The trade union leadership in the US has generally been reluctant to defend Palestinian rights. Sometimes, it has been openly hostile to the Palestine solidarity movement.
Soon after Richard Trumka was elected president of the AFL-CIO in 2009, he denounced the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
That call has been endorsed by organizations representing Palestinian workers with direct experience of occupation and apartheid. That does not seem to have convinced the AFL-CIO – the largest federation of trade unions in the US – that it should side with Palestinian workers.
The AFL-CIO has a long history of supporting the Histradut, an Israeli union that played a prominent role in the Zionist colonization of Palestine and the dispossession of Palestinians.
Moreover, the AFL-CIO has been a major buyer of Israel bonds: by some estimates, such investments are worth $5 billion.
A decision taken by the San Francisco chapter of the AFL-CIO earlier this month is among a series of small breakthroughs for Palestine solidarity in the US labor movement.
The San Francisco Labor Council, as the chapter is known, has taken a strong position against bullying by pro-Israel and Islamophobic groups.
Earlier this month, the council approved a resolution that declares full support for students and teachers at San Francisco State University (SFSU) who have suffered abuse over their campaigning on Palestine.
The resolution focuses on an incident from last year, when posters appeared on the university’s campus, alleging one professor was a “collaborator with terrorists.” The professor in question was Rabab Abdulhadi.
In 2015, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America – known as UE – voted to back BDS, becoming the second. That same year, the Connecticut branch of the AFL-CIO voted to back key elements of BDS.
“Defend free speech”
Veve regards US labor unions as key to the success of BDS activism.
“If labor gets involved and begins to act, it has the potential to withdraw its investments in Israeli bonds,” he said.
The San Francisco Labor Council called for “full action” to be taken against the Horowitz Freedom Center and Canary Mission.
Ann Robertson, a philosophy lecturer at SFSU and delegate to the council, explained that the term “full action” was intended to leave all options open, including litigation.
Robertson argued that the response from Les Wong, the SFSU chancellor, to the posters had been “too vague.”
Wong had blamed an “an outside extremist group” for the posters and pledged not to tolerate “bullying behavior.”
Yet his statement did not defend any of the teachers or students targeted by name.
“He needs to clear the names of those smeared,” Robertson said, “and specifically defend the free speech rights of Palestinian students because they are the ones under attack.”
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Posted onDecember 13, 2016|Comments Off on SAN FRANCISCO LABOR COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON HATE FLIERS AT SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY (SF Labor Council)
SAN FRANCISCO LABOR COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON HATE FLIERS AT SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY
Resolution in Defense of Prof. Abdulhadi and Students
December 13, 2016
Whereas a number of fliers were posted on the San Francisco State University campus on or around October 15, 2016; and
Whereas these posters targeted a faculty member of Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies, of Arab and Muslim descent, smearing her by stating that she is a “collaborator with terrorists” and anti-Semitic (“#jewhatred”); and
Whereas other posters targeted students who were organizing a forum on Palestine and by implication suggested they were collaborating with terrorists and anti-Semitic; and
Whereas the posters are claimed by both the Canary Mission and the Horowitz Freedom Center; and
Whereas the Department of Jewish Studies at San Francisco State has released a statement in which it “condemns frontpagemag.com’s threats against one of our professorial colleagues, its reliance on an anonymous website that has targeted several of our undergraduate students, and its vandalism of our campus;” and
Whereas the targets of these posters have expressed fears for their physical safety;
Whereas leading members of the California Faculty Assoc. at SFSU have strongly condemned the posters and have called on “the university to take definitive legal action to stop these slanderous, libelous attacks and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all who live, work, and learn at SFSU;”
Therefore Be It Resolved that the San Francisco Labor Council call on San Francisco State President Wong to unambiguously defend the academic freedom and the intellectual reputation of Prof. Abdulhadi; and
Be It Further Resolved that the San Francisco Labor Council call on President Wong to publicly and unambiguously defend the academic freedom and the right of free speech of Palestinian students, faculty and staff; and
Be It Further Resolved that the San Francisco Labor Council call on President Wong to publicly and unambiguously condemn all forms of hate speech, including anti-Arab racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and to take all the necessary actions to stop hate speech on campus; and
Be it Further Resolved that we call on Chancellor White to take full action against the authors of the fliers; and
Be It Finally Resolved that the San Francisco Labor Council send this resolution to President Wong at San Francisco State University and Chancellor White of the CSU.
Adopted by the California Faculty Association-SFSU Executive Board on December 13, 2016
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Posted onNovember 9, 2016|Comments Off on Irish Trade Union Open Letter to German Union in Support of Teacher Christoph Glanz
TRADE UNION FRIENDS OF PALESTINE
Campaigning in solidarity with the Palestinian people
Secretary: Eamon McMahon
To our trade union colleagues,
We the undersigned, members of the Irish trade union movement, write to express our solidarity with teacher, GEW (Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft) member and activist Mr. Christoph Glanz. We are dismayed by GEW’s decision not to disseminate the “PaedOl” magazine due to it containing an article on Palestine/Israel by Mr. Glanz titled: “Documenting Injustice and Claiming Justice – Impossible in Oldenburg?”
