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Boycott Calls Against Israel
South Africa as Battleground for BDS: Palestinian Groups Intensify Pressure for Academic Boycott


Editorial Note

While suffering legal and political defeats in the United States and Europe, the BDS initiative has flourished in South Africa.  Palestinian groups are strong and well organized there and use their leverage to promote BDS.   At the University of Cape Town (UCT) the Palestine Solidarity Forum has organized a series of seminars to debate the issue of boycotting the Israeli academic institutions.

A local paper The Daily Vox, run by Khadija Patel and Azad Essa, published an editorial "UCT, Decolonisation And The Academic Boycott Of Israel. Patel and Essa, who also work for the Al-Jazeera English edition, claimed that "Israeli universities are especially critical targets for boycotts because of their func'tion of ideologically, politically, economically and militarily propping up the Israeli colonial project... international opposition against colonialism is critical to building the progressive solidarity and ideological clarity necessary to reshape the world".  Interestingly, the "new journalism" that this paper claims to promote sought donations from George Soros' Open Society Foundations.

As always, the BDS advocates recruit Israeli supporters to legitimize their work. Ronnie Barkan, a staunch BDS activist, is a trusted stand-by. In an interview promoting BDS Barkan mentioned Israeli academics:  “When [historian] Ilan Pappé and [professor of linguistics] Tanya Reinhardt were targeted for calling for the academic boycott, we decided that it makes sense to speak out as a group.” His aim was to show there is support for BDS in the Israeli academic community. 

However, there are drawbacks to an institutional BDS according to a American law professor David Bernstein of George Mason University. Bernstein has warned UCT that “They are trying to isolate Israel, but they may find that the University of Cape Town is internationally isolated instead... There would be a substantial number of professors like myself who would have nothing to do with UCT should they adopt an academic boycott of Israel.” He explained that the UCT currently has partnership agreements with many American universities in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Arizona.  These three states are among the 22 US states to have passed anti-BDS bills in 2016 which prohibit state governments and agents from doing business with entities that boycott Israel.  In other words, should UCT adopt a BDS resolution, it would impair its academic contacts in the United States.

The Palestinian groups have hitched their wagon to the popular movement for the decolonisation of South Africa.  In a symbolic act, UCT removed the statue of Cecil John Rhodes on 09 April, 2015,  following weeks of protests and deliberations. Rhodes was a British businessman and politician in South Africa who served as a Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in the 1890s. Since he was an ardent believer in British imperialism, having his statue at UCT removed is "a metaphorical call for the transformation of the university's curriculum, culture and faculty, which many blacks feel are alienating and still reflect a Eurocentric heritage".   UCT Vice Chancellor Dr. Max Price said the statue has been moved to a safe storage location as the university awaits a decision from the Western Cape government for the statue's future. 

Noting the climate of change, Professor Mahmood Mamdani, a former lecturer in Columbia University who returned to the University of Cape Town after a 16-year absence, who lectured recently in UCT and argued that the university has a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to change direction – from a colonising outpost to a decolonisation project." Mamdani agreed to return to the University of Cape Town “because Rhodes fell”.   In his lecture Mamdani said that the institutional form of the modern African university was not African and there was ‘no connection’ between the institutions of learning we know of and celebrate in pre-colonial Africa, whether it’s in Cairo or in Timbuktu.  “The universities of contemporary Africa are based on the European model. The European model of a discipline-based gated community with a distinction between clearly defined groups, administrators, academics, and fee-paying students”. By speaking about university fees he aligned himself with the new movement "Fees Must Fall" which is calling to reduce university fees

Its worth noting that Mamdani also supports the BDS movement.  In 2010 he was among more than 100 academics across South Africa, from over 13 universities, who pledged their support to a University of Johannesburg initiative for ending collaboration with Ben-Gurion University.    

South Africa is a particularly fertile ground for Palestinian BDS groups because of its history of apartheid.  Indeed, radical Israeli scholars have used the apartheid analogy for some two decades now.  The South Africans followed suit. The book Apartheid Israel: The Politics of an Analogy, published in 2015, brought eighteen prominent South African scholars to reflect on the analogy between apartheid South Africa and contemporary Israel "with an eye to strengthening and broadening today’s movement for justice in Palestine."  Ahmed Kathrada, a veteran anti-apartheid activist and former political prisoner reviewed the book. "A South African who is not white does not need more than one day's stay in Palestine to be thrown back to pre-1994 and realize that apartheid is very much alive under Israel as a colonial power... The essays in Apartheid Israel: The Politics of an Analogy powerfully remind those of us who brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa that we must join with our Palestinian brothers and sisters in their fight to bring down the apartheid regime in Israel.”

But there are other voices to the debate who take a more pragmatic tone.  As political scientist Itumeleng Makgetla wrote recently, "Given South Africa’s recent experience with the 2016 drought, and future preparation for potential phenomena given the changing climate, it is important to note that Israel is leading in water technology." 

In December 2017 the ANC, South Africa's ruling party, would decide whether to downgrade the Embassy in Israel to a liaison office.   South Africa would soon have to decide whether to take the ideological position or the practical one.  Same with the universities in South Africa that would need to make this choice too.  In a world threatened by climate change and Islamist terrorism, a rigid adherence to an equally rigid cause does not pay.

