Cape Town – The Palestine Solidarity Forum (PSF) at UCT has labelled its senate’s about-turn on supporting an academic boycott against Israel as “a clear indication of persisting conservatism” and being “beholden to its donors and the Zionist lobby”.
The senate on Friday reconsidered a resolution made in March this year that “UCT will not enter 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 March resolution had been rejected by the university's council, and was sent back to the senate to reconsider.
It is understood about 68% of members voted against the resolution on Friday.
UCT’s PSF said the outcome was disappointing, but unsurprising.
“It is a clear indication of the persisting conservatism of UCT and the fact that UCT, and the vice-chancellor in particular, is beholden to its donors and the Zionist lobby.
"It sets a remarkably dangerous precedent that donors can dictate university policy - an affront to and violation of academic freedom; one of which UCT heroes of academic freedom, such as TB Davie, would be ashamed,” the PSF said.
“This is not nearly the end of the struggle. There have been a great many positives throughout the campaign and we have progressed far further than ever expected, really shining a light on the atrocities committed by the Israeli state with the complicity of much of Israeli academia.
"We’re certain that the positives achieved will inspire the campaigns being formed at other universities,” the PSF continued.
The senate has about 363 members comprising the vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellors, deans/acting deans and deputy deans/acting deputy deans, heads and acting heads of academic departments and professors.
The 30-member council consists of university executive members, ministerial appointees, members elected by convocation and members elected by donors, academic and professional administrative and support staff, a nominee from the City, the premier and the student representative council, among others.
UCT spokesperson Nombuso Shabalala said it had been the council's view that a number of issues required clarification, including a full assessment of the sustainability impact of the senate resolution.
In rescinding its March resolution, Shabalala said the senate recognised that there was no impediment in law to its taking a stance on matters of academic freedom, but equally that it is under no obligation arising from the Constitution and South African law more generally, nor international law in any form, to take a position in relation to relationships on academic matters with any individual academic, academic group, or academic institution, no matter where in the world it is situated or operates.
The senate resolved: “With particular relevance to the Middle East, the region which has caused the current prominence of these matters in our discussions, (senate) recognises unreservedly that the continued occupation of the Palestinian Territories is indefensible; is in clear violation of international law; represents a gross violation of human rights; and justifies public condemnation; nevertheless urges academics at UCT to engage with and support those academic colleagues who have spoken out against unlawful occupations and gross human rights violations wherever they have occurred and more specifically to establish positive academic links with Palestinian academic institutions and individuals, with financial and logistical assistance from the UCT.”
Wendy Kahn of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies welcomed UCT’s decision, saying the body was encouraged that academics had taken a stance against what she said was a resolution inspired by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Against Israel in South Africa campaign.
“Our belief is that this three-year obsession by a narrow group of UCT academics has attempted to hijack the university’s decision-making forums for an extended time. This agenda endeavoured to dominate discussions at senate and council meetings, taking the university’s focus away from key issues of concern to UCT and our country.”
BDS South Africa’s Bram Hanekom said the movement continued to call for academic institutions to cut ties with the “apartheid Israeli” state until it respected international law.“
“Increasingly around the country, campaigns have been taking firm steps to hold Israel to account for its policies and actions,” he said.