It appears that this censorship came as a result of pressure from the Israeli lobby. We are concerned that giving in to such pressure supports the undermining of basic trade union rights, and that if not challenged it could reinforce the belief of outside bodies and vested interest groups that they can bring about the suppression of our democratic rights. This includes the right to express solidarity with oppressed workers in any state or in any region of the world.
We are further concerned by the public statements made by the GEW suggesting that it may have been “anti-Semitic” or “a mistake” to present information about Israel’s oppressive policies against Palestinians and the BDS movement, and hence it was necessary to block the dissemination of the magazine. Such misrepresentations prevent an informed debate presenting the realities under which the Palestinian people live from taking place.
Individuals, trade unions and civil society groups have the right under international law to organise, the right to protest and the right to free speech. It is a matter of profound concern when any progressive organisation bows to pressure from the lobby groups of those perpetrating the very human rights abuses that people of conscience like Mr. Glanz and many others are campaigning against. In the process, unintentionally or otherwise, this undermines the fundamental rights and principles of the trade union movement and international solidarity.
This incident is one in a long line of anti democratic attacks in Germany and across the world on individuals and groups who speak out for Palestine and more specifically on those who support the legitimate, non violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign. The governments of Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands, as well as Federica Mogherini the EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, have already explicitly clarified that they consider advocacy for BDS to be part of the right of their citizens to freedom of expression.
We have learned that German unions, including the GEW, welcomed and actively promoted the boycott of apartheid in South Africa in the late 1970s and 1980s. It would seem an opportune moment therefore, acting in the spirit of international solidarity, for the leadership of the GEW in Oldenburg and elsewhere to lead an informed discussion with its members about the aims and merits of the BDS movement.
We ask the GEW to stand by the principles of the labour movement, in defence of freedom of speech and expression, and that it reconsiders the decision not to publish this article. We call upon it to publicly defend its own member, Mr. Glanz, against false allegations of anti-Semitism, This must be undertaken in the first instance to defend Mr Glanz, but also in order to prevent a very dangerous precedent being set and to protect the rights of all GEW members and others who wish to peacefully protest human rights abuses wherever those abuses occur.
We ask that the GEW, and also the school authorities (”Niedersächsische Landesschulbehörde”), their spokespersons, relevant politicians and other decision-makers take all steps necessary to defend these basic democratic rights.
Eamon McMahon, Secretary TUFP
Kevin Daly, Ass. Secretary and Teachers’ Representative, TUFP; INTO Northern Committee (PC); Secretary to Newry Trades Council (PC)
Peter Collins, Treasurer TUFP; Academics for Palestine; UCU (PC)
Paddy Mackel, President Belfast Trades Council
Roger Clifford, President Craigavon Trades Council
Susan Neil, UNISON (PC)
Tommy McGlone, INTO Senior Official (PC)
Paul Boyd, Secretary INTO Down Branch (PC)
Jim McLaughlin, INTO (PC)
Mark McTaggart, INTO Assistant Northern Secretary, (PC)
Annmarie Conway, INTO Northern Committee (PC)
Aine-Maire Ui-Neill, Secretary Belfast Branch INTO (PC)
Jim Magee, INTO Newry Branch, Honorary Member (PC)
Donna Daly, INTO (PC)
Seamus Hanna, Chair INTO Northern Committee (PC)
David Nolan, Vice Chair Newry Branch INTO (PC)
Caoimhin MacColaim, INTO Northern Committee (PC)
Gregor Kerr, Dublin North City branch INTO (PC)
Caoimhin MacColaim, INTO (PC)
Christine McDonnell, Unite (PC)
John Douglas, General Secretary MANDATE
John Kelly, INTO Northern Committee (PC)
Noreen Kelly, Secretary Newry Branch INTO (PC)
Fionnualla Hughes, INTO Newry Branch Committee (PC)
Declan McReynolds, Vice-Chair Armagh Branch INTO (PC)
John O’Brien, INTO (PC); ICTU Global Solidarity Committee (PC)
Paul Woods, Chair of Belfast West branch, INTO (PC)
1. Provide serious and REAL protection to members of its community who are Arab, Muslim and Palestinian with the same rigor that you do for other communities.
2. Publicly and unambiguously respond to this latest and other attacks by unambiguously condemning racist, Islamophobic, and violent campaigns that seek to harass, intimidate, bully, and smear Dr. Abdulhadi, GUPS, and Pro-Palestine SFSU students
3. Demonstrate SFSU commitment to the same standard of academic freedom and freedom of expression accorded to all members of the SFSU community without consideration of political pressure or donor arm-twisting as per the report of the independent investigator.
4. Express clear and unambiguous support for the AMED Studies program by publicly and specifically affirming your commitment to the MOU with An-Najah National University in Palestine.
This latest harassment episode highlights the need of AMED on this campus in its academic role in combatting Islamophobia, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim sentiments. We need the reinstatement of the 2 AMED faculty lines
For more info contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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We Stand With Palestinian Rights Activist Christoph Glanz Against Zionist Witch-Hunt
Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, October 13, 2016
On October 10, 2016, the Jerusalem Post published an article by anti-Palestinian propagandist Benjamin Weinthal under the screaming headline, “‘Antisemitic’ German teacher posed as a Jew to push anti-Israel agenda.”
