could be considered any further.”
Pillay said the Council resolved separately to reaffirm its commitment to supporting the rights and freedom of all people as universally recognized under international law. Condemn any acts that violate those rights and freedoms. Condemn the atrocities and human rights violations perpetrated in the occupied Palestinian territories, and elsewhere in the world; and call on all academics and academic institutions to support this resolution.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on behalf of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), National Director Wendy Kahn congratulated the UCT Council “for rejecting the Senate resolution on their proposed academic boycott of Israel.”
“Their decision on Saturday endorsed the principles of academic freedom that underpin any credible global top ranking university,” she continued. “An attempt to boycott academic institutions in Israel, or indeed in any other country, would contravene outright these principles, on which the proper functioning of institutes of higher learning is predicated. For UCT to do so under any circumstances, let alone at the behest of a narrow-interest lobby group, would be a tragic betrayal of the universities fine record of upholding such values.”
Kahn said that the SAJBD “looks to the Senate to further endorse and uphold these principles in their future deliberations,” adding that “any resolutions should reconfirm the Universities ethos and its commitment to fairness, justice and non-racialism.”
THE PROCESS began in late 2017, The Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) put forward the motion recommendations by the Palestine Solidarity Forum (PSF), which called on UCT to implement an academic boycott of Israeli universities. An adviser of the PSF sits on the AFC.
The AFC issued a recommendation to the university’s Senate Executive Committee in late 2017, calling for an academic boycott of Israeli academia, but carefully wording it as a “limiting measure,” stating: “UCT will not enter into any formal relationships with academic institutions operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as academic institutions enabling gross human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
However, it was rejected by the Senate Executive Committee (SEC) on the basis that it this would be an “inconsistent application” – meaning why only Israel and not other countries that may be accused of violating human rights as well.
The matter was then passed onto the Senate for further discussion where the AFC claimed that there was a conspiracy against members of the AFC, and that the SEC’s wording is “prejudicial” to the AFC’s recommendation. A brief discussion was held in which the AFC and SEC resolved to discuss why the latter had come to this recommendation.
In September last year, the item was placed on the agenda for the Senate meeting as a motion for a full academic boycott of Israeli institutions as per the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel guidelines.
The recommendation was voted upon in Senate upon in November and did not go through as a clear majority – 73 against, 37 for, and 12 abstentions – were against an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.
The PSF and the AFC indicated after this vote that they were unhappy that the AFC’s recommendation of a “limiting measure” was not discussed and insisted on it being placed on the next Senate agenda.
The AFC’s recommendation as placed on the Senate’s agenda for March 15. The SEC’s recommendation was not placed on the agenda, but extra material was added to the appendix, which supported the AFC motion to boycott Israeli academic institutions. No alternate arguments or documentation against the recommendation was included.
The South African Union of Jewish Students who had presented arguments against the AFC’s boycott proposal over the last 18 months was not contacted to provide information on the matter.