The University of Cape Town (UCT) is under internal threat once again, as forces within it threaten to damage the academic integrity of the already falling institution. This threat takes the form of a proposed academic boycott of Israel. The move is being led by UCT’s Palestinian Solidarity Front (PSF), a small but loud group of trouble makers, who have united many of the left-wing organisations on campus.
Origins of the Boycott
The PSF attempted to lobby UCT to adopt an academic boycott in the past, but have been shot down by the Academic Freedom Committee and Max Price. This may change, as 2017’s Academic Freedom Committee contains at least two known BDS supporters on its panel. Aliya Chikte, a BDS supporter, has also been appointed to the Committee by the SRC.
Strategic deployment by boycott sympathisers, or just a coincidence wrought by an institution that harbours anti-Israeli sentiments, this is not good. With such a biased committee, the boycott will lose a crucial opposition and gain traction.
This is a great risk to academic freedom, the quality of the intellectual discourse, academic resources and the already tenuous quality of the university.
It comes as no surprise to me that the PSF has seemingly gained the support of a myriad (if not all) left-wing societies on campus. The Fallist movement itself has declared support for the PSF. This is to be expected when keeping in mind the unholy alliance of thoughtless Israel bashing and cultural Marxism that infects our campuses.
There is very little, if any, critical engagement with the actual issue of Israeli-Palestine relations by the left-wing on campus. Most students are highly ignorant of the issue on all levels and just follow the cause as they would a meme. The PSF is a bit more clued up, but consumed by a blind hatred. Luckily, they are in the minority. Despite the apparent popular support they seem to have, PSF events tend to not reach over ten attendees (that includes the organisers) throughout the years. This is not the sign of a popularly supported movement.
Rather, the PSF use emotional blackmail and their alliance with vitriolic left to fabricate the evils of Israel and take advantage of ignorant students. Now, this is coming to a beach-head where, if it continues unabated, the institution will suffer severely.
Dangers of Sanctions
Sanctions are stupid. They’re blanket punishment aimed at pushing a population over the edge so that they will hopefully overthrow the offending regime. They do not hurt the offenders directly. Elites in countries facing sanctions do not care about boycotts or blockades. They can get what they need and want through illegal means or continual pillaging. They don’t care.
All the sanctions accomplish is the destruction of the country’s economy with the hope that it will push the population into opposing their government and instate a regime change.
The academic boycott is a form of sanction, but it takes the already ineffective tactic and makes it even more nonsensical.
The aim of the academic boycott, like all boycotts, is to pressure the offender into taking a course of action. In this case, BDS wants Israel to not exist, the compromise being a sacrificing of Israel’s security apparatus to such a degree that they might as well not exist.
These are unacceptable terms for Israel, so a boycott will never result in success.
Another goal of boycotts is to weaken an opponent. But how will UCT boycotting Israeli universities weaken them? We need their content. We need access to their research. Israeli academics have been integral to the development of many fields, especially that of IT and medicine. We need that research to improve our own institutions and our country.
This academic boycott seeks to remove access to those resources. For what benefit? None. Israel will not be weakened. They will not lose prestige. All that will happen is that UCT academics and students will lose access to swathes of valuable resources.
Succinctly: The academic boycott will accomplish nothing but removing UCT access to valuable academic resources, all for the goal of ideological claptrap and hate.
To preempt opposition that suggests that the boycott is necessary to avoid working with institutions complicit with the Israeli government’s actions. How so? Were the universities in South Africa during Apartheid complicit? UCT was called Moscow on the hill. Universities are seldom ever a reflection of the politics of the country. If anything, they are allies against the status quo.
Regardless, when one punishes something, there needs to be some sort of positive outcome. There is no reasonably positive outcome from an academic boycott of Israel. The Israeli universities really won’t care and we will lose our access to resources that we need. All views on the Israeli-Palestine conflict are irrelevant in the face of this.
It is clear that the boycott will not accomplish anything practical. Then, are the PSF and BDS just dumb or is there something else?
In chess, you presume that your opponent knows what they are doing. It is safe to presume that here. The PSF and BDS do not care that the academic boycott won’t really hurt Israel. Their real goal is to entrench a societal hatred against Israel, and Jewish students by extension.
Antisemitism is rife at UCT because of a vitriolic and loud minority. While the left try to act like neo-Nazis are returning, they are the real anti-Semites, hiding behind false accusations against the Middle East’s only stable liberal democracy.
All in all, supporters of academic freedom and good old common sense need to make their voices heard and oppose this foolish and hate-filled move to further destroy UCT and our society.