Protecting Academic Freedom at UCT

By Rowan Polovin, Chairman, SAZF Cape Council

The University of Cape Town ‘Palestine Solidarity Forum’ (UCT PSF) is an anti-Israel student pressure group on campus with direct connections to the antisemitic BDS movement and other international anti-Israel organisations. The PSF is currently undergoing a nefarious campaign pushing for an official academic and cultural boycott of Israel at the university. The PSF’s demands presumably follow the guidelines of the ‘Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)’, an arm of BDS that publishes lengthy documents that attempt to systematise anti-Israel policy at universities. These demands include the cessation and severing of all university connections to Israeli academia and academics (although they always claim not to target individuals), research projects, normalisation projects, study tours and so forth.

PACBI attempts to appropriate the language of academia and human rights to appeal to academics. However, this grandiloquence should never mask the striking parallels that the policies have to anti-Jewish policy at German universities from 1933 until the early 40s, where Jews were banned from all academic life for being Jews. The PSF is hoping that Israeli academic institutions and academics are banned from academic life in South Africa for being Israeli. Since Israel is the Jewish State, one can see how easily this exposes the antisemitic underbelly of the campaign.

The overwhelming majority of universities around the world have rejected calls for Academic Boycotts of Israel on basis of them being discriminatory, bigoted and counter to the ideals of academic freedom, the pursuit of knowledge and the freedom of ideas.

One hopes that a similar rationality will prevail at UCT, an organ of state that falls under South Africa’s world-class Constitution, its outstanding anti-discrimination laws and the excellent Higher Education Act which specifically promotes academic freedom and the advancement, not the derailment, of academic values.

Thousands of concerned UCT students, parents and alumni have signed a petition (which can be found here) calling for the protection of Academic Freedom at the University. The Cape Town Jewish community, as well as the broader South African public, who value academic freedom and the countless benefits to working with as opposed to against Israeli Academia, should be paying close attention to this decision and its implications for the future of the University of Cape Town.


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