Cape Town - After protracted deliberations on Saturday, UCT’s council last night opted to send a motion to boycott Israeli academic institutions back to its senate.
The resolution was brought by the university’s academic freedom committee (AFC) and passed by the senate two weeks ago.
“A number of issues required clarification, including 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,” UCT said.
The resolution condemned “atrocities and human rights violations” perpetrated in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and elsewhere in the world and called on all academics and academic institutions to support the resolution.
The motion before the council elicited heated responses from both sides of the debate.
Ahead of yesterday’s vote, the Rule of Law Project (RLP) said the motion to restrict interaction between UCT and Israeli academic institutions would be “unconstitutional, discriminatory and flout the doctrine of academic freedom”.
“Since UCT is a publicly funded organ of 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. It also protects against discrimination based on ethnicity, religion and language,” said advocate Mark Oppenheimer, quoted in a RLP statement.
The South African Union of Jewish Students said such a boycott would be “severely discriminatory” towards Jewish students at UCT.
It accused the AFC of double standards, narrow political agendas and discrimination.
“If the AFC were truly concerned with academic freedom issues and decided to engage with international issues, then why was this body intensely and obsessively focused with Israel for multiple meetings, giving it inordinate airtime over every other local or international issue at the university?”
The student body accused UCT of excluding it in the discussion, saying the proposed boycott was first conceived during the “Israel Apartheid Week”, which it said had caused insecurity among Jewish students.
The UCT Palestine Solidarity Forum said universities were not neutral institutions and should take a stand on matters such as colonialism and oppression.
“UCT under apartheid did not condemn apartheid and was instrumental in it,” said chairperson Alex Hotz.
She said there were conservative members of UCT council who thought of the financial implications of such as ban, saying the institution “gets a lot of Zionist funding”.
She said irrespective of the outcome, the PSF would continue to fight for an academic ban.
In a letter posted on the PSF Facebook page, political scientist Professor Steven Friedman called on UCT to adopt the academic ban of Israeli universities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Friedman is based at the University of Johannesburg.