By Ben Levitas, former Chairman of the SAZF

The moves afoot by the University of Cape Town Senate to boycott Israeli Universities, while coughed in terms appealing to human rights sentiments by superficially targeting only those Universities with ties to the “occupied Palestinian territories” as well as those enabling “gross human rights violations”, are in reality double-speak for all Israeli institutions, are inherently dishonest. This agenda has a historical context where the University of Johannesburg severed links with the Ben Gurion University in March 2011 and where Israeli academics were disinvited from the University of Stellenbosch.

When a standard of values is applied to one country only and when that country is the only Jewish country, those motivating this boycott are clearly guilty of an anti-Semitic agenda. Whilst there are many countries with terrible human rights records, daily committing “gross human rights” abuses, such as China (which invaded Tibet and which imprisons thousands of Uyghur Muslims in detention camps in Xinjiang, Western China), Iran (which spreads terror throughout the Middle East and threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth, Sudan(whose leader is guilty of genocide and a designated international criminal) and Turkey(which invaded Cyprus, imprisoned hundreds of thousands of academics and journalists and is guilty of genocide against the Kurds), who suffer no such sanction. On the contrary, South Africa has very close relations with the aforementioned countries and in even receives funding for tertiary education from some of them. Surely this begs the question, why identify only one country for condemnation, boycotts and opprobrium?

Unfortunately, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) with its message of hate for Israel has infiltrated the ruling party, its allies, the Communist party and the labour unions, and succeeded in demonising Israel to such an extent that it has “Captured” members of the Cabinet, succeeding to get Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education at the time, in April 2015, to embark on a trip to Israel to try to further its aims of boycotting Israeli academic institutions. It is perhaps ironic, that shortly after his aborted sortie to Israel, campuses all over South Africa exploded in violence to the “Fees must Fall” and “Rhodes must Fall” campaigns.

Surely, the lesson that should have been learned, that we who are burdened with so many educational challenges here, need to focus on our challenges and that deflecting attention elsewhere only exacerbates these problems. Boycotting Israeli academic institutions, which soar above any of our institutions in International rankings, is only going impoverish us further and not going to solve any of our problems.