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December 16, 2019

Disappointing reversal

Opinion

December 16, 2019

It was a scandal of the highest caliber. On November 23, the Senate of the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa was practically bullied to reverse an earlier decision that called for the academic boycott of Israel.

While the story may seem relevant in South Africa’s political and academic contexts, in reality, it exemplifies the nature of a brewing war between supporters of Palestinian rights and Israeli interests, worldwide. In fact, the UCT scandal began much earlier.

Calls for South African universities to join the academic boycott of apartheid Israel were first answered by the University of Johannesburg on September 29, 2010. Decisive action taken by the Faculty Senate at the university sent a clear message to Israel’s academic institutions that South African academics would no longer accommodate Israeli crimes, including the crime of apartheid, in the name of scientific cooperation or “academic freedom”.

The severing of ties between the University of Johannesburg and Israel’s Ben Gurion University sounded the alarm among Israel’s supporters in South Africa, under the leadership of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), which fanned out throughout the country warning of the supposed rise of anti-Semitism.

However, the successful campaign in Johannesburg inspired other student groups across the country to carry on with their mission of holding the Israeli state accountable for its racism, apartheid and military occupation. In August 2012, the Student Representative Council at the University of Witwatersrand adopted a resolution that called for a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

Support for Palestine continued. In response to the deadly Israeli war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, more than 300 members of Rhodes University in Grahamstown, including the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Maisel, condemned Israeli violence targeting the besieged Strip.

In August 2014, the University of Cape Town’s Student Representative Council (UCT SRC) began its campaign aimed at cutting ties between UCT and Israel in response to a memorandum introduced by the Palestine Solidarity Forum (PSF). The students had courageously and “unconditionally” declared Israel an apartheid state, calling for the boycott of Israeli products, and demanding the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador to the country.

UCT students have so much to be proud of, as their efforts, combined with a massive grassroots movement throughout South Africa, did, in fact, push the government to rethink its ties with Israel. In May 2018, Pretoria recalled its ambassador to Israel to protest the Israeli army killing of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza.

Excerpted from: '‘Elected by Donors’: the University of Cape Town Fails Palestine, Embraces Israel'. Counterpunch.org

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