In the spirit of international solidarity, moral consistency and resistance to injustice and oppression

Kwara Kekana will be explaining the impact and significance of the UCT Academic Boycott of Israel against injustice in Palestine. 

Kwara Kekana hails from Lebowakgomo in the Limpopo Province. Kekana went on to pursue undergraduate studies at the University of Pretoria in Economics. During her time there she was active in student politics and led SASCO as a branch secretary and chairperson at the University of Pretoria. She also served in the Regional Executive Committee of SASCO as a Deputy Chairperson of Tshwane Region.

In 2011 Kekana joined the Palestinian solidarity organisation BDS SA (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions South Africa) and is the current National Spokesperson and Deputy Coordinator. Kekana has a certificate in mediation, conflict resolution and diplomacy issued by South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation through the Diplomatic Academy in 2015.
Kekana is enthusiastic about politics and activism with a view to promoting a more just society. She is currently studying towards her second degree in Industrial Sociology and Development studies.
About UCT Palestine Solidarity Forum
Nonprofit Organization · Cape Town, Western Cape
The UCT Palestine Solidarity Forum is a student organisation committed to promoting justice, human rights, liberation, and self-determination for Palestinians.
UCT, Decolonisation And The Academic Boycott Of Israel
The Daily Vox, Sep 5, 2017
UCT’s Palestine Solidarity Forum explains the place the unjust occupation of Palestine holds in global structures of oppression, and why it is so important for academic institutions to take a stand.
Haunted by the shadow of Rhodes’ statue, rhetorical attempts at facilitating change have become characteristic of the University of Cape Town’s approach to decolonisation. Certainly there have been changes – the conversation is at least occurring. We have made the radical shift from silencing conversations about institutional racism, injustice and coloniality, to acknowledging their existence and then sitting on our hands.  
The University of Cape Town claims on its website that “UCT is profoundly concerned with transformation in the broader society and with issues of social justice.” In reality the default position of the university is not to attempt in its capacity to eradicate injustice, but rather to assume the status-quo and leave the burden of injustice with the oppressed. The persistence of this position has led student-worker protests to increasingly project the monotonous, emotionally exhausted wail of forgotten bodies. Rather than ritualising progress, the university has made it such that protest is ritualised. 
The UCT Palestine Solidarity Forum (PSF) is, of course, well acquainted with activism as a ritual. The annual Israeli Apartheid Week produces a space for provocative discourse against the Israeli state and its practices, followed by more hand-sitting. In the same way that there is no substantial institutional response to the question of fees or racism or rape culture at South African universities, there is no institutional response to the sound arguments against Israel’s colonial norms, apartheid policies, and human rights violations. This is so despite clear calls by Palestinians, under the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, for universities to take a stand against the unjust occupation of Palestine. 
As PSF, in alliance with other progressive student, staff and worker groups, we have initiated a campaign for UCT to adopt a boycott of Israeli institutions. The proposed boycott will either be adopted or rejected by UCT’s Council at a sitting later this year. This boycott requires the severing of institutional ties between UCT and Israeli universities, and applies until such time when Israeli universities end their complicity in the oppression of Palestinians. This complicity extends from illegally evicting Palestinians from their homes in order to build university campuses and dormitories; providing the Israeli army with weapons technology used for maintaining the illegal occupation of Palestine and the siege of Gaza; to developing ‘ethical’ doctrines to justify the killing of civilians that the Israeli army regularly points to in order to absolve itself of responsibility for killing yet another innocent child.  
Israel is one of the few remaining national settler-colonial projects, and as such is an important site of protest. Its role as an ally of imperialism grants it the privilege to consistently violate international law, and receive absolute impunity from the United Nations. Israeli universities are especially critical targets for boycotts because of their func'tion of ideologically, politically, economically and militarily propping up the Israeli colonial project. In the age of Trump, where the livelihoods of people of colour the world over are increasingly threatened, international opposition against colonialism is critical to building the progressive solidarity and ideological clarity necessary to reshape the world.  
But not only is this academic boycott important in the Palestinian struggle, it is an important step for UCT to take itself. At a time when there is university-wide consensus that UCT must commit to a programme of decolonisation, there is a growing understanding that decolonisation cannot simply be an inward-looking process, but must include a response to the global context. Any attempt by UCT to decolonise will fail at the outset if it disregards the systems of oppression in which it is complicit and perpetuates, beyond its campus boundaries of Rondebosch and Mowbray. The UCT academic boycott of Israel cannot be viewed in isolation, but must be seen as part of the broader movement towards decolonising the university. 
Of course the UCT Israeli academic boycott is not just a cleansing process for the university; it would obviously be a huge victory in the struggle for Palestinian human rights. Support from South Africa, given its similar history of land dispossession, settler colonialism and apartheid, is particularly symbolically powerful. And as the leading university in the country and on the continent, UCT is in a strategic position to take a moral and principled stand against the atrocities committed by Israel. While not a panacea, the international boycott of apartheid South Africa was critical for exposing it as a pariah state and for building resilience against the apartheid regime. A boycott of any form, whether it is against Israeli universities or on Israeli goods, helps build international solidarity with oppressed Palestinians.  
Perhaps the clearest sign of the potential impact of this boycott can be seen by the ongoing attempts by the Zionist Federation (ZF) to undermine the campaign for the academic boycott, and to victimise and intimidate PSF members. The ZF (with strong links to the Israeli government) has followed their predictable formula of releasing several articles in the media,  and disseminating blatant fabrications instead of contesting the proposed boycott on the ground at UCT. 
One of the main fabrications from the ZF is that the Israeli academic boycott will violate academic freedom. This is simply incorrect. Academic freedom as a value applies only to institutions, not individuals. The boycott specifically calls for the severing of institutional ties with Israeli universities, not with individual Israeli academics. More importantly, the use of academic freedom as a justification for the silence towards Israel is an insult to Palestinian academics whose universities are routinely bombed by the Israeli army. 
Another fabrication being spread by the ZF is that the UCT academic boycott of Israel is anti-Semitic. We once again reiterate, as we have done almost for time immemorial along with thousands of Jewish comrades, that nothing about an Israeli boycott is anti-Semitic. We are against the illegal occupation of Palestine, settler colonialism and human rights violations – this has nothing to do with Judaism. 
UCT has committed to an institutional process examining the merits of the boycott. Discussions by the UCT Academic Freedom Committee are underway, and it is expected to provide a report to Council, advising them on the merits of the case. It is at this stage that public engagement and sustained pressure is important to the cause, and we call on all supporters to attend seminars. The decision by Council is scheduled to take place before the end of the academic year.  
UCT has taken several institutional positions on public issues previously, so an Israeli academic boycott would not be an exceptional case. The institutional neutrality so far exhibited by the university with regards to Israel, a settler colonial state, is itself an institutional position. Details for the public engagements on the UCT academic boycott of Israel can be found on PSF’s Facebook page. We encourage all to attend these, rather than following the ZF’s tactic of disseminating lies in articles from afar.  

