University of Cape Town Holds Off on Adopting Vote to Boycott of Israeli Academia

Two weeks after university senate voted to cut ties with Israeli institutions, its council says 'certain issues need further clarification'

A view of the University of Cape Town's upper campus.
Image by jeremiahpietersen from Pixabay

A blanket boycott of Israeli academia remains in limbo two weeks after its declaration by the senate of the University of Cape Town, with the university's council saying it needs more information before it  adopt the proposal.

According to the the Association of University Heads in Israel, this was the first-ever blanket boycott of Israeli academia to be passed by a university senate in a country that does not have a Muslim majority.

 The council asked for "a full assessment of the sustainability impact", according to South Africa's Sunday Times.

>> Israel’s crusade against BDS comes at the cost of its own democracy | Opinion 

The boycott proposal has been returned to the university senate. However, the university council also resolved, among other things, to: "Condemn the atrocities and human rights violations perpetrated in the occupied Palestinian territories, and elsewhere in the world."

Following the senate resolution, Prof. Ron Robin, president of Haifa University and head of the Association of University Heads in Israel, wrote to the University of Cape Town's administration, saying there was something ironic about universities in Israel, which are public and equally open to all, Jews and non-Jews alike, facing a boycott.

"The purpose of academia worldwide is to tear down barriers, not create them," Robin wrote.

The association says it believes the letter is what moved the university council to hold off on adopting the boycott proposal for the time being.

"This is the first time that a university senate declares an academic boycott of Israel," Prof. Zvi Ziegler, head of the Inter-University Forum to Combat Academic Boycotts, told Haaretz.

Ziegler said that although this move has a symbolic significance, "this doesn’t mean that other higher education institutions would follow [in the university's footsteps] if the boycott proposal is approved."

"Both in the U.S. and Europe the opinion prevails that an academic boycott is not legitimate. The BDS movement is losing momentum in the academy, with most of its attempts failing. Once in a while, BDS pressures individual scholars, not institutions," Ziegler explained. 

Since the Gaza war in 2014, attempts were made to impose an academic boycott on Israel by the University of Cape Town, but they were blocked by its management.   

In November 2018, Israeli researchers were disinvited from a conference on “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma,” at South Africa's Stellenbosch University. Academics had been invited from the Hebrew University, Ben-Gurion University and Tel Aviv University, but the panels they were supposed to sit on were canceled mere days before the conference, following pressure from BDS activists.