The coming academic boycott of Israel at UCT? Part 4 - Politicsweb

27 March 2019 - Israel also has much to offer UCT. So, the most valuable thing that UCT and other influential South African institutions can do is to persuade the various Palestinian groupings to eschew violence and get around a negotiating table with the Israelis.

Sara Gon 
Another attempt is being made at the University of Cape Town (UCT) to formally approve a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. A new resolution has been approved by the Academic Freedom Committee and the Senate - it now only has to go before the Council on 30 March 2019.

The Senate’s resolution is:

"The University of Cape Town Senate took a resolution in favour of a proposal for UCT to not enter into any formal relationships with Israeli academic institutions operating in the occupied Palestinians territorities as well as other Israeli academic institutions enabling gross human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories."

According to UCT the Senate resolution, which was passed at a meeting held on 15 March 2019, will now be considered by the university Council when it next meets on 30 March 2019.

The resolution’s supporters say it’s not a boycott against all universities - only those operating in the West Bank (the ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ couldn’t include Gaza) and those ‘enabling gross human rights violations’.

Of Israel’s eight universities, only one is situated in the West Bank. However, all of Israel’s other universities will be subject to the boycott if they enable ‘gross human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories.’ ‘Gross human rights violations’ are not defined, so they will be determined by someone or some body – unclear which – at UCT, presumably from time to time.

UCT has no relations with any Israeli university currently. The resolution doesn’t end any existing relationships.

The conflict

Not only Israel bears responsibility for the conflict: there have been repeated failures by those governing the West Bank and Gaza to improve their citizens’ lives despite having the means to do so.

The New York Times (Hamas Crackdown on Gaza Protests Instils Fear, by Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem, 24 March 2019) reported beatings by Hamas militants, detentions, and people being deprived of food.

Hamas’s security forces also raided homes and detained organisers, journalists and participants. Masked plainclothes Hamas enforcers armed with pistols, batons and wooden rods attacked protesters, and prevented journalists and human rights workers from documenting the events.

Since then, many Gazans say they have been living under a pall of fear from Hamas. Hamas has blamed rival political forces for the unrest and apologised for its heavy-handed response.

There is no dispute that the closing of border crossings by Israel and Egypt has resulted in increasing hardships for Gazans. However, Hamas used a great deal of the money destined for the citizenry to buy weaponry and build tunnels into Israel.

Building tunnels underground to get into Israel is an act of aggression by Hamas.

Many claims by BDS and others are just not true. Thus it is incumbent on academia to weigh up all the facts before making decisions.


The following historical facts need to be considered:

The Palestinian Mandate area was divided into a Jewish state and a Muslim state by Britain, which was given the mandate over the region when the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I;

The United Nations then recognised the two states. Israel accepted the division, the Arab states did not. The Palestinians did not exist then as a political entity, so they had no say in the Arab states’ position;

Arab/Israeli wars occurred in 1948, 1956 and 1967 (the Six Day War) when the Arab states attacked Israel;

In the 1967 war Israel repulsed the attacking Arab armies back and for the first time ever seized the West Bank from the Jordanians and Gaza from Egypt. The West Bank had been annexed by Jordan between 1948 and 1967;

The occupation, whatever one’s views on it are legally or morally, it occurred in response to a war launched by Arab countries;

The decision by the Israeli government to remain in occupation of the two areas was controversial, and many Israelis at the time and since have argued against it. The leadership decided, however, that the occupation would continue and the consequences are well-known;

70 years later, the state of Israel remains a recognised, independent state, though the exact land which is to form the West Bank has to be resolved. Also, Israel remains in occupation of the Golan Heights;

The main goal of Boycott Disinvestment Sanctions (BDS) and Hamas is to eliminate the Jewish state, either through de-legitimisation or ‘by military conquest. Interestingly, BDS and Hamas share offices in Cape Town;

BDS supports Hamas. So any body or organisation which supports BDS also supports Hamas, and thus supports the elimination of the Jewish state;

BDS views negotiations as completely unnecessary – only Israel must act by unilaterally withdrawing from the West Bank (Gaza was returned to the Palestinians in 2005);

This position reveals either wilful ignorance of the current situation or a failure to understand the mechanics of resolving a conflict non-violently. If Israel were to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank now. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and other such groups would be an immediate existential threat both to Israel and to Fatah. In this event, the area could become a mini-Syria. All these entities are proxies for Iran, which has repeatedly vowed to destroy Israel;

If BDS is naïve, it needs to understand that negotiations need to take place to avoid violence and that both parties must and can give each other something. The one issue that Israel needs for peace to be agreed is for the Palestinians to recognise Israel and its right to exist. Without that, Israel would be negotiating away its existence.

