UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

University of Cape Town rejects Boycott Resolution

The Senate of the University of Cape Town (UCT) has decisively rejected a resolution to boycott Israeli Universities.  This follows intervention by UKLFI Patron, Baroness Ruth Deech DBE, QC (Hon) and a message from Sir Sydney Kentridge SC, QC, Nelson Mandela’s counsel, strongly objecting to the “ill-considered proposal”.

A resolution that UCT “not enter into formal relations with Israeli Universities operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories or any other Israeli University enabling the gross violation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” was due to be considered and voted on by UCT’s Senate on 22 November 2019.

UKLFI Chief Executive, Jonathan Turner, was alerted to the imminent vote a few days before by Prof Zvi Ziegler of the Technion University, Haifa, who is the Coordinator, on behalf of the Heads of Israeli Universities, of the struggle against academic boycotts.

Supporters of the proposed resolution had circulated an opinion from Prof John Dugard SC, previously Special Rapporteur to the UNCHR on “Violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. The Opinion advised that the resolution was lawful under international law, the South African Constitution and South African law.

Prof Ziegler had been informed that the situation did not look good since Prof Dugard’s opinion had had a very negative effect and had not been countered.

Jonathan Turner therefore contacted Baroness Deech DBE, QC (Hon), who was formerly a Trustee of the Rhodes Trust and the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation, as well as Principal of St Anne’s College, Oxford, Senior Proctor of Oxford University, the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education in the UK, Chair of the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Chair of the English Bar Standards Board, and a Governor of the BBC.

Baroness Deech, together with Jonathan Turner and a leading QC specialising in equality and employment law, prepared an urgent letter to UCT’s Vice Chancellor, pointing out that adopting the resolution would be a serious violation of academic freedom as well as equality.  The letter noted that the proposed resolution ignored violations of human rights in other parts of the world which other countries’ universities might be said to “enable”, and that this difference of treatment would constitute clear discrimination against Israeli universities and their academic staff.

The letter showed how the proposed resolution would thus violate international instruments to which South Africa is a party, as well as the South African Constitution and legislation. In particular it would contravene UNESCO’s Recommendation regarding the Status of Higher Education Personnel; the principles of universality of science, academic freedom and freedom of association recognised by the International Science Council; provisions on equality and academic freedom in South Africa’s Bill of Rights, and South Africa’s Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 2000 (PEPUDA).

The letter observed that Prof Dugard’s opinion had omitted to mention any of these norms and that the allegations made against the State of Israel did not justify a boycott of the generality of academics at all its universities.  Prof Dugard’s view that Israeli universities have “enabled” alleged violations of human rights by its alumnae by educating and granting degrees to them was a tendentious and dangerous proposition.

The letter also drew attention to the unreliability of human rights reports on which Prof Dugard had relied and the presumption of innocence which he had ignored.

Jonathan Turner also alerted Sir Sydney Kentridge QC, who famously defended Nelson Mandela against capital charges of treason, and Sir Sydney then sent a message to UCT expressing his objection to the resolution as follows:

“As an alumnus (Hon) of the University of Cape Town I strongly object to this ill-considered proposal.” Sir Sydney Kentridge QC

We are delighted to report that UCT’s Senate decisively rejected the proposed resolution by a vote of 68% against.

Jonathan Turner, Chief Executive of UKLFI, said: “We welcome the correct decision made by the UCT Senate.  The opinion of Prof Dugard deployed in support of the resolution displayed such a lack of objectivity that it must further undermine his credibility in addressing issues relating to Israel.”