South Africa-Israel Relations – Staying In The Fray In Pursuit Of Peace

At the recent 5th ANC Policy Conference, held on 30 June to 5 July 2017, South African-Israel relations were once again in the spotlight, resulting in the International Relations Commission at the ANC Policy Conference recommending the downgrading of the South African Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, into a so-called Liaison Office.
At the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict is the question of land ownership and control, while the status of Jerusalem remains one of the most sensitive and complex issues of the feud. The proposal to downgrade will be among the items to be deliberated on during the upcoming ANC Elective Conference in December. This issue should by no means be taken lightly as there will be negative off-spins should the motion to downgrade go though. Among a plethora of concerns, South Africans with business interests in Israel will suffer immensely as the mission’s legal jurisdiction will be lessened; the result of this is that the current relative ease of doing business between the two countries will be lost as Israel could reciprocate by downgrading its diplomatic mission to South Africa. Trade with Israel makes a very small contribution to the Israeli economy, more directly, whereas Israeli input underpins a very large part of South Africa’s agricultural sector. Most South African imports of Israeli goods are for use by companies producing South African goods.
Israel manufactures more intellectual property than any other country in the world in relation to its size. The creation of a partnership between Israel’s inventive capability and South Africa’s need to resuscitate its manufacturing capability – new economic gains can be created. Israel hosts the major manufacturing site for microprocessor giant Intel, while major technology multinationals like Google, Microsoft and Apple produce a fair amount of their products and software in the country as well. To this effect, a superficial glance at (South) Africa’s reliance in this sector is China; but even China realises the importance of good trade relations with Israel. Israeli seedlings account for more than half of the South African tomato crop. The country’s major imports from Israel are insecticides and chemical fertilisers, as well as machinery for farming and irrigation. These made up about 50% of the R2.8 billion in imports from Israel last year. The balance includes medical electronic equipment, R160 million in non-woven textiles, about R260 million in plastic packaging materials and about R56 million in prepared foodstuffs ranging from sweets to pre-packaged sauces.
Given South Africa’s recent experience with the 2016 drought, and future preparation for potential phenomena given the changing climate, it is important to note that Israel is leading in water technology. In her article published in the Daily Maverick, Shauna Westcott points out that; world leaders in water technologies are the Israelis who have been working on overcoming water scarcity. Nearly 70 years of research, experiments and the steady implementation of multifaceted systems has achieved the seemingly impossible: arid Israel, 60% desert, now not only has water security but also supplies water to both Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Stronger trade between the two countries could facilitate the skills transfer in high technologies from Israel.
Decision-makers in this discourse are at a crossroads where they must make a difficult decision – either to take an ideological position, or a practical one. Should South Africa elect to downgrade its Embassy to a liaison office, it will also be relinquishing its valuable and much-needed contribution towards peace talks on the Israel-Palestine conflict. South Africa, having experienced a painful history first-hand, is in a unique position guide the process and assist the warring parties in finding a solution for a lasting peace. This approach is not new; for instance in May 2013, President Xi Jinping hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and a day later Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a symbolic display of its willingness to contributing to lasting solutions to this problem, impartially, while safeguarding its economic interest. Perhaps South Africa can emulate China’s method by staying in the fray and remaining part of the noble pursuit for peace.


