Teachers striking in Gaza. A sign reads: Do not humiliate us! We should not be blackmailed in political split. (Photo: Isra Saleh El-Namy)
Mahmoud Matter says that participating in demonstrations held by the workers’ syndicate in Gaza is his only hope to receive his wages. He has been employed by the Ministry of Health since 2010, but has not yet received a full wage.
“I go early to my work every day, and do my best to efficiently do my duty and serve my people. But instead of being honored by receiving my salary, I am left to demonstrate and shout in order to get my right of a salary,” Matter said.
He is one of tens of thousands of workers in Gaza who are offered only a small part of their salaries every fifty days or so. This has created a harsh reality for them and their families in a climate of deteriorating living conditions in the coastal enclave.
“We are blackmailed in political splits, and left prone to extortion so that our leaders can achieve their narrow political interests,” he added.
Gaza’s underpaid health, sanitation and public education workers declared a partial strike in an attempt to attract the attention of the unity government. They are calling on Rami Hamdallah, the appointed Prime Minister, to fulfill his earlier promises to settle the issue of Gaza’s workers, who had been financially neglected by the Palestinian Authority.
All demonstrations held by the workers have been directed toward the headquarters of the unity government, based in northern Gaza City. Dozens of unpaid workers took to the streets in the protests, chanting slogans to demand equity and transparency. They demanded their right to work insurance, which they argue should remain preserved regardless of political instability instead of being used as a tool within the government’s internal issues.
Mohammed Siam, head of the workers’ syndicate, holds the government in Ramallah fully accountable, since it refuses to recognize the workers’ rights to be paid from the PA budget. “It is totally unacceptable for the government to go on with this policy of denial toward Gaza’s employees. It is ultimately their right to receive their funds in a regular pattern,” Siam said.
In Gaza, there are about 45,000 workers functioning as the breadwinners for more than 250,000 people, according to the syndicate.
Teachers in the West Bank held a high-profilemonth-long strike of their own strike to demand full payments from the government. One excuse that the government in Ramallah gives for its failure to pay teachers is that the Palestinian Authority needs to adjust its budget in order to combat the impact from the massive Israeli attacks waged on Gaza and to expedite reconstruction efforts there.
This excuse was particularly shocking for people in Gaza, whose expectations of the government were severely defeated after the last war, in 2014. Many people in Gaza accuse the government of neglecting Gaza. But the workers’ syndicate goes further: “The government and President Mahmoud Abbas conspire against Gaza and its people. They not only abstain from helping us, but they incur more troubles when they fail to pay the workers,” Siam added.
The syndicate said that the government now owes the workers millions of dollars.
The unity government has only paid Gaza’s workers once since its formation in June of 2014. The government paid each of 24,000 workers $1,200 in October of 2014. However, payment was withheld from the remaining workers – those who were employed by the Interior Ministry rather than the unity government – despite that the State of Qatar has donated funds in order to pay them.
Reem Saher, a worker and active participant in the protests, considers the government to be responsible for her terrible circumstances. Saher, a mother of four, is often forced to rely on debts in order to meet her family’s needs. “I abandon most of my expenses,” she said. “Most of the time, we live from hand to mouth.”
Saher is not interested in government talks about Palestinian reconciliation if they will not bring an end to the workers’ crisis. “Our rights should be seen as a red line, if they still have a living conscience,” she said.
The intractable issue bears many repercussions because it began in 2007, when Hamas employed thousands of new workers to replace those who were refusing to work under the new government. At the time, these workers were urged by the PA not to work if they wanted to receive their usual salaries. Due to disagreements over the Syrian crisis, Hamas then severed ties with Iran, which had previously been a main ally of the Islamic organization. The Palestinian government’s financial resources and revenue were exhausted as a result.
About Isra Saleh El-Namy
Isra Saleh El-Namy is a journalist in Gaza.
– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/03/similar-to-the-west-bank-gazas-workers-protest-to-demand-fair-pay/?utm_source=Mondoweiss+List&utm_campaign=911bafd273-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b86bace129-911bafd273-398519677#sthash.rteqyC5Q.dpuf
Click on the link below to read the full text of the resolution that has been presented by the Palestine Solidarity Caucus and placed on the agenda by the Steering Committee. A referendum vote on this resolution will be held during the upcoming elections.
