Durban - The Rule of Law Project (RLP) has said that a motion to restrict interaction between the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Israeli academic institutions would be unconstitutional and flout the doctrine of academic freedom.
UCT council members will vote on the motion on Saturday.
"If adopted, not only would this be unconstitutional, discriminatory and flout the doctrine of academic freedom, it would be unlawful for certain members to have voted if they have previously been involved in actions relating to a boycott of Israeli institutions," said advocate Mark Oppenheimer, quoted in an RLP statement emailed on Friday.
RLP said it sought legal opinion on the subject as a public service in order to clarify what a publicly-funded university could lawfully do.
Since UCT was a publicly funded organ of the state, it must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights protected by the Bill of Rights including the right to freedom of expression and academic freedom, according to Oppenheimer.
The Bill of Rights also protected against discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, and language, he said.
RLP said the Bill of Rights was the cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. "It enshrines the rights of all people in South Africa and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. The right to receive or impart information or ideas and freedom of scientific research are unequivocally protected in the right to freedom of expression."
The UCT motion was explicit, said RLP: “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.”
If adopted, said RLP, the decision would violate student and academic rights to freedom of expression and academic freedom.
"[T]he proposal singles out Israeli institutions, which include Palestinian or Islamic institutions. Since an overwhelming number of staff and students in Israel are ethnic Israelis, are Jewish by religion and speak Hebrew by language, the effect of the policy would constitute direct and unfair discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity and religion, and thus contravene section 9 of the Constitution. This is particularly unwelcome in the context of South Africa’s apartheid history of discrimination," said the statement.
The policy would also have an adverse effect on all staff and students in Israel regardless of whether they supported or opposed the actions of the Israeli government.
In a bid to protect academic freedom, said Oppenheimer, UCT and all academic institutions should actively oppose efforts by corporate or government sponsors to block dissemination of any research findings.
"Academic freedom means that the political, religious, or philosophical beliefs of politicians, administrators, and members of the public cannot be imposed on students or faculty. Yet the motion would do precisely this," he said.