AUGUST 29, 2017 2:18 PM 14
Africa’s Top University Risks Endangering US Partnerships Over Proposed Boycott of Israel, Leading American Law Professor Says
by Ben Cohen

South African BDS advocate Prof. Farid Esack is among those supporting the academic boycott call against Israel. Photo: File.

Africa’s top university will be placing its partnerships with its US counterparts in jeopardy if it succumbs to pressure from BDS activists to adopt a full-scale academic boycott of Israel, a prominent American law professor told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.

The governing bodies of the University of Cape Town (UCT) — which is regularly ranked as Africa’s number one university as well as among the world’s top 200 universities — will be debating the adoption of an academic boycott resolution on September 15. If passed, UCT would be obliged to cut all ties with Israeli faculty and academic institutions — a move that would trigger outrage among US academics and their colleagues in other countries, Prof. David Bernstein of the Scalia Law School at George Mason University said.

“They are trying to isolate Israel, but they may find that the University of Cape Town is internationally isolated instead,” Bernstein told The Algemeiner. “There would be a substantial number of professors like myself who would have nothing to do with UCT should they adopt an academic boycott of Israel.”

UCT currently has partnership agreements with at least 44 American universities that facilitate student and faculty exchange programs and other joint projects — among them Columbia Business School, Ohio State, Vanderbilt University, the University of Chicago, Pennsylvania State and Arizona State.

Ohio, Pennsylvania and Arizona are among the 22 US states to have passed anti-BDS legislation, with all three having signed their bills into law in 2016. The bills typically prohibit state governments and agents from contracting with entities that actively boycott Israel — measures that may well impact state-funded universities in particular, Bernstein said, adding that there would be “justified pressure on all universities, private and state” to cease working relationships with UCT. More generally, academic boycott initiatives will face a potentially formidable legal obstacle in the form of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act — introduced in March by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) — that is likely to be voted on by Congress during its upcoming session.

Bernstein said that UCT would also find it impossible to defend itself from retaliatory moves that a boycott would likely produce. “Once you endorse an academic boycott yourself, you don’t have any standing when it comes to opposing people who then engage in a boycott of your institution,” he remarked.

An analysis of the proposed UCT boycott by Sara Gon of the Institute of Race Relations — a veteran South African think tank that was in the forefront of domestic opposition to apartheid — noted that four events on the UCT campus promoting the boycott are being held over the next month, with the first one having taken place last week.

Gon observed that many of the academics urging the academic boycott are prominent leaders of the country’s BDS movement, which has energetically pushed the analogy between Israel and apartheid South Africa despite the offense this comparison generates among many South Africans. Among the group are Prof. Ran Greenstein, an Israeli anti-Zionist, and Farid Esack, a professor of Islamic Studies at Johannesburg University who responded to the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, in which more than 120 people were murdered, by protesting, “I am not praying for Paris; I am not condemning anyone. Why the hell should I?”

Esack ended his comments by saying: “The logic is quite simple: When you eat, it’s stupid to expect that no sh*t will ever come out from your body. Yes, I feel sorry for the victims on whom the sh*t falls. But, bloody hell, own it; it’s yours!”

The UCT Senate’s September deliberations will be strongly influenced by the current debate within the university’s Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) on whether to adopt an academic boycott of Israel.

“It has been difficult to ascertain who the members of the current AFC are, but it is understood that some members of the AFC support [the] call for a boycott,” Gon wrote in her analysis.

The template for the academic boycott was originally designed by Palestinian NGOs in 2004, in a statement that identified Israel’s universities as “a key part of the ideological and institutional scaffolding of Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid against the Palestinian people.”

Clarifying the precise target for the boycott, the statement declared that “[A]ll Israeli academic institutions, unless proven otherwise, are subject to boycott because of their decades-old, deep and conscious complicity in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights.”

The first effort to introduce an academic boycott along these lines was narrowly defeated at the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) annual conference in 2005, but set in motion more than a decade of similar — and largely unsuccessful — campaigns at universities around the world. UCT would be the first major academic institution in a democratic country to adopt a boycott of Israeli academia.