Resolution: Standing in Solidarity with Palestinian civil society and joining the Boycott, Divestment and Santions (BDS) Movement.
Should GEO/UAW2322 and its members join the global movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, until such time as Israel has complied with international law and respected the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and all Palestinian refugees and exiles?
BDS should be maintained until Israel fully complies with the precepts of international law by:
1. Ending its occupation of the Palestinian territories and dismantling the Wall;
2. Ending its preferential treatment of Jews visavis Palestinians in the land under its control;
3. Promoting and protecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
This renews and furthers the commitment of GEO, whose membership overwhelmingly voted, in 2003, for divestment from the Israeli occupation.
GEO/UAW2322 should join the movement in the following ways:
Renewing and furthering the commitment displayed by GEO members in 2003
1) GEO/UAW2322 should call on the University of Massachusetts (UMass) and the UAW International to divest their investments, including pension funds, from Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in severe and ongoing human rights violations as part of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people. GEO/UAW2322 should also call on UMass and the UAW International to decline to conduct business with said companies.
2) GEO/UAW2322 should join other labor, academic and cultural organizations in calling on the government of the United States of America to end military aid to Israel.
3) GEO/UAW2322 should call on affiliated bodies such as UAW Local 2322, the Coalition of Graduate Employee Organizations, The UAW international, Jobs with Justice, Massachusetts AFLCIO to join the BDS movement.
In carrying out the activities set forth above and in acting on this proposal, we affirm that this proposal should not be interpreted or applied to seek to influence the hiring or other employment decisions of the University or individual academics or GEO/UAW2322 members; nor will it in any way limit or affect the representative functions of the Union including but not limited to which grievances or contract demands we pursue. Furthermore, this resolution does not seek to discourage association with individual Israeli scholars. GEO/UAW2322 is strictly committed to opposing all forms of discrimination including discrimination based on race, religion, national origin or ethnicity, and we affirm our strong commitment to the principles of academic freedom for all in the UMass community.
Saturday, March 26, the Palestine New Federation of Trade Unions (New Unions) have celebrated their official recognition as trade union federation by the Palestinian authorities and at the same time have held their annual congress, voting for a new union council and executive committee. The New Unions unite today 26 trade unions in all of the 10 West Bank districts and represent around 10 000 workers from all sectors.
The event was packed and representatives from a large spectrum of political and social forces addressed the New Unions with their messages of support. Everybody stressed the hope that the New Unions will bring new force to the class struggle in Palestine and strengthen the national struggle for self-determination.
Muhammad Jawabreh, a long standing unionist and one of the co-founders of the New Unions, gave the opening remarks of the congress and declared the birth of this new progressive trade union, which works to achieve the right to a free life with dignity for all workers and keeps committed to the legacy of the Palestinian national and class struggle for justice, democracy and freedom.
Nasser Qatami, deputy minister of labour, congratulated the New Union for the official recognition as a trade union confederation and expressed the readiness of the ministry to cooperate and facilitate the work of the union in order for them to achieve the goals they have been established for. Bassam al Salhi, secretary general of the Palestinian People’s Party, encouraged all to support the New Unions and to strengthen their role in defending the interest of the workers and improving their conditions. He underlined that there is no contradiction between a diversity of unions and confederations and unity in the class struggle. Omar Shahadeh, conveyed greetings of secretary general of the PFLP Ahmad Saadat and his deputy Ahmad Fuad. He underlined their full support to the New Unions and the establishment of the new confederation will form a concrete step towards bringing the trade union movement in Palestine back on the right track and to reinforce the international solidarity with the palestinian people and working class.
Thomas from the Norwegian ‘Workers Mate’ association addressed the congress reiterating their support for the New Unions and promised the Workers Mate will continue support the struggle of the Palestinian people through boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns, including building efforts to boycott the Israeli trade union confederation Histadrut, which historically and up to today has played a key role in supporting and facilitating Israeli policies of discrimination and ethnic cleansing of the PAlestinian people and occupation and colonisation of their land.
