Dear university executive and senate members at the University of Cape Town,
On March 15, the University of Cape Town (UCT) senate took a groundbreaking decision refusing to “enter into any formal relationships with Israeli academic institutions operating in the occupied Palestinian territories as well as other Israeli academic institutions enabling gross human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
This establishes UCT as an adherent to international law and affirms the university as a partner in the struggle for human rights in Israel/Palestine. However, over the past six months, opponents of this resolution have used backdoor fear-mongering about the withdrawal of private funding to cripple the institution thereby undermining the academic freedom of the UCT Senate members.
As South African Jews, we want to encourage the UCT Senate to preserve this resolution and safeguard the university’s academic freedom and autonomy.
The specific universities targeted by this resolution are not open, welcoming, progressive institutions that promote academic freedom.
They are discriminatory and hostile spaces for Palestinians. These universities also have close ties to Israel’s military and security services, supporting the expanded militarisation of the occupied territories. Since such universities are complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses and the violation of international law, we believe that UCT is under an obligation to refuse ties with those institutions.
Like Judith Butler, many Jewish academics in Israel and the diaspora have adopted and supported the Palestinian call for an academic boycott. These academics are joined by rapidly growing numbers of Jews in South Africa and globally who support an academic boycott, including ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’, an American organisation with close to 100 000 members, the Israeli organisation ‘Boycott from Within,’ as well as Jewish organisations in Europe, Britain, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa.
Much like the boycott of institutions during apartheid South Africa, the call for an academic boycott and the UCT senate resolution has, in principle, rejected any targeting of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender or religion) or their opinion. Rather, the resolution is aimed at institutions that function under the official governance of the Israeli State and that are complicit in the occupation and its human rights abuses. It is the actions of the institutions that are at stake, not who they claim to represent.
Some have argued that ‘if UCT were to adopt an academic boycott then Jewish donors will pull their funding.’ Besides detracting from the ethical issues at stake, we find this argument to be in itself 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.
For Jews, of both secular and religious traditions, we assert that it is our moral and ethical duty to hold Israel accountable for its unjust treatment of Palestinians. This issue is of central concern to us because the State of Israel claims to speak in our name. As South African Jews, we cannot sit by idly while the Israeli government commits similar atrocities to the former South African apartheid regime. We affirm that the academic boycott of Israeli universities which are enabling gross human rights violations is an internationally recognised non-violent strategy to put an end to the occupation, and we urge the UCT Senate to preserve their momentous resolution.
Mitchel Joffe Hunter
Maya Schkolne, Jared Sacks
Jon Fish Hodgson
Timothy Fish Hodgson
Anthony Fish Hodgson
Sophie J Hunter
Allan Kolski Horwitz
Monique Michal Marks
Paul Jeffrey Hendler