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April 1, 2019 5:08 pm

Top Council at University of Cape Town Fails to Pass Israel Boycott, Sends Proposal to Senate for ‘Clarification’

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University of Cape Town. Photo: Alexander Smolianitski.

The South African Jewish community applauded the top decision-making body at the University of Cape Town for not adopting a resolution on Saturday to boycott Israeli academic institutions, while an anti-Zionist campus group framed the day’s events as a “significant victory.”

The measure, brought forward to the UCT Council following a two-year campaign by the Palestine Solidarity Forum (PSF), sought to bar the university from entering into formal relationships with counterparts “operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” or, more ambiguously, “enabling gross human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

The proposal was referred back to the UCT Senate — which endorsed the boycott on March 15 with a vote of 62 in favor, 43 against, and 10 abstentions — “so that certain issues can be clarified,” according to a statement by Royston Pillay, UCT’s registrar and secretary to the Council.

The Council determined that “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.”

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In a separate resolution, the body condemned “the atrocities and human rights violations perpetrated in the occupied Palestinian Territories, and elsewhere in the world.” It also reaffirmed its “commitment to academic freedom,” while reserving its “right to dissociate itself” from academics and universities that directly or indirectly support or enable human rights violations.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), which has strongly criticized the PSF’s boycott proposal since it was introduced in March 2017, applauded the UCT Council on Sunday for defending “the principles of academic freedom that underpin any credible global top ranking university,” and urged the Senate to similarly protect them in future deliberations.

“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,” maintained SAJBD. “For CT to do so under any circumstances, let alone at the behest of a narrow-interest lobby group, would be a tragic betrayal of the [university’s] fine record of upholding such values.”

The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) likewise hailed the Council’s decision not to adopt a motion “that singles out the Jewish State for unique censure,” calling it “an important victory” over the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign’s effort to pressure UCT to isolate Israel.

Yet it also “strongly” rejected the “unwarranted statement” issued by the Council on human rights concerns in the Palestinian territories, “which continues to single out Israel for alleged actions, but fails to call out the extremism and violence by many Palestinian groups.”

The same statement was conversely praised by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, as well as anti-Zionist student activists.

“As the PSF, we call for complete Palestinian liberation, not just an end to the Israeli violation of Palestinian human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” the group explained in a statement shared on Saturday. “However, we recognise that this is an important step towards the ultimate liberation.”

While expressing confusion over “the Council’s logic of sending the decision back to Senate,” PSF nonetheless described the Council’s subsequent statement on human rights as a “significant victory” and “important step towards UCT adopting the academic boycott of Israel.”

“It is very noteworthy that by Council’s resolution, we have lost nothing, we have only gained and advanced – not as much as we had hoped, but we have advanced nonetheless!” PSF added. “Zionism at UCT is weaker now because of this resolution. That, in itself, is worthy of celebration.”

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