Adnan Dagher, a veteran unionist, reminded the congress of the long history of the Palestinian labour movement. He expressed confidence that the New Unions may recover the leading role of the workers struggle and trade unionism within the national movement and may revive the class struggle within Palestine.
Muhammad Bleidi, the secretary general of the New Unions, in his closing remarks thanked everybody that has contributed to the establishment of the New Unions, all those that over the years have dedicated their time and struggle and energies in the long process. Muhammad Bleidi outlined the past and current work of the union to defend workers rights within the factories, at the Israeli workers gates and in the court systems. He reminded everybody of the mission of the union to defend and achieve labour and national rights for the Palestinian working class and its principles of unity, class consciousness and democracy and autonomy.
At the end of the congress, the Palestine New Federation of Trade Unions elected their new Council comprised of 31 members and the new executive committee comprised of 17 members (four women). Muhammad Bleidi has been reconfirmed in the vote for the secretary general of the union.
“Building a Labor Movement Against Apartheid: Union Solidarity with Palestine”
A workshop at the Jobs With Justice Annual Conference
April 16, 10-4
Springfield, MA Trinity United Methodist Church
contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
Workshop participants include:
* Vijay Prashad
* Michael Letwin (Co-convener of US Labor for Palestine)
* Suzanne Adely (Co-convener of US Labor for Palestine)
* Bill Shortell (International Association of Machinists)
* Carol Lambaise (United Electrical Workers)
Join us for an informative presentation and a collaborative discussion. This workshop will address the US labor movement’s history and future building solidarity with struggles against apartheid, with a special focus on Palestine. Presenters will explore the following questions through education, discussion and skill sharing. Why is this a union issue? How does Israeli apartheid Palestine affect Palestinian workers? How can we respond to Palestinian unions’ calls to Boycott, Divest from, and Sanction Israel? What can we learn from the recent history of labor’s involvement in this struggle, including the ILWU action against the unloading of Israeli ships, and the academic workers of the University of California and the Connecticut AFL-CIO’s voting to endorse BDS. What can we do in our local unions to build solidarity with Palestine?
BDS demands an end to Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel; and implementation of the right of Palestinian refugees to return.
Please click here to RSVP your attendance, express interest, and share the Facebook event page.
Labor for Palestine Conveners:
*Suzanne Adely, Global Workers Solidarity Network; Former Staff, Global Organizing Institute, UAW
*Michael Letwin, Former President, ALAA/UAW L. 2325
*Clarence Thomas, Co-Chair, Million Worker March; ILWU L. 10 (retired)
*Jaime Veve, TWU L. 100 (retired)
Sat., April 2, 4:15-6pm
LABOR STRUGGLES IN PALESTINE
Room: O’HARE A
‘The global International Trade Union Confederation has long criticized Israel for abuse of Palestinian workers and denial of union rights, saying: “It is impossible for workers to enjoy their rights in a country where governmental institutions have fundamentally failed to hold those who are responsible for systematic violations of human rights and humanitarian law accountable.” Under extreme circumstances, workers are building a movement in Palestine and in Israel. WAC-MAAN is an independent union based in Israel that organizes Israeli and Palestinian workers. Manawel Abdel-Al, Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions; Yoav Tamir, WAC-MAAN; Facilitator: Leah Fried, United Electrical Workers.’
Sun., April 3, 10:45-12:30pm
BUILDING SOLIDARITY WITH PALESTINE
‘Discuss the call by Palestinian civil society, including unions, for the use of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a nonviolent strategy similar to the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. Manawel Abdel-Al, Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU); Nathalie Guay, Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), Quebec.’
Join Manawel Abdel-Al of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)–directly from Occupied Palestine–as he shares the struggles of Palestinian workers and discusses the call by Palestinian civil society, including labor unions, for the use of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a strategy to win full equality, to bring an end to the Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands, and to uphold Palestinian national rights, including the Right to Return and the right of self-determination.
WHERE: United Electrical Workers, 37 S. Ashland Ave., Chicago
WHEN: Tuesday, April 5th, 2016, at 6 PM
Our host, the United Electrical Workers (UE), is proud to be the first national U.S. union to endorse BDS!
