Academic boycott of Israel: UCT senate’s refusal decried

The UCT Senate has voted against a proposed Israel academic boycott with a majority against the plan. Picture: Leon Lestrade/Independent Newspapers

The UCT Senate has voted against a proposed Israel academic boycott with a majority against the plan. Picture: Leon Lestrade/Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 25, 2024


Faiez Jacobs

When we heard that the university senate had declined a resolution supporting a boycott of academic institutions in the apartheid state of Israel, as South Africans and as the ANC we were shocked, embarrassed, and disappointed.

It was clear the resolution fully supported by the SRC is consistent with global opinion and our own history of Struggle through internationally supported boycott, disinvestment and sanctions.

We are disappointed that unlike the University of the Western Cape and the University of Fort Hare, the alumni of Tambo, Mandela, and many of our political luminaries, UCT’s senate through a small majority rejected the proposal and there is no reason why it should not review its decision.

Unless it may be the case of lighting our city blue and refusing to condemn the genocide and painting over murals of the Palestinian flag.

We are also dismayed that notwithstanding the active participation of esteemed teachers of UCT in the constitutional-making process such as Prof Christina Murray, Halton Cheadle and others, they elected to go against the grain of the values and mores of South Africans in general, and the spirit of our constitutional values.

We are witnessing in real time a catastrophe unfolding: the genocide in Gaza is of such magnitude, so inhumane and brutal in its execution, that it is hard to imagine that while world opinion condemns the genocide in every forum, it has not resulted in stopping the coloniser apartheid state of Israel from continuing its massacre of tens of thousands of civilians, women and children in particular.

We are all aware of the displacement of nearly two million Palestinians, the ethnic cleansing, the annihilation of infrastructure, the targeted destruction of universities, schools, bakeries, hospitals, mosques, churches, roads, electricity and water infrastructure.

A near unanimous judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found it plausible that the state of Israel is perpetrating genocide, and it has ordered Israel to safeguard the lives of civilians and allow them access to water, fuel, food, and medicine.

But the Israeli Occupying Force (IOF) continues its massacre with impunity as we witness how water, fuel, medicines, and food are deliberately and callously withheld or prevented from reaching the desperate and starving population in Gaza and the other occupied territories, even though millions of civilians across the globe demonstrate and demand an immediate ceasefire.

South Africa has taken the bold, principled and highly acclaimed step of taking the state of Israel to the pinnacle court for justice in the world and successfully argued that it is plausible that a genocide is taking place, achieving a restraining order to protect civilians which is being ignored with the customary arrogance by the state of Israel.

Our decision was informed by the respect for the rule of law, our commitment to peace and justice, our unconditional commitment to the values of human dignity, equality and freedom which is enshrined in our Constitution. Our highly regarded Constitution and Bill of Rights continues to serve as a guide and inspiration to our nation, where the vast majority were colonised, excluded, undermined, and denied their right to equality and freedom.

Given our Struggle and constitutional commitment to the rule of law, we cannot stand by idly when the children, women, and civilians in Palestine, who like us are still colonised and discriminated against by the apartheid state of Israel.

Nelson Mandela our first democratically elected president, world statesman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, stated: “The histories of our two peoples, Palestinians and South African, correspond in such painful and poignant ways, that I intensely feel myself being at home among compatriots.”

The highly regarded and much-loved late archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, a moral leader who resisted apartheid for decades and also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, stated: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

In the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, Oliver Reginald Tambo garnered international support while in exile through an anti-apartheid movement aimed at isolating the apartheid regime through sport, cultural and academic boycotts, and calling for an arms-trade ban.

This proved to be highly successful and the international solidarity against the apartheid regime, the internal resistance and the mass democratic movement pushed the apartheid regime into agreeing to negotiate a peaceful transition to democracy. Interestingly, it was Israel that supported South Africa in busting sanctions and increasing its munition capacity.

The Palestinians were inspired by this successful initiative and called on the international community to support their non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. As academics and students, we must be alarmed at the complete destruction and annihilation of all universities and more than 250 schools in a 41km densely populated strip in Gaza.

Education has come to a complete standstill more than 500 academics have been killed. Even health professionals and workers, journalists and UN staff have not been spared.

Over 32 000 Gazans have been massacred, more than 70% women and children; more than 70 000 injured; and thousands of bodies lie buried beneath rubble. Can we continue to suppress our voices and remain silent?

As is the case with all other states that have signed and ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the South African state has a duty under Article 1 of the convention to “prevent and to punish” the crime of genocide “whether committed in time of peace or in time of war”.

As South African universities are organs of state, they cannot intervene directly to stop Israel from continuing with its genocidal campaign in Gaza, but they can honour this obligation and the principle that “never again” means “never again for anyone”, by refusing to work with Israeli academic institutions complicit in the genocide.

We urge you as academics teachers, and students to ensure your senate or policy-making body adopts the resolution similar to the one proposed below:

Draft Resolution

UCT resolves not to participate or co-operate in any events, activities, agreements or academic projects involving Israeli academic institutions, research entities, lobby groups, corporations, foundations or academic forums, until these institutions clearly condemn the ongoing genocide of Palestinians at the hands of Israel until these institutions categorically condemn violations of Palestinian human rights and violations of international law; and until they announce their commitment to safeguarding Palestinian people’s right to life, equality and dignity.

* Jacobs is an ANC MP

Cape Times