The designated target is Christoph Glanz, German activist, teacher, lifelong anti-fascist, and self-described former liberal Zionist. His supposed crime is having been listed as both a Jewish and non-Jewish endorser of Jews for Palestinian Right of Return (JPRR) in 2013.
In this case, as a simple inquiry would have revealed, Glanz’ double identification on JPRR’s statement was an inadvertent error on our part (now corrected), listing him among more than 700 other endorsers.
In any case, just what is anti-Semitic about JPRR’s observation that, “[f]or more than a century, Zionists have sought to construct a ‘Jewish state’ through forced removal of the indigenous Palestinian people”?
Or that “the Zionist regime officially denies the Nakba, the ethical equivalent of Holocaust denial”?
Or that Palestinian refugees have the inalienable right to return?
Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitic; it’s anti-racist, anti-apartheid, and anti-colonialist. And Weinthal’s bogus accusations reflect an increasingly desperate witch-hunt to stifle the surging worldwide support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement — many of whose supporters are Jewish.
On June 20, five days after the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) teachers and staff union reached a tentative contract agreement with the City University of New York administration, the Board of Trustees (BoT) convened a public hearing on a proposed policy for “Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct.” This Orwellian measure could criminalize any unsanctioned meetings, speak-outs, and marches on CUNY campuses, and by the CUNY lawyer’s own admission, was tailored to counter recent Black Lives Matter and Palestine solidarity actions. At the packed hearing, three dozen students, faculty, staff, and alumni railed against the BoT, demanding that the proposed policy be scrapped.
Even though the new contract was brokered only after the PSC threatened to strike, and establishes concrete gains for various constituencies, it’s by no means a radical agreement. Some members have already vowed to pursue a no-vote. The 10.41% salary increase (compounded for 2010-2017) doesn’t surpass inflation, the three-year adjunct appointment system (instead of reappointments each semester) won’t apply to most adjuncts who teach the majority of CUNY classes, and management will be able to hire a new coterie of star faculty with exorbitant salaries (call it the Paul Krugmanization of CUNY), thus wrenching the two-tier wage disparity gap even wider.
It’s no coincidence that the CUNY administration delayed negotiations so that the PSC membership vote to ratify the contract and the BoT June 27 vote to curtail free speech would both occur when most of the CUNY community is dispersed for the summer. However, because the PSC has fought for a contract along narrow demands, in the face of increasing political crises at CUNY – over labor austerity, free speech, U.S. militarism, and Palestine solidarity – the union leadership is now scrambling to mount a broad, multi-sectional opposition to a policy that would inhibit the right to amass a picket line.
This tenuous situation demands that we rethink the strategies that guide labor organizing on college campuses. In preparation since 9/11, the CUNY administration and New York government have now fully entwined the languages of anti-racism, law and order, and fiscal responsibility to enforce a shock doctrine of structural underfunding and repression. But if a defense of free speech and anti-imperialism is fused with the struggles of organized labor, a new opening for a broad and combined struggle can emerge. If CUNY’s movements are to reverse this assault, they’ll have to force the union to move past the economism of their contract campaign and embrace struggles that speak to the lives of their members, New York, and the wider world.
City University in the World
CUNY is the largest public urban university in the United States. It employs fifty thousand teachers and campus staff in several unions, and relies on unwaged intellectual work by over half a million students, mostly working poor immigrant youth from around the world. Both the wealthy elite and social movements have long recognized CUNY’s institutional role as a social bellwether. At various points in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the university has become a primary site of economic, social, and ideological restructuring – as well as resistance – in which struggles over CUNY became epicenters for national, and even global, conflicts.
We see this dynamic, for example, in the early 1940s, when the Rapp-Coudert Committee held closed-door disciplinary hearings to fire more than fifty CUNY educators (predominantly Jewish) in the College Teachers Union who were suspected of being Communists, a few years after several dozen CUNY students and teachers had returned from fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Rapp-Coudert laid the groundwork for Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to wreak havoc over a generation of radical lives.
CUNY again became a fulcrum upon which the U.S. state and capital, reeling from the 1975 defeat in Vietnam and the resulting economic crisis, extorted concessions from the working class via the reduction of social programs like free college education. After Black, Puerto Rican, and Asian students-led campus strikes in the late sixties and early seventies transformed CUNY with ethnic and gender studies and Open Admissions, President Gerald Ford insisted that New York City impose tuition at CUNY and lay off contingent faculty en masse in order to escape from a manufactured fiscal crisis whichFord’s cabinet reframed as irresponsible self-indulgence: like “a wayward daughter hooked on heroin… You don’t give her $100 a day to support her habit. You make her go cold turkey to break her habit.”
Campus War Zone
More recently, the post-9/11 relationship between CUNY and U.S. imperialism has developed to the point that the university is now a prominent target for both military recruitment and counterinsurgency. Since the mid-2000s, as the United States became mired in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, recruiters’ presence intensified at CUNY colleges, especially after the 2008 economic crisis. In November 2011, days after the Occupy Wall Street eviction, the CUNY administration imposed a five-year annual tuition increase by approving a police assault on peaceful protestors, and then evacuating an entire campus building to hold the vote. During this same year, CUNY reviewed a policy paper calling for the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) to be re-embedded at CUNY in order to diversify its officers.