The International Trade Union Confederation, a global confederation of labor unions, has long criticized Israel for extreme abuse of Palestinian workers and denial of trade union rights, saying: “It is impossible for workers to enjoy their rights in a country where governmental institutions have fundamentally failed to hold those who are responsible for systematic violations of human rights and humanitarian law accountable. Respect for the rule of law is essential when it comes to the protection of the rights of workers.”
Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN)
Jewish Voice for Peace – Chicago
United Electrical Workers
United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN)
Palestinians whose livelihoods are forcibly enmeshed in Israel’s economic system are often used as human shields against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
The frequent accusation made by critics is that boycotts of Israeli businesses, especially settlement businesses, will hurt the very Palestinians that BDS activists say they support.
At times, settlement advocates even deploy Palestinian spokespersons to speak positively about the higher wages they receive working for settlement businesses.
A new report released by UK-based Corporate Watch brings the voices of the Palestinian farmers and agricultural workers to the debate over how the BDS movement can best resist Israeli exploitation of their land and labor.
Anyone entering Gaza through the Erez checkpoint on the northern boundary with present-day Israel, traverses a long, fenced corridor running through the so-called “buffer zone” enforced by the Israeli military.
This poorly defined area ranges from 300 to 500 meters along the inside perimeter of Gaza.
Since 2008, the report states, more than 50 Palestinians have been killed in this zone. Four Palestinian civilians have been killed and more than 60 injured so far this year.
According to the UN monitoring group OCHA, this zone also takes up 17 percent of Gaza’s total area, making up to one third of its farmland unsafe for cultivation. Areas that once held olive and citrus trees have now been bulldozed by Israeli forces.
Corporate Watch says that even though Palestinians are routinely shot at from distances greater than 300 meters, farmers whose land lies near the border have no choice but to cultivate these areas despite the danger.
In addition to the lethal violence routinely inflicted on Gaza, Israeli authorities enforce what they have called“economic warfare” – a de facto boycott of almost all agriculture originating in Gaza.
Virtually no produce from the enclave is allowed into Israeli or West Bank markets, traditionally Gaza’s biggest customers.
From the time Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza in 2007 up until November 2014, a monthly average of 13.5 trucks left Gaza carrying exports – just one percent of the monthly average of goods shipped out just prior to the closure.
By contrast, already this year more than 22,000 trucks have entered Gaza, many carrying Israeli produce considered unsuitable for international export.
Dumping it on the captive market in Gaza further undermines local farmers.
The trickle of exports that Israel permits from Gaza go primarily to European markets, but this is only allowed through Israeli export companies that profit from the situation by taking commissions and selling Gaza products for far higher prices than they pay the producers.
“The Israelis export Palestinian produce and export it with an Israeli label,” Taghrid Jooma of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees told Corporate Watch. “For example, they export roses from Gaza for nickels and dimes and sell them for a lot of money.”
Muhammad Zwaid of Gaza’s only export company, Palestine Crops, told Corporate Watch that part of the problem is that Palestine lacks its own bar code and so any produce exported through Israel carries an Israeli one.
“We have our own stickers,” said Zwaid, “but [Israeli export company] Arava has asked for them to be smaller and often Arava stickers are put on top of ours. Our produce is taken inside Israel by the Israeli company and then taken to a packing station where it is repackaged.”
Corporate Watch reports that while many of the farmers they interviewed support BDS, they also want the opportunity to export their produce and make a living.
This presents a quandary because a boycott of Israeli export companies like Arava will include Palestinian products as well.
Even so, the farmers interviewed maintained their support for BDS as a long-term strategy that outweighs the limited benefits of current export levels.
“What we need is people to stand with us against the occupation,” said one farmer from al-Zaytoun. “By supporting BDS you support the farmers, both directly and indirectly and this is a good thing for people here in Gaza.”
“Farmers all over the Gaza Strip were particularly keen on getting the right to label their produce as Palestinian, ideally with its own country code, even if they have to export through Israel,” the report states. “Country of origin labels for Gaza goods is something the solidarity movement could lobby for.”
