SPME on the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Consideration to Endorse an Academic Boycott

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Dear Colleagues:

As you may of have heard, Africa’s top university is  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.

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  is  debating the adoption of an academic boycott. If passed, UCT would be obliged to cut all ties with Israeli faculty and academic institutions.  This is clear attempt to isolate 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.

Historically, UCT has enjoyed the reputation of being an inclusive environment for students from all cultural and racial backgrounds, and while there is no greater benefit to one’s intellectual and social development than ideological diversity, it is crucial for the concept of tolerance that we speak out against what we disagree, with limits. The concept of tolerance implies that we refrain from using violence, intimidation, threats and bans to silence our opponents.

SPME urges UCT to draw on its rich history, as an institution that creates a community of intellectual individuals, where students were regarded as individuals in  their own right, rather than a particular cultural or religious group. Any decision to boycott Israeli universities only contributes to the popularity of radicalizing identity politics and threatens to fracture the campus.

SPME believes that the BDS movement as a whole is contrary to the search for peace, since it represents a form of misguided economic and cognitive warfare. It is in direct opposition to decades of agreements between Israel and Palestinians, in which both sides pledged to negotiate a peaceful settlement and a commitment to a two state solution. By focusing obsessively on Israel, and not on countries where actual human and civil rights abuses exist and where academics are suppressed, the actions of those supporting the BDS campaign are, as former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers put it, “anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent.”

SPME on the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Consideration to Endorse an Academic Boycott

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Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is not-for-profit [501 (C) (3)], grass-roots community of scholars who have united to promote honest, fact-based, and civil discourse, especially in regard to Middle East issues. We believe that ethnic, national, and religious hatreds, including anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, have no place in our institutions, disciplines, and communities. We employ academic means to address these issues.

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