Then in fall 2013, former military general David Petraeus began teaching a CUNY class called “The Coming North American Decades,” and ROTC set up shop in three other CUNY campuses with little to no regard for campus governance procedures. Although Medgar Evers College successfully removed ROTC, it remains at City College and York College. Meanwhile, student activists were surveilled, arrested, and suspended as campus organizing spaces were seized. As journalist Peter Rugh put it, “America’s most diverse university was turned into a war zone.”
During this post-9/11 period I’ve briefly sketched out, the political situation at CUNY also dramatically shifted in terms of solidarity with Palestine and opposition to the surveillance of Muslim students, two issues which began to coalesce on CUNY campuses as the movement against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan waned.
In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a global call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complied with international law and universal principles of human rights. Critiques across CUNY and New York City of the Israeli military’s unchecked aggression on Gaza heightened during Israel’s winter 2008, November 2012, and summer 2014 carpet bombing campaigns. All funded by $8.5 million U.S. government dollars a day, these three conflicts altogether killed 3,900 Palestinians and 90 Israelis, left many more wounded, and demolished social infrastructure (such as hospitals, schools, electricity and water supplies) along similarly asymmetrical figures in an effort at total destruction of daily life in Gaza.
This carnage could have potentially felt distant, were it not for Zionist organizations, college administrators, and government officials’ more local attempts of repression on CUNY campuses. If student revolts once aspired to “bring the war home,” more recently this pro-Israel coalition has done so differently in its attempts to fire and suppress CUNY faculty and studentswho dared to critically teach, learn, write, and organize for Palestine. Instead of being silenced, Palestinians and their anti-imperialist accomplices at CUNY (in groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and CUNY for Palestine) – many of them women, LGBTQ, and gender-nonconforming folk – began to more insistently share stories of what people in Gaza and the West Bank endured under the U.S.-backed Israeli military.
CUNY faculty and graduate students also helped lead a wave of several national academic associations and unions passing BDS resolutions against the Israeli government and academic institutions. The CUNY Graduate Center’s own student government passed an academic boycott in April 2016 after a two-year campaign. These boycott resolutions were implicit strikes against occupation, understood as clearly drawn picket lines for academic labor.
Surveillance and Selective Anti-racism
Links between wars against Arabs and Muslims abroad and at home also deepened when, in the fall of 2011, journalists exposed that the NYPD had conducted surveillance of Muslim student groups at eight CUNY schools from 2003 to 2006. Another NYPD spying operation would begin in March 2011 at Brooklyn College. An informant embedded herself in Muslim friendships circles, in Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and in a “Unity Coalition,” which organized SJP, the Black Student Union, Puerto Rican Alliance, Dominican Student Movement, and other left student groups. This resulted in fall 2015 revelations of the entrapment of two young women in a fabricated ISIS terrorist plot.
CUNY professor Jeanne Theoharis warned in the Intercept,
[T]hese tactics are not renegade actions. They are consistent with the NYPD’s and the FBI’s approach to Muslim communities after 9/11. They reveal how an “investigation” becomes a perch from which to spy on a community for years, how politically active and religiously conservative students become targets, and how efforts to form coalitions between students of color become suspect.
I draw this chronology to situate why, in the last year, CUNY has suddenly become an epicenter of struggle around educational austerity, “expressive conduct”-policing, and BDS. This history helps to explain why in fall 2015, as the PSC organized civil disobedience and rallies, and mobilized for a strike vote, Cuomo and NY legislators suddenly proposed a half-billion dollar state funding cut to CUNY’s budget, harkening back to our 1975 emergency status.
Based on a letter by the Zionist Organization of America that cited a skewed series of “anti-Semitic” events at CUNY (defined only with regard to Jewish students, not to Arab students who are also Semitic), the NY Senate announced in March 2016 that they would “deny additional funding for CUNY senior schools until it is satisfied that the administration has developed a plan to guarantee the safety of students of all faiths.” Even though state funding was ultimately restored to CUNY, the irony, of course, was that this massive gash in the budget would have also hurt Jewish students, faculty, and staff.
Nevertheless, a self-described CUNY task force on anti-Semitism called pro-BDS Professor Sarah Schulman and SJP student leaders into closed-door disciplinary meetings reminiscent of the Rapp-Coudert Committee and the rise of McCarthyism to underscore a “Palestine Exception to Free Speech.” In the last few weeks, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a bill to specifically attack individuals, student groups, and institutions that advocate BDS. The CUNY Board of Trustees also seized the momentum to introduce the policy on “Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct.”
Intersecting Picket Lines
The government and administration have fused these crises into a new political economy at CUNY – we can use this shift to meaningfully connect our struggles, not keep them isolated in retreat. The PSC repeatedly vocalizes its defense of CUNY’s mission to provide quality education to working-class people of all colors and backgrounds. However, the union has maintained a limited contract focus that is already hampered by enduring adjunct inequalities, while not taking a public stand on these anti-BDS bills, McCarthyist hearings, student surveillance, and the policy on “Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct.” In so doing, the union has one arm tied behind its back, right when it could further expand upon a recent landslide 92% strike authorization and subsequent contract offer.