Mohsen Abu Ramadan, from the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network, suggested to Corporate Watch that one strategy could be to engage farming unions around the world to urge them to endorse BDS in solidarity with Palestinian farmers.
Bulldozing the Jordan Valley
While Israel’s siege and deadly assaults have rightly focused international attention on Gaza, Israel’s actions in the Jordan Valley have generated far less outrage.
Yet well before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current extreme right-wing government made clear its opposition to a viable Palestinian state, he had pledged to never give up control of this agriculturally rich region under any two-state configuration.
Occupation authorities refuse virtually all Palestinian requests to build or improve infrastructure in the region. Residents face severe restrictions on access to electricity and water as well as other basic infrastructure.
In the Jordan Valley, settlement agriculture often relies on Palestinian labor – including child labor – to do hazardous jobs for a fraction of what would be paid to Israeli citizens.
Though entitled to the Israeli minimum wage according to a high court ruling, many workers are routinely paid as little as half that.
Palestinians Zaid and Rashid are employed in Beqa’ot, a settlement built on land seized from Palestinians. They receive wages of $20 per day, about a quarter of which goes for daily transport.
They receive no paid holidays despite the fact that the Israeli government advises that workers are entitled to 14 days paid holiday and must receive a written contract and payslips from their employer.
Although they are members of a Palestinian trade union, their settler employers do not recognize any collective bargaining rights.
Workers are moreover frequently pressured into signing documents in Hebrew — which they cannot read — stating that they are being treated according to law. Workers fear being fired if they do not sign.
While Palestinians working in settlements are also required to obtain work permits from the military occupation authorities, several of those interviewed for the report had no such permits, leading to suspicions that employers may be attempting to further circumvent Israeli labor laws by using undocumented workers.
Both Zaid and Rashid told Corporate Watch they back the call for a boycott of Israeli agricultural companies.
“We support the boycott even if we lose our work,” Zaid said. “We might lose our jobs but we will get back our land. We will be able to work without being treated as slaves.”
Corporate Watch profiles the five main Israeli export companies: Arava, Mehadrin, Hadiklaim, Edom and the now defunct Carmel Agrexco.
A common practice by these companies is mislabeling goods as “Produce of Israel” even when they are grown and packed in West Bank settlements that are illegal under international law.
Corporate Watch also documents the varying degrees of success that BDS activists have had in targeting these companies.
Since 2009, following pressure from activists, the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued guidelines stating it is an “offense” to mislabel settlement goods as “Produce of Israel.”
Similar guidelines approved by the European Union late last year outraged Israeli politicians, despite the fact that the same practice has been United States policy since the mid-1990s.
Despite the guidelines, however, UK stores continue to stock Israeli products with misleading labels.
As recently as 2013, Corporate Watch found labels from the Israeli settlement of Tomer for the Morrisons store brand of Medjoul dates.
In another example, the Aldi chain was caught selling grapefruits from Carmel Agrexco labeled as products of Cyprus.
Beyond settlement boycotts
Of the supermarket chains targeted by BDS campaigns, only one, The Co-operative, has pledged to “no longer engage with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements.”
This means that not only would the Co-op not stock settlement produce, but that it would not buy produce grown in present-day Israel from companies that also have settlement operations.
This made it the first major European chain to take such a step.
Corporate Watch points out that while not directly supporting the settlement economy, those Israeli companies without settlement operations still pay taxes to the Israeli government, which supports its ongoing occupation, colonization and oppression of Palestinians.
It notes that the Co-op took a much stronger stance regarding apartheid-era South Africa, when it boycotted all South African products.
In accordance with the 2005 BDS call from Palestinian civil society, Corporate Watch advocates a full boycott of all Israeli goods.
In mid-April the NYU Graduate School Organizing Committee will vote in a referendum on whether to participate in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the state of Israel.
The BDS movement is an international movement working to end Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. Within the GSOC, the movement will work primarily to stop funding international and Israeli companies that violate Palestine’s human and civil rights, stop further communication with these companies in the future and encourage NYU to close their Tel Aviv campus.