UCT’s Max Price in a catch-22 situation over boycott

Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT), Dr Max Price, is facing a monumental ethical dilemma as his campus campaigns - for the second time in three years - for an academic boycott of Israel. If imposed, this would be one of the first major academic institutions in a democratic country to do so.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Sep 07, 2017
The internationally highly-rated university, which has for decades consistently attracted Jewish students, is facing the possibility of a full-scale academic boycott of Israel. During the past several days there has been an active campaign on campus to sever all ties with the Jewish state.
Posters have appeared on campus advertising a “festival of talks”, hosted by Israel Academic Boycott, which is a programme of UCT’s Palestinian Solidarity Forum (PSF).
This pressing issue is shortly to be pronounced upon by UCT’s Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) – an organisation which aims to protect and promote free speech on campus - of which Dr Price is a member.
A delegation of UCT’s South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), made a presentation to the AFC last week calling on the university to scrap any plans to entertain a boycott. They called instead for the university to “build bridges towards engagement, not boycott”.
SAUJS Cape chairperson, Jordan Seligmann said: “If UCT endorsed the academic boycott, it would potentially result in serious harm to the university’s reputation in the international academic community.”
He and colleagues, Jesse Soicher, Tamir Shklaz and Yakov Schleider, cited a number of reasons against the support of a boycott.
“Refusing to work with Israeli institutions would be to pass by great potential to solve problems facing South Africa currently. One such example is the drought happening in the Western Cape.
“Israel is a leader in water management and desalination technology, and it would greatly benefit South Africa if our universities collaborate with their Israeli counterparts on water research,” they told the AFC.
In a written submission to the AFC, SAUJS explained that a boycott would “punish the most progressive voices in Israeli society, block dialogue and exchanges between Israelis, Palestinians and others which would make peace less likely.
“Boycotts trample the academic freedom that universities stand for and deprive students of their right to international viewpoints. Many South African universities engage with Israeli institutions. Even Nelson Mandela has an honorary doctorate from an Israeli university,” continued SAUJS.
In a haunting case of déjà vu, Dr Price faced this exact predicament in 2014 when calls for an academic boycott were first made in response to the Gaza conflict.
At the time, he announced: “While there are many in our community who may support BDS and other boycotts, UCT (through its Academic Freedom Committee) takes the view that academic boycotts are in a category of their own and should almost never be supported by universities.
“The day we ban people from speaking on our campus because we do not agree with their politics, is the day we sacrifice our commitment to academic freedom and the ability to protect different, unpopular, and dissident views...
“While UCT as an institution is unable to support the call to take a stand on the specific issues condemning Israel, we uphold the rights of individual academics and students to do so and will facilitate the promotion of all views and serious debate,” according to his statement in 2014.
Addressing a capacity crowd at Limmud Johannesburg on August 6, Price emphatically stated he was against academic boycotts. He said he could understand trade and cultural boycotts, but academic boycotts were counterproductive and highly damaging in terms of future advancement in all areas of life and thought.
Chairman of the Cape SABJD, Rael Kaimowitz, said this week: “This matter has been raised for discussion at the UCT Academic Freedom Committee (AFC). If the AFC  is in favour, it can only make recommendations for consideration by the UCT Council.
“We are hopeful that the AFC will see the absurdity of the proposal and stop it in its tracks. This is not only an issue for the university or for the Jewish community, who will be shocked at any boycott, but something which the academic community around the world will take exception to.
“Academic freedom is a pillar of any self-respecting university and any initiative to promote or enforce a boycott, is discriminatory and inconsistent with universal academic standards as well as undermining the right to freedom of expression, as laid out in Section 16 of the South African Constitution.”
It is understood that several members of the Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) are supporters of BDS and UCT-PSF’s call for a boycott.
 A prominent American law professor said that UCT would be placing its partnerships with its US counterparts in jeopardy if it succumbs to pressure from BDS activists to adopt the boycott.
Professor David Bernstein of the Scalia Law School at George Mason University, told the Algemeiner that if passed, UCT would be obliged to cut all ties with Israeli faculty and academic institutions - a move which would “trigger outrage” among US academics and their colleagues in other countries.
“They are trying to isolate Israel, but they may find that UCT is internationally isolated instead,” he said.
“There would be a substantial number of professors like myself who would have nothing to do with UCT should they adopt an academic boycott of Israel,” he is reported to have said.
It is understood that UCT currently has partnership agreements with several American universities that facilitate student and faculty exchange programmes and other joint projects, and that some of these same universities have passed anti-BDS legislation. 
SAUJS further stated that the South African government has signed agreements concerning developmental engagement with Israel in fields such as health, tourism, energy, engineering, water, and agriculture, to create a better life for poor and historically disadvantaged South Africans.  The African National Congress supports engagement with Israel, it said, particularly on issues of peace building.
In its submission, SAUJS said: “Anti-Israel boycott campaigns create division, hostility and tension on university campuses. BDS events over the past few years have shown that anti-Israel boycott initiatives have consistently generated hostility between fellow students, including numerous incidents of anti-Semitic abuse.
“SA universities should support an ‘invest in peace’ agenda to help use its expertise to bring Arabs and Israelis together in dialogue. A boycott will further inflame tensions on campus,” it continued. 
Rowan Polovin, chairman of the SA Zionist Federation, Cape Council, said the “overwhelming majority” of universities around the world have rejected calls for academic boycotts of Israel on the basis of them being “discriminatory, bigoted and counter to the ideals of academic freedom, the pursuit of knowledge and the freedom of ideas”.
He said: “One hopes that sanity prevails at UCT, which 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 derailment, of academic values.”
He added: “It was deeply worrying that the AFC, a body currently tasked with making a recommendation to the university on whether or not to impose this boycott, contains individuals who have made anti-Zionist and in some cases blatantly anti-Semitic comments in the past, yet will not recuse themselves from the decision.”
Dr Price has his work cut out for him in the coming days, his decision being paramount to the debate, places him squarely in the firing line.


'An opportunity for the university to change direction'
Munyaradzi Makoni
26 August 2017 Issue No:203

Renowned African scholar Professor Mahmood Mamdani, who returned to the University of Cape Town last week after a 16-year absence to deliver the TB Davie Memorial Lecture hosted by the academic freedom committee, argued that the university had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change direction – from a colonising outpost to a decolonisation project. 

Towards the end of his lecture on ‘Decolonising the Post-colonial University’, Mamdani said he agreed to return to the University of Cape Town, or UCT, “because Rhodes fell”. 

