CUNY Professors Decry Their Union’s Anti-Israel, Anti-American Activities
By:Elliot Resnick, Jewish Press Staff Reporter Wednesday, December 19, 2007
“Not in our name!” some City University of New York (CUNY) professors are proclaiming.
The Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the union that represents 20,000 faculty members and other professional staff at CUNY, supports and promotes various far-left and anti-Israel causes, these professors claim.
For example, a mere 16 days after September 11, 2001, PSC President Barbara Bowen was one of thirteen principal officers to sign a statement denouncing “George Bush’s war” in Afghanistan.
This statement, issued by New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW), claims the United States has already “inflicted widespread suffering on innocent people in such places as Iraq, Sudan, Israel, the Occupied Territories…” and warns that war “will play into the hands of religious fanatics from Osama bin Laden to Jerry Falwell.”
Justifying its occasional venture into the political realm, the PSC told The Jewish Press that it cannot “defend the interests of our members without participating in the life of the city, state and nation that defines the social and political context in which we work and teach.”
However, KC Johnson, professor of history at Brooklyn College, said this is only an excuse. Referring to PSC leadership as the “far left fringe,” Johnson said “they’re far more interested in international affairs than they are in the working conditions of most people at CUNY.”
Bronx Community College professor of history David Gordon agreed: “They pay far too much attention to radical causes that are dear to the far left but much less attention to the economic needs of the membership.”
Among other groups the PSC supports directly or by proxy, Johnson said, is Labor for Palestine, whichNYCLAW co-founded with the pro-Palestinian group Al-Awda. In a letter to fellow trade unionists and workers, Labor for Palestine calls attention to Israel’s “brutal military occupation of Palestine,” and its “murder and collective punishment” of Palestinians.
The letter concludes by asking all labor bodies to “demand an end to U.S. military and economic support for Israeli Apartheid,” which it estimates at five billion dollars annually.
The PSC averred that it “has no affiliation with Labor for Palestine.”
However, while English professor emerita at Bronx Community College Nahma Sandrow said, this is “technically true,” she pointed to the PSC’s association with NYCLAW co-convener Michael Letwin, who is “explicitly against Israel,” and who also helped draft Labor for Palestine’s founding document in 2004.
Letwin was president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys in New York City for 13 years until he lost re-election in 2002, in part because of his opposition to the war in Afghanistan. In a Socialist Actionarticle in 2002 concerning AFL-CIO’s ownership of millions of dollars-worth of Israeli bonds, Letwin was quoted as saying, “It’s bad enough that our tax dollars are going to fund Israel, but our union dues – that’s intolerable.”
Letwin co-chaired an anti-war meeting with PSC president Barbara Bowen in 2004 and received a “Friend of CUNY” award from the PSC on behalf of NYCLAW that same year.
PSC President Barbara Bowen
“These people are exploiting being in a position of power in a labor union to make a political statement against Israel. They have enormous power here and it’s scary,” Sandrow said.
Further indication of PSC’s anti-Israel sentiment lies in the signature of PSC International Committee chairman Renate Bridenthal on “An Open Letter/Petition from American Jews to Our Government.” The petition declares: “Our country has an extraordinary leverage on Israeli policy, if only our government would dare to use it…. [W]e call on our government to make continued aid conditional on Israeli acceptance of an internationally agreed two-state settlement.”
More locally, the PSC recently praised New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to grant illegal immigrants driver licenses. The PSC’s Solidarity Committee had fought for the change, which, according to the PSC, “makes the city safer for all of us.”
Professor of mathematics at Queens College Michael Maller remembers a time when the PSC was less political. The PSC used to be led, he said, by “liberal Democrats akin to Mario Cuomo.” However, “they were getting older and losing energy.” Then, in 2000, Barbara Bowen led a group called the New Caucus, which won control of PSC’s executive council. “And now we’re being led by an alliance of leftists and deconstructionists.”
Following The Money
Many professors and students at CUNY are unaware of the PSC’s ideological positions and activism, according to Brooklyn College’s Professor Johnson. “[PSC president Barbara] Bowen is careful that people do not know,” he said.
For example, said Johnson, very few people know that the PSC distributes union money to political causes. Individual sums are sometimes small but nevertheless shed light on whom the PSC feels worthy of its money.
For example, in late 2001 the University of South Florida moved to dismiss Professor Sami Al-Arian amid allegations that he supported Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The PSC’s Delegate Assembly reacted by proclaiming a “threat to academic freedom and the First Amendment.”
It adopted a resolution on April 25, 2002 to donate $100 to faculty at the University of South Florida defending Al-Arian. In a plea agreement in April 2006, Al-Arian admitted to aiding Palestinian Islamic Jihad and agreed to be deported.
“The PSC did not contribute any funds to Al Arian,” the PSC wrote to The Jewish Press. “[W]e did contribute $100.00 to support the academic freedom campaign of a faculty union in Florida.”
The PSC does admit donating $5,000 to Lori Berenson, an American woman accused of aiding a Marxist terrorist organization in Peru. However, it claims the contribution was humanitarian and made to Lori’s parents, not to her. (Her father was a professor at Baruch College and a member of the PSC.)
Professor David Seidemann, who teaches geology at Brooklyn College, decries PSC’s political expenditures. “I don’t think any union leader should be using union money for any political agenda,” he said. “Just do what serves everybody’s interests and forget the politics. That’s my philosophy.”