NYU is the only private university whose graduate student union has considered joining BDS. David Klassen, a fourth year Ph.D. student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, is hopeful that NYU will set a precedent for others to follow.
“We’ll signal to other people that this is something that has momentum and we’ll see other universities other unions, other student groups take similar steps,” Klassen said.
Klassen is one of the chief organizers of the referendum and stands on the GSOC caucus for BDS.
“It is incumbent upon people, upon the world, to listen to people who are in situations of occupation and oppression and figure out what we can do to alleviate that situation and make sure that everyone’s human rights are respected,” Klassen said.
GSOC obtained signatures from 10 percent of its members to hold the referendum and the GSOC assembly of stewards has planned a series of town hall discussion events, the second of which will take place on Wednesday, March 30. All groups and organizers within GSOC will be able to voice their opinions at these town halls before the vote in April.
Communication steward of GSOC from the Academic Workers for a Democratic Union and Steinhardt student Anne Pasek said GSOC must allow the membership to democratically decide the will of our union, even if it means considering polarizing topics.
“As the Assembly of Stewards, our priority is to ensure that this vote is as democratic as possible with as much opportunity for dialog, because we know that this is one of the more challenging topics to discuss today,” Pasek said.
The pending referendum has sparked tension among the different organizers and groups within GSOC, angering some students by the committee’s mere consideration of joining the BDS movement. The opposition is equally as passionate to stop BDS from
Samuel Zerin, a Ph.D. student in musicology and an organizer for GSOC Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine said he was strongly against the referendum, citing BDS’ demonization of Israel, and the organization’s suppression of dialogue.
“One of my many concerns about BDS is not simply that is demonizes Israel as an ‘apartheid’ and ‘colonial’ state, but that its activists use this rhetoric in such ambiguous and normalizing ways,” Zerin said.
A version of this article appeared in the March 28 print edition. Email Olivia Roosat email@example.com.
The University of California Regents will discuss the newest draft of the Regents Statement of Principles Against Intolerance, released on Monday, March 14th, 2016. As a Black youth organization with constituents in the University of California system, the Afrikan Black Coalition supports Principles Against Intolerance that seek to protect students from hate speech and harm. However the “Contextual Statement” and the “Working Group Observations” are particularly concerning.
The regental working group’s contextual statement reveals a continued attempt to silence criticism of the Israeli government and stifle Palestine solidarity activism by labeling it as anti-Semitism. We note that there have been attempts to get the UC Regents to adopt the controversial State Department Definition of Anti-Semitism, and enforce it with penalties including suspension or expulsion. This definition says any demonization, delegitimization, or double standard applied to the state of Israel is anti-Semitism. These terms are vague, and would themselves apply a double-standard to Israel, as no other country enjoys similar standards or special protections from criticism. Criticism of the Iranian or Saudi Arabian governments, for instance, is not necessarily Islamophobic. The University Regents thankfully did not adopt the State Department Definition, but the context of the Regents Statement of Principles Against Intolerance seems to align with the same political agenda; an issue of grave concern for all those who are concerned with justice and fairness.
The Afrikan Black Coalition is in solidarity with Students for Justice in Palestine, United Auto Workers Local 2865, (UAW2865), Jewish Voice for Peace and hundreds of UC faculty in condemning the explicit conflation of anti-semitism and anti-Zionism that is included in the introduction to the proposed statement. Section C of the proposed Principles Against Intolerance states that “The Regents call on University leaders actively to challenge anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination when and wherever they emerge within the University community.” We agree with this statement. As Black students who contend with hostile and anti-Black campus climate on a daily basis, we understand very clearly the need to eliminate bigotry from the UC system. However, by including anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism in their contextual statement, the working group sets a dangerous precedent. Zionism is a political movement and ideology that must be subject to vigorous assessment and criticism just like all political movements and ideologies. We reject in the strongest terms possible the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Such conflation can only arise from blatant historical ignorance about the origins of Zionism as a political ideology and movement. We recognize the specificity of calling out anti-Zionism as a craven attempt to chill constitutionally-protected speech and legitimate human rights activism.Zionism is a controversial nationalist political ideology that calls for the creation of an explicitly Jewish homeland in the biblical land of Israel. It is not the same as Judaism, which is the religion of the Jewish people. Just as Zionism and Judaism aren’t the same, neither are anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
The improper conflation of these concepts is being pushed by off-campus political advocacy organizations in order to stifle criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and the unjust treatment of non-Jewish Israeli citizens and Palestinian refugees in the diaspora. It is clear that the state of Israel has been engaged in several atrocities against the Palestinians in violation of international law. These activities are documented by the United Nations and should always be subject to vigorous criticism just like any other nation. To conflate all criticisms of the state of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic is false and dangerous. To be clear, anti-Semitic rhetoric or action is not the same as or equivalent to pro-Palestine rhetoric or action. This sentiment is echoed and elaborated upon in a letter,signed by well over 200 UC faculty members, many of whom are themselves Jewish.