Israel is treated with an opprobrium disproportionate to its actions by many members of the United Nations.

Let’s consider Russia’s annexation of Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.

Russia is recognised by the United Nations. Russia, however, used a phoney, ahistoric pretext to attack the Ukraine. It also didn’t occupy Eastern Ukraine through a successful defence to a Ukrainian attack.

Russia did attract condemnation from many countries for its actions and the imposition of some sanctions, but ultimately it has been left untouched and few in the UN community refer to it anymore. The same applies to its annexation of parts of Georgia and Chechnya.

Of the 47 members of United Nations Human Rights Committee, 30 routinely vote against Israel because they are Muslim states, members of the now defunct Non-Aligned Movement (third world), communist or a combination of all three. Voting against Israel is their default position – facts are never a consideration.

If Israel is heading to derecognition, then so too should Russia, China, Ethiopia, Morocco, Armenia, Turkey, Sudan and more.

Recent attacks

On 14 March 2019, two rockets were launched at Tel Aviv from Gaza. Israel retaliated at militant targets in Gaza.

Eleven days later more rockets were launched by Hamas and destroyed a house 15km north of Tel Aviv. Seven people were injured. Israel retaliated by firing at militant targets.

It is indisputable therefore that Hamas launched rockets at Israel first. In fact, much of the conflict between Israel and Hamas has been started by Hamas, and Israeli retaliation has been the response. Yet much of the media refer first to the retaliatory attacks by Israel and only then clarify that they are in response to attacks first launched from Gaza. This reporting subtly reveals a clear bias that Hamas propaganda feeds off.

Use of language

The Council, in considering this resolution, should also consider is the use of language against Israel.

On 25 March 2019, Al Aqsa TV (Hamas) broadcast, inter alia, a music video which called on Gazans to ‘put on suicide belts and scatter the enemy’s body parts’, make the skulls fly in the sky.

The video includes images of violence and terror attacks. Among the visuals are stabbings, car rammings, explosions, and footage of the oldest Hamas suicide bomber, 57-year-old Fatima Omar Mahmoud Al-Najjar, who blew herself up in 2006, injuring two Israeli soldiers. Other images show people holding knives and guns in coordination with the lyrics ‘stab, bomb and make eyes weep’.

Two interviews with released female prisoners precede the video; one of them attempted a suicide bombing, her goal being ‘to kill as many Jews as possible’. (As translated by the PMW Bulletin, 26 March 2019).

One regularly hears tragic tales of the death of Palestinian children by Israeli rockets into Gaza. And on occasion they are true. Israel’s policy since its inception, however, never has been to target civilians, and particularly children. The deaths of Palestinian children would be, to use that awful phrase, ‘collateral damage’.

On the other hand, after the second intifada, Hamas started to launch suicide bombings in Israel. The objective of a suicide bombing is to deliberately kill as many civilians, including children, as possible. The Palestinians glorify the deaths of militants; martyrdom is revered.

For people of a Judeo-Christian background, the veneration of death doesn’t resonate. The celebration of death rather than a celebration of life should be pause for thought.

Intense expressions of antisemitism are also often expressed. Dudu Mahlangu-Masango, a member of the South African Council of Churches and board member of BDS-SA wrote the following: ‘The wretched of the earth in the concentration camps of the Holocaust raised their fists and embarked on uprisings against the Nazis… It was in those who resisted the Holocaust that we find hope for good to triumph over evil…

‘Palestinians are refusing to submit on their knees and are insisting on fighting on their feet — just as people did in Nazi Germany. It is in this resistance that one observes the tenacity of the human spirit, the beauty of humanity and the seeds for a more peaceful, just and loving world. This tenacity should assist us in overcoming despair and not being deterred.’