This moment is haunted by the old racist song repurposed by Paul Gilroy to examine race and class under neoliberalism, that “There Ain’t no Black in the Union, Jack.” In other words, labor movements are always at risk of eliding concurrent struggles that affect its most marginalized workers and support bases. These issues are not being officially recognized by the PSC as part of our picket line, even if they have become a central means by which many of us organize as laborers, and have pivoted the directions of our university’s institutional life.
More widely, a class re-composition is taking place to gather various kinds of workers – athletes, artists, dockworkers, educators, healthcare workers, journalists, retail workers, scientists, students, and beyond – under the “one big union” of BDS to coordinating rank-and-file cross-industry actions that link apartheid and imperialism abroad with austerity and policing at home. Because CUNY students and workers have had to vigorously defend our right to speak on Palestine and on the surveillance of Muslims, we’ve radicalized the contours of a new free speech movement that is concerned with different “trigger warnings” of Israeli apartheid and Homeland Security on our campuses.
Like our unions (and universities), BDS is a means, not an end. Moreover, the protection of free speech is not to be decorously enshrined by any top-down policy, but directionally honed and pushed beyond what the bosses and lawmakers deem permissible. Only through these intersecting picket lines can we address all the aspects of a contract campaign within a larger struggle to transform CUNY. In the words of Tidal Magazine, an anti-colonial movement journal,
Boycott is a necessary yet limited tactic. Each “win” is but a small part of a coordinated exertion and intensification of pressure. The value of Boycott lies as much in the economic damage it could do to the target as it does in the conversations, bonds, and spaces that are formed in the process of organizing. These are the foundations of any future liberation, beyond Boycott and beyond BDS itself.
City University of New York students, faculty, and staff, like the U.S. labor movement, are stuck between two forms of class composition: one that is bound by parochial bread-and-butter demands, and one in which our actions can reverberate around the world as they transform our working and learning conditions here. Which side are we on? Improvements over wages, benefits, and job security are real advances against the university and state elite, but they cannot be divorced from these interrelated conflicts that have catapulted CUNY into a local/global battleground.
We must collectively ask why the PSC and many other campus unions – as their leadership and membership are currently configured – have not been adequate forces for making such political demands. But perhaps struggles at CUNY can experiment with strategies to escape this impasse, finding ways to link the union to other struggles, to wider communities, to build associational power. In these broader coalitions, and relying on deep community ties, PSC members can urge the union to refuse to ratify a contract until management desists from its efforts at austerity, curtailment of civil liberties, and endorsement of U.S. and Israeli occupations, which are all integral facets of our workplaces. During the past year, we mobilized for a strike which garnered wide support across the university and New York City. We can use this momentum to strike at the heart of empire, and in the process, help redirect the course of social movement unionism.
On June 23, half an hour after this article was published, Politico announced a statement by CUNY that “A proposed policy will be considered by the Board of Trustees at a later time, following additional consultation and discussion.” Meanwhile, The Nation reported that Governor Cuomo continues to pursue a BDS Blacklist, in a clear violation of the First Amendment. Later in the evening, the Professional Staff Congress Delegate Assembly voted 111-11 to approve the contract as it stands for ratification by the union membership.
Conor Tomás Reed is an archivist, doctoral student, educator, and organizer at the City University of New York, a collective member of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, and a co-founding participant in the Free University of New York City. Conor researches twentieth and twenty first-century literatures of social movements and urban freedom schools, and will be a 2016-2017 Scholar-in-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
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In response to your recent memo on the democratic decision of the graduate student union GSOC-UAW 2110 to endorse and join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, we would like to highlight some errors and register our disappointment in the manner it was issued.
First, your memo misrepresents the boycott and the referendum Our vote for boycott never targets individual academics, but rather seeks to break ties with institutions that participate in the oppression of Palestinians and the curtailing of their human rights and academic freedoms. Under the academic boycott, no restrictions are placed on working with individual Israeli scholars–those following the boycott are still welcome to invite Israeli scholars to conferences, to co-author papers with them, and to coordinate research (so long as these scholars are not acting as official representatives of the Israeli state). What the boycott targets are institutional ties with Israeli universities and research institutes. For a full detailing of the academic boycott procedures, please refer to the guidelines provided by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural boycott of Israel (PACBI).
Furthermore, while your statement claimed that our vote called on NYU to “divest from all Israel-related investments”, in truth it calls on NYU to divest from “Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in the ongoing violation of Palestinian human and civil rights”. We are calling for divestment based on companies’ conduct and role in the oppression of Palestinians, not divestment from any company vaguely “related” to Israel.
Second, we are disappointed that the memo does not acknowledge that this was a democratic referendum passed with strong support by 66% of voting GSOC members. Your dismissive attitude suggests that you have little regard for the actual concerns of NYU students, which have been given voice by GSOC’s vote. Moreover, the claim that the pledges of GSOC members could conflict with their responsibilities as employees of NYU is opaque, somewhat threatening, and certainly false. It is inappropriate for university officials to make vague, unsubstantiated gestures that suggest there might be negative consequences for individual graduate students who follow their conscience.