In conversations with representatives from UAW2865, the UC Student Workers’ union, we have learned more about the Regents Statement of Principles Against Intolerance. An officer with the union spoke to UCOP Deputy General Counsel Julia Friedlander last Friday, at which point she said that there were “conflicting opinions” among University lawyers about whether the introduction to the statement was enforceable. The Regents have had many months to draft and evaluate this statement. The Regents still intend to vote in two days, even though their own lawyer admits they don’t know how this statement will be applied.
Additionally, for a motion to address what constitutes Principles of Intolerance, the process has not been inclusive. A quick glance at the Statement of Principles Against Intolerance shows that the vast majority of the document focuses on bigotry facing Jewish students, with brief mention of the serious concerns of Black, Muslim, Latin@, and LGBTQ students. Further, other groups like students with disabilities are not explicitly mentioned in their opening statement, only in Section B of the principles. This clear rhetorical focus on the needs of Jewish students over other identity groups doesn’t reflect actual data on the campus climate concerns expressed by various student communities. The Regents would do well to remember that Black students face the highest levels of intolerance and disrespect as well as a hostile campus climate more than any other group on the University of California campuses, as verified by the UC’s own campus climate surveys several times.
The experts chosen by the working group responsible for drafting this statement are more than questionable, with no women, Muslims, or experts on Palestine consulted. Experts on anti-blackness, LGBTQ hatred, or other forms of identity-based hatred were not interviewed either. Four “experts” were consulted by the working group drafting the statement, with two of them being open pro-Israel partisans. A third “expert” was Eugene Volokh, a conservative lawyer who was one of the main architects of Proposition 209, which ended affirmative action in California. For those who do not know, Prop 209 decimated the numbers of Black and Latin@ students on UC campuses, and none have recovered since. The inclusion of Volokh is a slap in the face to Black and Latin@ UC students and demonstrates that the Regents do not care about addressing structural racism plaguing the UC system. Volokh’s inclusion in this process is the kind of historic blunder that can only be explained as calculated cruelty towards and blatant disregard of Black students due to the role he played in systematically excluding Black students from the University of California. We find it unjustifiable that the UC regents made a conscious choice to include such a person to draft a statement of intolerance, something Black students endure the most of; partially as a result of our severe underrepresentation in the UC system. The irony is too thick.
According to the 2014 Campus Climate Survey which garnered feedback from over 100,000 community members from across the UC system, Jewish students reported higher levels of comfort in classrooms and departments than students who identified with any other religious group. Muslim and Christian students reported significantly lower levels of comfort (pg. 58-59). According to the same survey, underrepresented minority students, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities reported the highest levels of discomfort with campus climate. This is not to argue that Jewish students don’t face discrimination, nor to play oppression olympics. One only needs to look at the vicious rhetoric of Trump supporters to know that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are alive and well, alongside other forms of identity-based hatred that must be condemned. That said, it is clear that other groups face just as much if not more discrimination within the UC system, but one would have no idea this was the case from reading the statement as currently written.
This issue does not just affect the University of California system. What the UC does often set a precedent for other universities, and this is no different. The Afrikan Black Coalition does not support the Regents Statement of Principles Against Intolerance so long as it conflates anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism or Palestine solidarity activism. We oppose in the strongest terms possible the conflations of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.