“To me it was a signal that the process of change was in the offing, I would be the last person to stay away.”

Mamdani, now the executive director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University, was appointed head of the Centre of African Studies at UCT in 1996. He left three years later after disagreements with colleagues over a proposed ‘transformed’ curriculum which he called ‘Problematising the study of Africa’.

Mamdani said he came to the University of Cape Town in 1996 “full of excitement and wanting to learn and to contribute to a new world. Instead, I found a world very unsure of itself, full of anxiety. The leadership of government had changed, but the leadership of institutions had not.” 

In his lecture, Mamdani said the institutional form of the modern African university was not African and there was ‘no connection’ between the institutions of learning we know of and celebrate in pre-colonial Africa, whether it’s in Cairo or in Timbuktu, and the universities we live and work in today. 

European model

“The universities of contemporary Africa are based on the European model. The European model of a discipline-based gated community with a distinction between clearly defined groups, administrators, academics, and fee-paying students,” he said. 

The birthplace of that model was in Germany, Mamdani said. Humboldt University of Berlin was a new type of university designed when Germany rethought how to recover from the defeat by France in 1810. Over the next century, this innovation spread over Europe and over the rest of the world. 

This was also true of the intellectual content of modern social sciences and humanities. Modern social science and humanities are basically a product of the enlightenment experience in Europe. He said the European experience was the raw material from which the human category was forged. 

“Externally, it was a response to an entirely different set of circumstances, not the changing vision of a self-reflective and self-revolutionising Europe, but of a self-assertive aggrandising, conquering Europe, expanding across the globe, in a move which began with the new world, then Asia, finally Africa, seeking to transform and to ‘civilize that world in its own image’.” 

According to Mamdani this dual origin made for a contradictory legacy. The modern European university was a site for the study of the human. In their universal reach for the human, the humanities and the social sciences both proclaimed the oneness of humanity and assumed its sameness from a very European vantage point.

Conquest of society

He said the African university began as a colonial project, a top-down modernist project, whose ambition was the conquest of society. 

The university was on the frontline of the colonial civilising mission, he said. Properly understood, this civilising mission was the precursor, the original edition of the one-size-fits-all project that we associate with the structural adjustment programmes designed by the IMF and the World Bank in the 1980s.

“The university was the original structural adjustment programme,” he said, adding its ambition was to create universal scholars, men and women who stood for excellence, regardless of context, one-size-fits-all, and who would serve as the vanguard of the civilising mission without reservation or remorse.

“If you regard yourself as prisoners in this ongoing colonising project then your task has to be one of subverting that process from within, through a series of acts which sift through the historical legacy and the contemporary reality, discarding some parts and adapting others to a new found purpose, in short – decolonisation.”

Folkloric home languages

Mamdani posed the question: is there an intellectual reasoning that we can term African? 

“Not a mode of reasoning genetically or ancestrally African, but I mean one expressive of a tradition weaving together of a set of discourses communicated in a common language, defining a coherent intellectual community with long historical tradition.”

He noted most Africans came out of colonialism speaking more than one language. One of these is the language of colonialism, inevitably a language of science, scholarship and global affairs. The other is a colonised language, a home language whose growth was truncated because colonialism cut short the possibility of the development of an intellectual tradition in the languages of the colonised. 

“As a result, our home languages remain folkloric, shut out from the language of science and learning, law and government,” he said. 

In East Africa, Kiswahili makes an exception, he said, being the language of culture and official discourse used for teaching in primary and secondary schools but not of university education. At the university level, it fun'ctions more like a foreign language, with its own department of Kiswahili studies. 

The difference becomes clear if one looks at Afrikaans development, he said. “One needs to recall that Afrikaans emerged from a folkloric language to a medium of an intellectual tradition in less than half a century, thanks to vast affirmative language support through public funds to schools, universities and publishing houses.

“It’s no exaggeration to say Afrikaans represents the most successful decolonising initiative on the African continent,” said Mamdani adding that not only did this happen under apartheid, but that the great irony is it was not emulated by the government of independent South Africa.

He noted if state policy changed, the same would go for Nguni and Sotho languages in South Africa.

What needs to be done?

The African university began as a colonial project, a top-down modernist project whose ambition was to transform society in its own image. The project was unilingual, it was English, Portuguese or French, and it acknowledged only a single Western language, one that shut the vast majority out of the colonised out of the common discourse of humanity.

What would it mean to decolonise such a project? The East African experience suggests socialising the cost of education so as to make it more inclusive. To socialise it is to reduce fees, he said.

“Affordable higher education must become a reality if the end of apartheid is to have a meaning for the youth,” he told his audience.

“The decolonising project has to be a multilingual project whose purpose should not only be to provide Westernised education in multiple languages, but to provide resources for the development of non-western scholarly intellectual traditions as living traditions with the capacity to sustain public and scholarly discourse,” he said.

He called on UCT and other institutions to consider establishing centres for African languages which could support efforts to translate global literature into these languages. 

Directing his comments at UCT Vice-chancellor Max Price, Mamdani said the students’ movement had opened up for the university an opportunity that sometimes comes up once in a generation, an opportunity to change the direction of the university from an outpost of a colonising mission to that of the decolonisation project. 