Third, your failure to address blatant human rights violations is appalling and insulting to both the cause of Palestinian human rights and the democratic vote put forth by the GSOC. This is yet another regrettable instance in which the lives of Palestinians are unaccounted for and their voices are silenced. Contrary to the memo, opponents of BDS are not the only ones who claim that their position is in favor of academic freedom. We, along with all supporters of BDS, are deeply concerned with academic freedom, and indeed, the shocking lack of such freedom for Palestinian universities, students, and academics is one of the reasons we have called for boycott. As with the boycott of Apartheid South African universities–which NYU eventually supported, revealing that the university has not always been categorically against such boycotts–we hope to create pressure so that Israel respects the freedoms of the Palestinians, including their academic freedoms.
We hope that out of respect for your graduate students and for justice, you issue a clarificatory statement acknowledging these errors.
UAW 2865 Condemns Horowitz Posters, Climate of Islamophobia and Racism
On Friday, April 15th, 2016, posters defaming individuals involved with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Muslim Student Association (MSA), and campaigns for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel, more broadly were discovered at UCLA. Commissioned by conservative agitator David Horowitz and likely circulated by unknown individuals working in collaboration, similar posters have also been confirmed at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, and San Diego State University. While this is not the first time that Horowitz has circulated posters on university campuses attacking SJP and MSA, this latest round represents a serious escalation from Horowitz’s past efforts. In this most recent poster campaign, individual student and faculty names from each respective campus are prominently displayed beneath the charge of having “allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetrate BDS and Jew Hatred on campus” as a result of their supporting BDS and the broader Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination.
In addition to student activists in MSA and SJP, Horowitz also attacked two Black professors at UCLA as well as Angela Davis, a prominent activist combatting all forms of oppression in the US and abroad and Black professor from UC Santa Cruz, for their support of Palestinian rights. This is hardly unexpected from Horowitz, who in addition to his attacks on Muslims, has a long history of attacking the Black community. In 2001, Horowitz took out ads in campus newspapers including the Daily Californian which claimed that Black Americans should be “grateful” for slavery.
Horowitz’s poster campaign followed a recent incident at the University of California, Riverside which took place sometime over spring break in which graduate student offices and a faculty office were vandalized. The Chair of the department of Ethnic Studies, Dr. Dylan Rodriguez, identified the incident as “despicable acts of symbolic and cultural violence, threat and harassment.” He also said, “Women of color have been specifically targeted by these parties, and the available information makes it abundantly clear that these acts of violence are significantly motivated by anti-Muslim and Islamophobic sentiment and/or ideology.”
We in UAW 2865 condemn these posters as Islamophobic and racist fear-mongering tactics intended to chill and silence protected political speech. Though concerned by the woefully insufficient reaction of UC Berkeley administration as well as the complete lack of attention by officials at UC Santa Barbara, we are heartened by the swift administrative response from UCLA, whose Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion sent an email to the campus community denouncing the posters as intimidation and defending the integrity of SJP and MSA. Nevertheless, we hope that UC administrators will continue working to better implement SJP UCLA’s requests, which include a meeting between the Chancellor and Palestinian students on campus and training campus officials in recognizing, condemning and confronting Islamophobia and racism against people of Southwest Asian/North African background as they should any other form of institutional, ideological or interpersonal xenophobia and violence. We further hope that administrators on all other impacted campuses will take similar measures.
Although UCLA administrators have worked to address the needs of students there, UCSB administrators have been silent thus far. And Berkeley officials, though aware of the strong statement released at UCLA, opted to stop short of offering the same level of support. Instead they released an anemic statement that failed to provide the campus community with adequate context in understanding why these posters are so inaccurate, offensive, and dangerous. Horowitz has had a long history of surveilling college students on their very own campuses and his tactics of slander, intimidation and bullying have been experienced by multiple generations of student organizers. Yet even as some administrators in the UC have been quick to repudiate Horowitz’s actions, it is clear that they did not occur in a vacuum.
In May 2015, UC President and former Head of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano opined that the UC Regents should adopt the State Department Definition of anti-Semitism, which equates virtually any criticism of the state of Israel with anti-Semitism. In fact, the push for the UC Regents to adopt this definition was the result of years of effort by groups such as the AMCHA Initiative, the Zionist Organization of America, and the Brandeis Center to ensure that any and all speech that advocates for Palestinian freedom through BDS and other non-violent educational activities on UC campuses are equated with anti-Semitism. This latest attempt to stifle support for Palestinian rights developed from various previously unsuccessful pursuits of Title VI complaints, each of which was dismissed by the Department of Education, alleging that BDS and pro-Palestine speech deprived Jewish students of equal access to a quality education. The clamor for the State Department Definition was only the most recent phase of this broader push to slow the growth of the BDS movements on UC campuses, and AMCHA founder and UC Santa Cruz lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin (who was caught on video espousing repugnantly Islamophobic generalizations about Palestinian and Palestine solidarity student activists) admitted that enforcement of the State Department Definition would stigmatize BDS as anti-Semitic.
Despite the UC Regents’ claims to the contrary, the desire to abandon adoption of the State Department definition in favor of an ostensibly all-encompassing “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” did not ultimately constitute a shift away from monitoring criticism of Israel on university campuses. This was made clear by the very selection of so-called “experts” who were to be consulted during the drafting process: all of them were men, one was a driving force for the racially exclusionary Proposition 209, and two are known to advocate for the suppression of speech critical of Israel. This panel represents a rather limited demographic of “experts” to weigh in on what is alleged to be an all-encompassing anti-oppression statement.