‘Ergo, it is Israelis who are now the Nazi oppressors, while the Palestinians are the Holocaust victims.’

This approach is as diabolical as it is clever. The accusation of being Nazis and using the Holocaust against the Israelis is not because Israel is comparable. The claims about the Holocaust are completely untrue nonsense. Language like this is intended to remove any idea of victimhood of the Jews. The accusation is a calumny that is intended to deeply hurt and anger Jews.

United Nations Report

On 22 March 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a report accusing Israel of crimes against humanity for its handling of violent protests on the border with Gaza Strip in 2018. Pakistan, Cuba, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Venezuela and Russia welcomed the report.

The report called on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to refer ‘alleged perpetrators’ (Israeli soldiers) to the International Criminal Court. 

Alan Baker, director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Centre and head of the Global Law Forum, described the report as ‘another biased, malevolent and unprofessional UN report’.

He said: ‘To accept that the protests are “non-violent” and “fully peaceful” shows a lack of awareness of the extent of the violence of the demonstrations and public statements by senior Hamas operatives and demonstration organisers inciting violence, assaulting the separation fence, infiltrating into Israeli territory, and seeking to kill Israelis.’

The commission, he said, ‘appears to have overlooked the violation of humanitarian norms and conventions by the Palestinians in the launching of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons intended to kill Israeli citizens’.

On 18 March 2019, at a side event at the UN, a panel of military and legal experts rejected the report. The panel included Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey S. Corn (ret.), a law professor who formerly advised the U.S. Army on the laws of war, and Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan. They cited structural, legal and operational defects with the UN’s inquiry, and said the report promoted false claims.

By wrongly framing the Gaza border violence as ‘predominantly civilian protests,’ said Corn, ‘the Commission of Inquiry distorts the reality of what it confronted.’

He added: ‘By omitting from the UNHRC inquiry reports of the use of human shields by Hamas, the report incentivizes these terror tactics in the future, and the risk posed to the civilian population of Gaza is exacerbated. If we are really concerned about mitigating harm done to civilians, we should be condemning Hamas’ actions and this report.’

Kemp had testified before the UN inquiry and was present at the Gaza border.

He said: ‘The United Nations has played directly into Hamas’ hands and the UNHRC is but an instrument of Hamas terrorism. This report, as well as countries that vote for it, encourage Hamas towards further terrorism in the future.’

He added that his personal testimony to the inquiry was completely ignored in the report.

Dr. Einat Wilf, a former member of Israel’s parliament, said that understanding the motivations of the Palestinian ‘marchers’ is crucial to understanding the Israeli response.

Wilf said: ‘Those who come to the border marching in the name of the so-called “right of return” are not rioting against Israel’s blockade, but rather are coming to destroy Israel. This needs to be understood as a declaration of war, and nothing less than that. The Israeli response cannot be        understood if this is not understood.’

The Marches of Return signify the single issue that needs to be resolved to end the conflict. The Palestinians insist that they must return to and take over Israel. If they try to do so, Israel will use military force to stop it. Among the marchers are thousands of militants from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others to fire on the Israelis and to breach the border to ‘claim’ the land. Hamas has admitted this.

An expert on Palestinian militant groups active on the Gaza border revealed false accusations and omissions of key facts in the UN report. These included

five ‘victims of IDF gunfire’ named in the report – they were members of Al Qassam Brigades, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Saraya al-Quds (the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad). These organisations should send a shiver down the Council’s collective spine.

Israel’s innovation

It is a cliche to refer to Israel’s level of innovation and discovery. Academics in particular, should give this serious consideration.

A country that develops such a wide range of solutions to our problems in water, medicine, IT and more, and which are for the benefit of the whole world, deserves to be considered more soberly and with deeper analysis; not hounded out of existence.

Final reflections

Israel’s academia is amongst the finest in the world. Once a struggling, poor Third World country, Israel is now a sophisticated, competitive First World country that cares deeply for its people and worships its children, and has much to offer.

Israel also has much to offer UCT. So, the most valuable thing that UCT and other influential South African institutions can do is to persuade the various Palestinian groupings to eschew violence and get around a negotiating table with the Israelis.

Nothing is lost by negotiation.

Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by sending an SMS to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply).