AN OPEN LETTER TO UCT ON INVITING DR. STEVEN SALAITA TO DELIVER THE ANNUAL TB DAVIE MEMORIAL LECTURE THIS PAST AUGUST

By Stephen Schulman

To: Professor Mamakgethi Phakeng

Vice Chancellor

University of Cape Town

24th August 2019

 

Dear Professor Phakeng,

As an alumnus of the university, I received the latest Alumni News that contained a most informative article on pages 38 & 39 titled:

“The Development of Academic Freedom at UCT. Where does Flemming Rose Fit In?”

The article not only analyses and explains the function of the annual T.B. Davie Memorial Lecture but also goes to great lengths in extolling its centricity in the promotion of the core values that constitute the bedrock of UCT. The lecture “is meant as a platform for critically analyzing academic freedom”.

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Champion Of Academic Freedom. TB Davie led the University of Cape Town (UCT) during the politically turbulent post World War II years, from 1948 until his death in 1955. He courageously championed the cause of academic freedom and university autonomy, defining academic freedom as the university’s right to determine who shall be taught, who shall teach, what shall be taught and how it should be taught, without regard to any criterion except academic merit. His legacy continues in the memorial lecture series named after him.

These cherished values led to the dis-invitation of Flemming Rose, the Danish journalist from giving the 2016 T.B. Davie lecture after his newspaper had published cartoons of the prophet Muhammed eleven years previously. The then V.C., Dr. Price on behalf of the university’s management outlined three main reasons for this decision:

….”the risk that Rose’s lecture would provoke conflict on campus, the security risks of presenting the lecture,” and last but not least the disingenuous argument “that in the 2016 climate,” the lecture “might retard rather than advance academic freedom on campus.”

In the aftermath of this decision, the university, in September of the same year, convened a debate with a representative panel of its professors presenting their views to underline and strengthen UCT’s academic credo.

To quote Prof. Sandra Klopper: “Respect and tolerance for cultural, religious, political and other differences and acknowledgement of the values of diversity in society were part of the UCT statement of values.” She goes on to qualify: “Espousing an idea that is intolerant that causes harm through the advocacy of views that are demonstrably offensive, is in my view, not consistent with the idea of academic freedom.”

Prof. Imraam Coovadia, a member of the university’s panel in justifying the decision, voiced his opinion that ….”this is not a speaker who’s going to enlighten us intellectually” as well as his fear of resultant campus mob violence, assaulting of office bearers and wanton property destruction – well founded in the wake of the wholesale rioting, burning of churches and murdering of innocent Christians by Moslem mobs after the publishing of the cartoons!  Assoc. Prof. Adam Haupt, another panel member: “We’re arguing about someone we already know is racist and is a provocateur in the worst possible way…”

Nevertheless, in spite of its trumpeted statement of values, the university decided to invite Dr. Steven Salaita who gave the 2019 T.B. Davie Memorial Lecture on the 7th August.

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Dr Steven Salaita says UCT exercised academic freedom in its proposal to boycott Israeli institutions.

Dr. Salaita is a 3rd rate academic who on account of his views has been discredited and declared persona non grata by the American academia. His work is dominated by a singular obsession with and virulent hatred of Israel.  He has an enmity and hostility towards anyone who disagrees with him and freely and publicly insults and abuses those who dare to think otherwise.

Here are some of his tweets:

  • You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.”
  • Let’s cut to the chase: If you’re defending #Israel right now you’re an awful human being.”
  • This is not a conflict between Israel and Hamas. It’s a struggle by an indigenous people against colonial power.”
  • The logic of ‘antisemitism’ deployed by Zionists, if applied in principle, would make pretty much everybody not a sociopath ‘antisemitic’.
  • If it’s ‘antisemitic’ to deplore colonisation, land theft, and child murder, then what choice does any person of conscience have?”
  • “Zionists: transforming antisemitism from something horrible into something honourable since 1948.”
  • “I repeat: if you’re defending Israel right now, then ‘hopelessly brainwashed’ is your best prognosis.”
  • “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?”

 In addition to his filthy gutter mouth – unbecoming for any self-respecting person, let alone an academic – he resorts to the classic anti-Semitic tropes of demonization that would do Julius Streicher proud! His tweets bear eloquent testimony to his obsession – no need for elucidation!

In keeping with his bias, his doctoral thesis tried to prove the pathetically ridiculous fallacy that Zionism was inspired by and has links to the colonization of North America and therefore is a colonial racist entity committing cultural and racial genocide. His work is riddled with bias and multiple unsubstantiated falsehoods as are the books that he has written.

In all fairness to him, I read the transcript of his address and bravely ploughed through a convoluted, obtuse text riddled with both sniveling self-pity and spewing venom, the majority of which is devoted to axe-grinding, settling scores with his opponents and resorting to the well-worn trope that there was a Zionist (read: Jewish) conspiracy behind his being evicted from American academia.

Then, oozing cheap sentimentality, in an obvious attempt to garner sympathy, there is a long, totally irrelevant and maudlin digression about his son’s baseball game with a reminder of his paternal love and concern. In a first for this long history of lectures, he promotes the brand of sports drink that his son buys. Does Salaita get royalties from the manufacturer?

In my student days, I attended the T.B. Davie Memorial lectures and heard many distinguished speakers on academic freedom, but never have I read such an amalgam of unadulterated drivel, pseudo academic bilge and unabashed anti-Semitism.

 Is this the dignified and respected academic that UCT sees fit to invite to deliver a prestigious annual lecture?

Is this the lecturer that the council has deemed fit to follow in the footsteps of such distinguished personages such as Bobby Kennedy and Barack Obama?

Is this person with his foul mouth, his hatred and anti-Semitism, his complete intolerance of any views that do not correspond to his own, with his antiSemitic tropes such as the demonization of Israel’s prime minister, spouting the usual well-worn clichés suitable to address the convocation?

Is this not a person who conforms to being “….someone we already know is racist and is a provocateur in the worst possible way…”

Is this a person who embodies and promotes: “Respect and tolerance for cultural, religious, political and other differences and acknowledgement of the values of diversity in society were part of the UCT statement of values”?

Is this the person with behaviour and views so antithetical to the declared academic ideals of UCT that the university accords honor?

The university, understandably, does not wish to offend the sensibilities and beliefs of its Moslem students. However, when it comes to its Jewish students, all these lofty principles fly out of the window and Israel bashing and anti – Semitic statements become the order of the day. It pains me to say that the actions of this institution carry the rank stench of hypocrisy.

Has my alma mater sunk so low as to dredge the dregs of academia? Or, is it simply because they found someone suitable to echo their own beliefs?

Dear Professor Phakeng, I am appalled and disgusted by the actions of UCT. I am ashamed to say that I am a graduate of this once proud university.

Stephen Schulman

Ramat Hasharon. Israel

 

 

About the writer:

Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance

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