Accordingly, the struggles of various communities were superficially coopted in a cheap attempt to legitimize the statement’s direct and false equation between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Though the “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” was ultimately amended before being passed to condemn instead “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism,” and though it remains technically unenforceable on constitutional grounds, we condemn the process of drafting the “Statement of Principles” and find the finished product to be disastrously and offensively out of touch with the on-the-ground realities university students face today. Among other portions, this disconnect is evidenced by a section from the introductory “Contextual Statement” about Islamophobia.
According to page 5 of the “Contextual Statement”:
“Terrorist attacks by self-described religious fundamentalists have fueled Islamophobic attacks against peaceful members of our communities who are–or are perceived to be–followers of Islam. These attacks and counter-attacks generate fear on UC campuses as much as they do outside the UC community, and they sometimes generate policy positions or statements that are perceived to be personal attacks that reflect prejudice or intolerance based solely on religious belief.”
Despite the fact that the UC Regents repeatedly prided themselves on having drafted a statement that included Islamophobia at their March 23rd meeting, this language comes appallingly close to apologia for Islamophobia in centering not the reprehensibility of Islamophobia itself nor the danger to those directly impacted, but rather the “fear” of the general UC community, and implying a cyclical parity between vigilante violence and Islamophobic bigotry and aggression. Most distressingly, the statement’s conclusion that this “cycle” of attacks and Islamophobic “counter-attacks” “generate[s] policy positions or statements that are perceived to be personal attacks that reflect prejudice or intolerance based solely on religious belief” paints Islamophobia as a matter of misperception, rather than a dangerously escalating phenomenon. It also does not recognize that the culture wars taking place on University campuses are largely informed by, funded through and incited by the University of California’s ties to privatized business profiting from war and militarization in the South West Asia and North Africa (SWANA) region. The statement gives no mention to rhetorics of intolerance and bigotry in the current Presidential election or US policy and structural and institutional violations of civil liberties impacting Arab, Muslim and SWANA peoples in the US as being tied to the rise of Islamophobia.
This is hardly the statement one would expect in response to a domestic climate in which politicians and public figures have seriously proposed interment for Muslims in the U.S.; when leading presidential candidates campaign on banning Muslims from entering the U.S. and glorify Islamophobic violence; when half of polled American voters support this proposed Muslim ban; when individuals are assaulted simply for speaking Arabic or wearing hijab in public;when Muslims (and those perceived to be Muslim) are removed from flights without explanation,, or for speaking Arabic, as recently befell a UC Berkeley student of Iraqi origin; when Islamophobic sentiment in the U.S. is so pronounced that the Department of Education feels compelled to issue an open letter warning educators to be vigilant about the climate for Muslim students.
These toxic attitudes have also entered U.S. policy, evidenced by a law signed last December that subjects European citizens of Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Sudanese descent to discriminatory screening and visa barriers to travel to the U.S. This law risks making U.S. citizens with national origins from those same countries into second-class citizens by causing the E.U. to reciprocate and subject them to visa discrimination as well. Even after the “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” was passed, the UC Regents attempted to use their authority to intimidate the American Association of Anthropologists into voting against an academic boycott of Israeli institutions with a proven track record of perpetuating the occupation, discriminating against and denying Palestinians the very right to academic freedom on which the Regents claim to base their opposition, showing where their true priorities lie.
The statement’s take on other forms of racism and xenophobia, which are cheaply consolidated into a single paragraph and reduced to a matter of differences in “debates” on university campuses, is equally abysmal. Racism is transformed from a systemic issue to a matter of insensitive discourse, which is convenient given that it was the UC Regents who helped introduce structural inequality to the UC system by laying the groundwork for what would become proposition 209, which effectively decimated the enrollment rate and statistical and physical presence of students of color on UC campuses. Transmuting racism from a systemic issue to a matter of personal worldview and speech allows the UC Regents to deflect responsibility and complicity for the structural inequalities still inherent to the UC from both themselves as well as the administrators on each campus tasked with responding to student needs.
There is no denying that Horowitz’s posters are defamatory, racist, and Islamophobic. But when the UC Regents continue to prioritize the monitoring of discourse related to Palestine/Israel over acknowledging the clearly escalating levels of Islamophobia and racism on the national front, or when administrators on UC campuses remain glaringly uninformed about Islamophobia and racism, they are complicit in creating the very environment that leads to Horowitz’s incitement as well as the incident currently being investigated as a hate crime at UC Riverside.
Make no mistake, it is the repeated ignoring and delegitimization of Islamophobia, racism, and complicity in the routine suppression of pro-Palestine speech and activity on university campuses that allowed for the sort of escalation we have seen from David Horowitz and his followers, whose actions epitomize the often ignored intersection of Islamophobia, racism, and the demonization of pro-Palestine sentiment.
Whatever our demographic and/or political beliefs, all of us–students, faculty, and campus workers–deserve equal protection and an educational environment free from harassment and intimidation. But absent a genuine comprehension of the racism and harassment most directly affecting university students today, such a goal will be nothing more than a pipe dream to which UC officials can pretend to pay lip service through the denunciation of someone like Horowitz, who in fact is only capitalizing on an atmosphere that UC Regents and administrators have aided and abetted.
