The possible decision as to whether the University of Cape Town (UCT) should impose a boycott on Israeli academics and academic institutions continues down the track as it has not been concluded.

The process to vote for or against a protest has been going on for over one-and-a-half years.

We thought that it might be concluded when the UCT Council met on 30 March 2019, but not so. The Council is the highest decision making body at UCT and it had to consider and decide on the Senate’s resolution to impose a boycott. The original proposal to boycott was referred to the Senate by the ironically named Academic Freedom Committee.

The Senate’s resolution2., which was passed on 15 March 2019, read:

“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 (sic) as well as other Israeli academic institutions enabling gross human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The university Council when it met on 30 March 2019, however, resolved as follows:

“Council did not adopt this resolution of the Senate. It was the view of the Council that a number of issues required clarification, including a full assessment of the sustainability impact of the Senate resolution, and a more consultative process was necessary before the matter could be considered any further. Council resolved to refer the matter aback to the Senate.”

This was a case of ‘kicking the can down the road’ but an interesting one. It is still very possible that UCT will ultimately resolve to impose a boycott, but implicitly the Council has rebuked the Senate. The “clarification”, an “assessment” and particularly a “more consultative process” suggest that a body as large and august as the Senate, messed up the process in its, or at least some of its members’ zeal, to impose a boycott.

The Senate is the top body for determining academic matters at UCT; and it is academic matters that are at the heart of such a significant decision.

But the majority of those who were present at the Senate meeting in question, decided on a boycott. This was, however, the result of sloppy investigation for the supposed investigative rigour of serious academics and that is an embarrassment for UCT.

First, UCT has no relations with Israeli academic institutions or academics, so consideration of this issue is really just a form of virtue signalling to the rest of the academic world.

Second, it suggests but we have no minutes to verify this, that the few anti-Israel academics on the Senate had considerable effect in the discussions. Some of these academics are members  of Boycott Sanctions and Disinvestment South Africa (BDS).

Third, the Palestine Support Forum (PSF) and other pro-Palestinian representation were crucial to the information the Senate considered. Yet the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) and others were denied any opportunity such as was afforded to PSF and their submissions were excluded from the Senate’s documentation. The PSF’s documentation were included in the agenda pack.

This is incomprehensible. There can be no more relevant interest group than SAUJS and yet pro-Israel and Jewish opinion wasn’t allowed. That a body such as the Senate allowed matters to proceed in this way is not just designed to boycott Israeli academia, but is an onslaught on the right of freedom of speech and opinion, so egregious that UCT should be intensely ashamed.

The Senate has an obligation, this time around, to make its decision in the most procedurally fair manner possible. It must obtain as much information as is necessary to make an informed decision, from all sides of the debate. The Senate  must, in making a decision and to the extent required, comply with the university’s Statute. 

The next meeting of the Senate where this issue was on the agenda, was held on Friday 10 May 2019. A few days before the meeting the Senate advised that it would not vote on this issue at this meeting; it would only hear and discuss a report back by the Senate Executive to the Senate.

The can keeps being kicked down the road, but it may not be a bad thing at the moment.


  1. See Parts 1, 2 , 3 and 4 from August  2017 to 17 March 2019 respectively looked at the campaign for the University of Cape Town (UCT) to boycott Israeli universities and the likely consequences for UCT if it succeeded

      2. To quote UCT’s website “as of 1 January 2019 the membership of Senate stood at 363”.

The composition of the Senate, like the Council and other responsible bodies, is governed by “The Statute of the University of Cape Town as                 amended”. The Department of Higher Education obliges universities to enact an institutional act with rules and procedures to govern the    functioning of the university. 

The Senate is responsible to the Council for UCT’s academic and research functions. In terms of the Statute it comprises – 

  • the Vice-Chancellor (1), 
  • the Deputy-Vice Chancellors (3), 
  • the deans or acting deans, and 6 deputy deans of faculties (12), 
  • the heads and actings heads of departments (53), 
  • the professors – associate professors are not included (36), 
  • elected academic members of staff (1), 
  • members of the support staff (4), 
  • Students including at least two post graduates and one member of the Students Representative Council (6), 
  • members of Council (2), and 
  • not more than thirty-five persons co-opted by the senate (if more than ten are co-opted they must be drawn from the academic staff reflecting the diversity of the academic staff. (our underlining)  

 So according to the Statute the Senate can have a maximum of 164 members at most. A    quorum is a third of the Senate, namely, fifty-six people. The question then is  who are    the other 199 people on the Senate and participated on the decision to boycott Israeli    academia.

Was the Senate’s resolution lawful?

Sara Gon is the editor of The Daily Friend and a Policy Fellow at the of IRR.

This article was first published on Politicsweb on 10 May 2019. 

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