Pro-Palestinian Students Intensify Calls UCT Israeli Boycott
By Yaseen Kippie
The debate surrounding a potential academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions by the University of Cape Town (UCT) continues, with UCT’s Palestine Solidarity Forum (PSF) taking up the cudgels to organise a seminar series on exploring all aspects of the boycott. As part of a broader boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, the aim is to isolate Israel in order to force a change in Israel’s discriminatory policies towards Palestinians, including oppressing the academic freedom of Palestinians.
According to the global BDS campaign, for decades, Israeli universities have played a key role in planning, implementing and justifying Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies, while maintaining a uniquely close relationship with the Israeli military. UCT is not unique in this approach as proposals for an academic boycott of Israel have been made by academics and organisations in Palestine, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Claims of ‘anti-Semitism’
But the PSF’s campaign has been met with strong criticism by the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), who has called it an “inherent anti-Semitic campaign that is patently obvious to anyone willing to see”. Rowin Polovin, the chairman of SAZF, labeled the call for a boycott as anti-Jewish and “counter to the very ideals of academic freedom.”
“The PSF has connections to the anti-Semitic BDS movement, which directly targets the one and only Jewish state. These calls replicate the anti-Jewish polities of German universities from 1933 onwards, where Jews were banned simply for being Jews.”
He further refuted the notion of an academic boycott in general.
“We reject the principle of an academic boycott of any country. Bringing politics into academic life is negative, unproductive, and not conducive to dialogue that should happen.”
But Haseena Solwa, an executive member of the PSF, countered his argument, saying the Jewish religion is not being targeted.
“Judaism is a religion and Zionism is a political ideology. We are not boycotting Israeli universities for being Jewish, but for being complicit in the oppression of Palestinians. Stats show that only 38% of Palestinians have been able to do a grade 12 equivalent, whereas 88% of Israelis have. This shows the massive disparage in education.”
A Jewish executive member for the PSF, who asked to remain anonymous, responded to Polovin’s comparison of the boycott to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews.
“It’s repugnant to suggest that this is similar to Nazi Germany. It insults those people who suffered. It shows the lack of a very basic understanding of history.”
Academic isolation
He also expressed the significance of an academic boycott.
“In 2004, Palestinian civil society called on international organisations to boycott the Apartheid Israeli state economically, culturally and academically. We have taken up this mandate to push and campaign for this boycott. Boycotts as a political strategy isolates the state, making it a pariah state. The further isolated it becomes; the more difficult it becomes to maintain the facade of everything in that state being alright. If international relations can show the perverse situation in Israel as a punitive measure against Israel, it will be forced to concede to the human rights of Palestinians.”
Back in 2011, University of Johannesburg was the first institution to officially sever relations with an Israeli university – a landmark moment in the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel campaign.
In December 2015, over 200 South African academics from different universities signed a declaration committing themselves to supporting the rights of the Palestinian people. The academics pledged not to accept invitations to visit Israeli academic institutions; not to act as referees for Israeli institutions; and not to participate in conferences organised or funded by Israeli institutions. Signatories include professors from universities across the country, as well as academics from South African research institutes and think tanks. Their declaration follows a similar commitment by 600 academics in the UK which was issued a few months earlier.
Processes underway
The current stage in the process of the boycott is still early. Having, this week, made presentations to the Academic Freedom Committee (AFC), the PSF and the South African Union for Jewish Students (SAUJS) now await the Committee’s decision. The AFC’s decision, which is expected to be made in October, will be in the form of a recommendation to the UCT council, which will in turn make the final decision of whether UCT will boycott Israeli academic institutions or not.
In a statement, UCT management said it has noted the ongoing discussions by various structures on campus taking place against the backdrop of the right to freedom of expression, which UCT upholds.
The university’s role is to create and protect spaces for competing views, and to nurture debate on many issues in accordance with the principle of academic freedom.
The university’s Academic Freedom Committee is scheduled to meet with members of two student structures to hear their views and perspective on the matter.
“UCT remains committed to keeping the campus a place for freedom of speech and academic debate on important issues such as this one. The university recognizes that there are many staff members and students with strong opinions on either side of the issue, and we encourage all of them to take part in these discussions in a peaceful and responsible manner.” VOC


‘Privileged Jew’ fights for Palestinian rights inside Israel
Adri Nieuwhof 02 Jun 2017 00:00

As the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of Palestine approaches, I spoke to Israeli boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement activist Ronnie Barkan.

“I am a privileged Israeli Jew,” says Barkan. “It’s not that I’m affiliated with being Israeli or Jewish, but rather this is my legal status defined by the state. My fellow citizens [Palestinians] have a totally different legal status. My privileges as a Jew come at their expense.

“The indigenous Palestinian people were expelled, a Jewish majority was created by force. Those expelled were never allowed home. And those who remained were discriminated [against] in every possible way. Israel is an apartheid state by design.”

This is the basis of Barkan’s activism, which started with protests against the separation wall that Israel began building in 2002. But protests, he felt, were not enough.

In 2005, Palestinian civil society called on the international community to use BDS as a means to force Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians and international law. The movement’s three basic demands were: ending the occupation and dismantling the wall; equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees as stipulated in United Nations Resolution 194.