The full text and PDF of this statement, including relevant citations, can be found here.
Sean Larson, a member of the graduate student workers union at New York University, describes his union’s historic vote in favor of Palestine solidarity.
April 26, 2016
Members of GSOC-UAW Local 2110 participate in the BDS vote (GSOC-UAW Local 2110)
IT WAS 4:30 in the morning on April 22 before the final votes were counted in the presence of tearful and apprehensive onlookers and the result was announced: By a vote of 429 to 216, the graduate workers of New York University (NYU) voted overwhelmingly to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israeli apartheid.
Nearly 650 union members voted on the referendum, a strong turnout indicating widespread support for justice in Palestine.
The resounding success of the BDS referendum was the culmination of a nine-month-long education and organizing campaign among the membership of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC) at NYU, a part of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110.
GSOC-UAW 2110 is a labor union representing over 2,000 teaching assistants, adjunct instructors, research assistants and other graduate workers at NYU, and the only recognized union in the U.S. for graduate workers at a private university.
The BDS vote was initiated by GSOC’s BDS caucus in response to the call for solidarity from Palestinian civil society and all major Palestinian trade unions. With clear support from its membership, GSOC is now calling on both the UAW and NYU to withdraw investments from Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in the ongoing violation of Palestinian human and civil rights.
In accordance with the BDS call, GSOC is also calling on NYU to close down its study abroad program at Tel Aviv University, which continues to violate NYU’s own non-discrimination policy by enforcing Israel’s apartheid laws on its students.
The academic boycott is an important step in exposing how all aspects of Israeli culture and scholarship are tainted with apartheid if they do not take a stand against it. One cannot be a fighter against one form of oppression while ignoring the systematic racism upon which one’s state is built and perpetuates itself.
The atmosphere of threats and intimidation that BDS supporters in Israel face is a reminder that Israel will tolerate many forms of progressive politics in the academy as long as academics keep their mouths shut about the occupation.
It is especially important for unions to take a stand in solidarity with Palestine. All of the Palestinian trade union federations have signed on to the BDS call, bidding their fellow workers worldwide to make good on the principle of solidarity as the basis for any effective labor movement.
Opponents of BDS may criticize labor unions for taking a stance on a supposedly extraneous and controversial issue, but if the labor movement is to fight for a multiracial and international working class, it must combat racism and oppression of all kinds.
Palestine solidarity resolutions in labor unions are not “divisive.” That’s what apartheid is–by definition. BDS is a step toward unity, and this is all the more important for a relatively new union to show its members that it can represent their interests.
At NYU, GSOC has demonstrated that it is a union willing to defend its many Palestinian members who are directly affected by Israeli apartheid laws. The endorsement of the BDS campaign shows that the union will foster a culture of acceptance and solidarity with the oppressed. Graduate workers will not stand idly by while Israel bombs the homes of fellow union members and the oppressed people of Palestine.
The implications of the GSOC referendum are clear: more and more academic workers will become aware that relations with an apartheid regime cannot in any way be considered “normal.”
NYU’s institutional link with Tel Aviv University, which is located on the destroyed Palestinian village of Sheikh Muwanis and takes pride in developing military technologies and murderous war doctrines used in the occupation, will be henceforward put into question as a relationship that legitimizes apartheid.
In the lead-up to the GSOC referendum, Local 2110 President Maida Rosenstein made the case for continuing to do nothing: “Why not wait until the Public Review Board rules [on the appeal by Local 2865] before conducting this referendum?” she suggested in a communication to GSOC stewards. Such hedging and legalism is to be expected as the solidarity struggle with Palestine heats up.
Against this complacency we must remember that never before has change come about by itself. Segregation and the Jim Crow laws did not melt away while well-intentioned citizens let the legal system take its course, and the leaders of apartheid South Africa did not suddenly come to terms with their own moral bankruptcy.
These systems of oppression were instead dismantled by broad-based social movements that took bold and uncompromising stands. For decades Palestinians have endured the brutal occupation of their land and waited for the international labor movement to recognize their suffering and take a stand.
The attempted suppression of member voices in UAW Local 2865 only galvanized GSOC members in favor of BDS to redouble their efforts. Now the success at NYU has to be built upon in other labor unions and academic institutions.
This victory in GSOC is an important ray of hope for the movement. In the early hours last Friday, as the votes came rolling in, each “yes” symbolized an outstretched hand of solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians. The dawning realization that victory in this vote was near brought waves of emotion among the many union members, including Palestinians, who were present.
As Murhaf Abdalqader, a Palestinian student attending NYU, said:
While I can’t speak for anyone but myself, I can say that if Palestinians saw the passion and dedication that I saw from the people of all different backgrounds behind this initiative, they’d be inspired with hope. Hope that they gave up on ages ago. Hope [the lack of which] has led us to where we are today–hope of an actual future.
I know that for me, I had given up on things improving in my lifetime. But the results of last night resurrected that child-like hope again. Thank you GSOC. And thank you to everyone who participated, organized or voted yes. Here’s to a free and prospering Palestine.
The NYU referendum shows that the tide is turning against defenders of apartheid. Palestine solidarity organizers should take courage from this historic victory and know that history is on our side. There will be justice in Palestine. The BDS movement is bringing it closer every day.