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Voices

UCT’s proposed Israel boycott a moral outrage

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SHAUN ZAGNOEV

As reported in last week’s paper, the latest boycott initiative on the local front is taking place at the University of Cape Town (UCT). When a boycott resolution was rejected at the meeting of the UCT senate last November, it was thought that this was the end of the matter. Instead, a new resolution was placed on the agenda of the senate meeting held on 15 March, and this time it was passed. It is now up to the UCT council to decide at its meeting this coming weekend whether or not it will become university policy.

In opposing the initiative, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has focused on communicating to the UCT leadership why a boycott would be discriminatory, politically biased, and morally inconsistent, and would also be against the interests of the university itself.

The proposed boycott is discriminatory because it is the only one of its kind being put forward by UCT. There is no resolution to boycott universities operating in China, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, or any other place where genuine human rights abuses are taking place. It is politically biased because it is predicated upon an absurdly one-sided interpretation of the Middle East conflict, the propaganda about which one would surely have expected trained academics to recognise. That it flouts academic freedom is self-evident – the scholarly world is predicated on the principle that scholars should be able to engage with one another and exchange information and ideas without politically-motivated interference. Finally, and no matter how much the boycott lobby might try to “spin” the issue, the unavoidable reality is that the universities of the only Jewish state in the world, and those alone, are being targeted. Whether intended or not, it constitutes crass anti-Jewish discrimination.

Had the playing field been level, all of this could have been expressed in the course of the senate debates, but in fact opponents of the boycott – specifically the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) – was denied the opportunity to participate. Indeed, attempts by SAUJS to participate in the process and air its views were consistently undermined by what can only be termed blatant procedural unfairness. This too has been put forward as yet another reason why UCT should decline to implement the senate’s resolution.

In bringing the case against the boycott to the UCT leadership, we have stressed that UCT must be there to serve all South Africans irrespective of race or religion, and consequently it should eschew implementing this discriminatory action that would offend and alienate the vast majority of South African Jews. We can only hope that good sense will prevail.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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