Open Letter Calls On UCT To Follow Through With Israeli Academic Boycott

South African Jewish people are speaking up about their support for an academic boycott of Israeli universities. They say these universities are enabling the occupation of Palestine. Over 65 people have written an open letter to the University of Cape Town (UCT) regarding this issue. This letter was sent to the senior executive of UCT. 

UPDATE: Motion to rescind the Israeli boycott proposal withdrawn pending further consideration. During the 13 September meeting, the motion to review and rescind the resolution of the Senate – which was to be tabled at the meeting – was withdrawn pending further consideration. Senate noted that the matter may be brought back at a future meeting.

Earlier this year UCT’s senate and council debate whether the university should break all academic ties with Israeli universities. On March 15, the senate adopted a resolution. It said, “UCT will not enter into any formal relationships with Israeli academic institutions operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. The resolution included other Israeli academic institutions enabling gross human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

Following that during a meeting of the council on March 30, the council decided to not adopt the senate resolution. From the council, they revealed that a number of issues required clarification. The UCT council said they would be referring the matter back to the senate. 

The senate then met and decided to have a wider consultative process with UCT stakeholders. They would also be conducting a sustainability impact assessment as requested by the council. The September 13th senate meeting will see the tabling of the consultation along with the sustainability impact assessment.

Ahead of the senate meeting, a group of South Africans Jews have penned an open letter to UCT executive and senate members. In a letter seen by The Daily Vox, the group calls on “the UCT Senate to preserve this resolution (March 15) and safeguard the university’s academic freedom and autonomy.” 

One of the signers of the letter, Jared Sacks told The Daily Vox there has been a lot of backlash behind the scenes. Sacks said people have tried to get the senate decision overturned. 

The letter says the specific universities targeted by the resolution “are not open, welcoming, progressive institutions that promote academic freedom. They are discriminatory and hostile spaces for Palestinians.” The letter says that the mentioned universities are complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses and they believe UCT “is under an obligation to refuse ties with those institutions.” 

Sacks said he was approached by some people within the senate who said they needed support because “they were worried about this thing (the resolution) being overturned.” 

Those opposed to the boycott have argued that “Jewish donors” will pull their funding says the letter. The letter says that this argument is antisemitic.

“For hundreds of years, antisemitic propaganda has accused a secret Jewish cabal of using their wealth to manipulate and control political institutions. Peddling this trope as a fear tactic against UCT’s important resolution is a dangerous use of the same imagery.” 

“What we wanted to show is that sure it might anger some Jews but there is a whole lot of Jews who support this and who are unhappy about what is being done in Israel/Palestine. And we feel it is unfair that other Jews are trying to speak in our name,” said Sacks. 

Sacks said the letter is also to counter the idea that UCT will suffer from the boycott of those universities. 

If the decision is overturned, Sacks said it could set a precedent leading to over universities around the world overturning their boycotts and resistance against Israel. 

“For a long time, I didn’t speak up much. But eventually I realised that in not speaking up I was complicit in what was going on,” said Sacks about why he signed the letter. 

“I realised I couldn’t call that a homeland which was created through the dispossession of other people.” 

The letter also says: “As South African Jews, we cannot sit by idly while the Israeli government commits similar atrocities to the former South African apartheid regime.” 

This story will be updated with the decision from the UCT senate. 

Featured image via UCT Palestine Solidarity Forum on Facebook