Barkan and fellow Israeli activists supported the BDS call by founding Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within in 2008.

“When [historian] Ilan Pappé and [professor of linguistics] Tanya Reinhardt were targeted for calling for the academic boycott, we decided that it makes sense to speak out as a group,” says Barkan.

Boycott from Within supports the Palestinian BDS call, which is not limited to a boycott of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine. “The whole of the Israeli economy is based on profiting from the oppression of Palestinians. It will be hard to find Israeli companies that are not part and parcel of the system,” he says.

Many Israelis consider Barkan and other Israeli BDS activists to be traitors. “If you advocate for respect for the law, you will be accused of being an enemy of the state. You will be cursed as ‘leftist’ and will be regarded as a traitor.”

Barkan is even more tainted because he has refused to serve in the Israeli military. “Refusing ... is an act of treason. We are indoctrinated from kindergarten that our goal as Israelis is to be soldiers. It is not easy to become a conscientious objector.”

It’s not only leftists and conscientious objectors who are “traitors” or “parasites”, says Barkan. “Everyone who supports BDS is seen as acting for the destruction of Israel.”

Israel has declared war against BDS activists around the world. He sees this as a hopeful sign. “The lengths that [the Israeli government] go to in legislating against BDS, investing so much money in trying to intimidate people, is the best sign for us that we are doing something right, that we are effective.”

Barkan has no doubt BDS will force Israel to respect the law and that one day Palestinians will enjoy freedom and equality. “The situation will change because we have truth and justice on our side. BDS will play a role in bringing down apartheid,” he says. “BDS is only for the short term of ending the crimes. The campaign does not take a position about the solution, be it one state, two states or five. We have to work hard to plant the seeds for the future, the seeds for equality and democracy.”

Adri Nieuwhof is a veteran anti-apartheid activist based in the Netherlands, who served as a co-ordinator on the Holland Committee on Southern Africa.


South African ruling party wants to downgrade embassy in Israel
ANC says it intends to demote mission to 'interest office,' a move Israel's envoy in Pretoria says would hurt South Africa's interests

July 6, 2017, 5:06 pm  28

South Africa’s ruling party this week announced its intention of downgrading its embassy in Israel to an “interest office.”

At a major policy conference in Johannesburg, the African National Congress’s international relations committee decided on a number of recommendations to be adopted as official party policy later this year.
“The commission called for the downgrading of the South African embassy in Israel to send a strong message about Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestine and the continued human rights abuses against the peoples of Palestine,” the commission’s chairperson announced Tuesday.

Anti-Israel activists celebrated the move, while Israeli officials shrugged it off as a political policy recommendation that may never actually be implemented by the government.

“This is a major victory for human rights and for the people of Palestine,” according to a statement issued Wednesday by a regional branch of the ANC.

“Yesterday’s resolution is the strongest and clearest position taken by the ANC in our history as a governing party… We are under no illusion that Israel and its lobby will attempt to pressure the ANC but this mighty movement will remain steadfast in advancing the interests and solidarity of our people. We warn Israel not to interfere with our local politics, but instead to build a just peace with Palestinians,” it said.

Speaking to The Times of Israel on Thursday, Israel’s ambassador in Pretoria, Arthur Lenk, highlighted the negative side effects such a move would have for South Africa.

“Any decision to downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel would only hurt South Africans and would have absolutely no impact on Israel or the Palestinians,” he said. “Such a decision would limit opportunities for the promotion of South African exports, something that is radically important for economic or socioeconomic transformation.”

Pretoria’s ambassador in Ramat Gan could not be reached for comment.

South African diplomats stationed in Israel often try to downplay anti-Israel moves by the ANC — such as welcoming senior Hamas leaders — by stressing that the party, which is headquartered in Johannesburg, is not the same as the government in Pretoria. However, it should be noted that the ANC commands an absolute majority in the country’s parliament.

At the ANC’s National Policy Conference, which is held every five years, some 3,000 delegates from party branches all across the country routinely adopt hundreds of resolutions in various areas, including some on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The recommendations made in this week’s summit are likely to be ratified at the ANC National Conference in mid-December, during which the party will select a new leader to replace its two-term president, Jacob Zuma.

“On Palestine, the committee reaffirms the ANC’s unwavering and steadfast commitment for the struggle of the people of Palestine,” the chairperson of the international relations panel declared Tuesday. “The committee expresses its disappointment by the Israelis’ lack of commitment towards peace with the Palestinian people. The commission debates the continued illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel, which is at its fiftieth year, and Israel’s non compliance with the international law.”

A “discussion document” published by the committee for this week’s conference calls for the rapid implementation of a two-state solution to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It goes on to predict that the “Palestinian crisis will be exacerbated” due to the US administration’s recent “pro-Israeli pronouncements.”

Furthermore, the ANC’s international relations committee warned against Israeli efforts to “galvanise support from Africa and elsewhere with a view to undermine the Palestinian cause.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has visited Africa twice in the last 12 months and plans a third visit later this year. The ANC “shall engage progressive forces on the continent on the need to develop a common position and posture in preparation for the upcoming Israeli-Africa Summit scheduled for October 2017 in Togo,” the document stated.


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