Ramifications of a UCT boycott of Israel would be disastrous

This Friday, the UCT Senate will once again meet to discuss the UCT Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) motion to impose an academic boycott against Israel. This is an initiative of the Palestine Solidarity Forum at UCT and is linked with the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) movement.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the democratically elected organisation that formally represents the overwhelming majority of Jews, categorically rejects this proposal and cautions that should it be passed, it would have devastating consequences for UCT and for all South Africans.

A boycott by UCT against Israel would trample the bedrock values of academic freedom upon which every credible institution of higher learning is necessarily founded. It would further deprive students of access to significant international viewpoints and curb research that has potential to create a better life for poor and historically disadvantaged South Africans. SA universities should be leading institutions when it comes to such engagement because of their status, position and expertise. As boycotts against Israel have been roundly rejected the world over, an institutional boycott would seriously damage UCT’s reputation in global academic circles.

Where boycotts for Israel have been called, there have been resultant antisemitic incidences and the very call for them has resulted in Jewish students feeling alienated and unwelcome. In fact, the boycott campaign at UCT has been characterised by gross procedural unfairness against the SA Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), which has strenuously campaigned against the initiative. Time and again, SAUJS has found itself side-lined, denied an equal opportunity to present its case, left in the dark about crucial upcoming developments and in general placed at a serious disadvantage vis-à-vis the boycott lobby. The BDS on campus have further impersonated SAUJS students to fool people into thinking that they represent an official Jewish body.

BDS has been recognised globally as being antisemitic, and the UN has just issued a report on the rise of antisemitism in BDS. Countries such as Germany and the USA have started legislating against them. In an editorial DakfaDotCom (an online UCT publication) focused on the implications of the ramifications of a boycott would be, and noted that in the USA, 27 states to date have instituted anti-boycott legislation or executive orders which have been designed to prevent the boycotting of Israel. According to their study, “what is clear is that at least a portion of grants, funding, and partnerships with public universities in the United States could be affected.” This study only focuses on the United States. There will no doubt be further ramifications among universities in other countries that would tarnish UCT’s representation.

Ultimately, a UCT boycott against Israel would have absolutely no impact at all on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. In fact, SA universities should support an “invest in peace” agenda to help use its expertise to bring Arabs and Israelis together in dialogue. Rather than disinvest, we would encourage all stakeholders in the UCT community to encourage such engagement, dialogue and support for freedom of expression of all its members.

The BDS is a narrow-focused lobby group who has no problem pursuing its own narrow agenda ahead of that of the country. It would be a sad day for South Africans if it were allowed to triumph and we call on the UCT Senate to act in the best interests of the University and the citizens of our country. After all, our universities belong to all of us and their integrity, global recognition and academic standards need to be protected at all costs.

For more information please contact Rael Kaimowitz on 082 803 5544 or Wendy Kahn on 082 4443675

Issued by Wendy Kahn
National Director
21 November 2019

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