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Op-eds

UCT boycott campaign resorts to desperate tactics

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
Last week, the proponents of an academic boycott against Israel at the University of Cape Town (UCT), contrived (in defiance of university regulations) to send a statement titled, “South African Jews support the academic boycott of Israeli universities enabling the occupation” to all members of the UCT senate.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Sep 19, 2019

This was obviously aimed at creating the impression that South African Jewry is divided on this question, thereby ostensibly validating the insistence by the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) lobby group that the boycott isn’t against Jews, but about standing up for human rights. It emerged afterwards that those distributing the statement on the day were wearing SAUJS (South African Union of Jewish Students) t-shirts so as to hoodwink people into thinking that the Jewish student organisation on campus supported their position. It was also discovered that the statement had (in further defiance of university regulations) been sent to the UCT senate under a fictitious Jewish-sounding name. While disgusted, we weren’t surprised. Such brazen deceitfulness has characterised the UCT boycott campaign from the very outset.

Much of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ (SAJBD’s) work this week has necessarily been – in partnership with the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) and SAUJS – to expose these underhanded tactics while counteracting whatever false impressions have been created about where the Jewish community stands on the question of the boycott. This has been done, inter alia, by liaising with UCT leadership, issuing press statements offering the real facts of the situation, and responding in media forums where the offending statement appeared. Fortunately, the requisite facts and figures are readily to hand. We were able to point out that whereas a mere 65 South Africans of Jewish origin had endorsed the boycott, a counter petition opposing it being run by the SAZF had to date garnered just less than 65 000 signatures. Reference was further made to previous rigorous academic surveys conducted by UCT’s own Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies, in which close to 90% of the respondents expressed strong or moderate support for Israel, while only 1% expressed negative feelings. The signatories thus clearly constitute a tiny fringe group, in spite of deviously trying to exaggerate their significance.

The fact that proponents of the UCT boycott feel the need to resort to such underhand and unethical tactics to push their radical anti-Israel agenda smacks more of desperation on their part than anything else.

In addition to being self-evidently discriminatory, contrary to the values of academic freedom, and motivated by overt political bias rather than genuine concern for human rights, an academic boycott of Israel would be against the interests of UCT itself, as well as South Africa as a whole. The SAJBD will continue to oppose this pernicious initiative, and urge UCT to decisively reject it when it comes up for consideration once more later this year.

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