Category Archives: Academic Freedom

Resolution on the Freedom of Speech and Assembly for All Faculty, Staff and Students at the City University of New York (PSC-CUNY)

View in PDF format: resolution_on_academic_freedom
Adopted by the PSC-CUNY Delegate Assembly on October 13, 2016.

PSC

Please sign: We Stand With Palestinian Rights Activist Christoph Glanz Against Zionist Witch-Hunt

Please click here to sign the statement below!

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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.

This is at least the seventh time in 2016 that Weinthal has falsely accused Glanz of anti-Semitism, and reflects a pattern of such smears by Weinthal against numerous other Palestinian rights advocates.

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?

Readers are invited to read our full statement and decide for themselves.

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.

Christoph Glanz will not be silenced by such attacks, and neither will we.

Intersecting Picket Lines: Free Speech, Palestine, and the CUNY Contract (Viewpoint Magazine)

Viewpoint Magazine

Intersecting Picket Lines: Free Speech, Palestine, and the CUNY Contract

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“Die-In/Vigil for Ferguson and Gaza,” John Jay College/CUNY, October 8, 2014

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.”

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PSC civil disobedience outside CUNY Central administrators’ offices, November 4, 2015 (Photo credit: Erik McGregor)

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.

Our movements can learn to both “oppose and propose.” We can demand a fair CUNY contract while taking a stand against political repression. We can oppose ROTC military science programs, while expanding resources for valuable spaces like the CUNY Graduate Center’s Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC) that are at risk of being underfunded to death. We can protest when rape-apologist IDF soldiers are invited to speak on campuses, as we host the annual Palestinian students’ Right 2 Educationtour nationwide. We can refuse to cooperate our academic labor with Israeli universities, and form new partnerships with Palestinian universities, asRabab Abdulhadi at San Francisco State University has initiated with An-Najah and Birzeit.

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.

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.

Response to President Hamilton, NYU (GSOC Members for BDS)

GSOC is here to stayMay 3, 2016

Response to President Hamilton, NYU

Dear President Hamilton,

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.

Sincerely,

GSOC members for BDS

UAW 2865 Condemns Horowitz Posters, Climate of Islamophobia and Racism

Tikkun2May 2, 2016

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.

NYU grad workers vote yes on BDS (Socialist Worker)

NYU grad workers vote yes on BDS

 

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.

SW1Members 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.

Additionally, 366 union members–58 percent of voters–also pledged to adhere to the academic boycott of Israel and refrain from participating in research and programs sponsored by Israeli universities.

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 recent stand by 22 Israeli anthropologists calling for the academic boycott of Israel is a bold example for others in the country and worldwide.

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.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN THE U.S. support for the BDS movement continues to swell despite the crackdown on Palestine solidarity organizing. Predictably, this resilience is generating a panic among the defenders of apartheid, who are suddenly facing the prospect that they may go the way of the white South African regime in the 1980s or the racist backers of the Jim Crow laws in the U.S. South.

It is the duty of every person of conscience to help in the effort to make this fear a reality and relegate systematic racism to the dustbin of history. In the meantime, let them tremble.

BDS is proving to be hard to stop as a movement. Recently, the Graduate Employee Organization at University of Massachusetts Amherst passed a BDS resolution by referendum, followed by an academic boycott measure approved by the City University of New York Doctoral Students Council. These join many other U.S. academic associationsand several labor unions that have endorsed BDS.

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.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

A SIMILAR BDS referendum passed by the 13,000-member strong UAW Local 2865 in California was later “nullified” by the UAW International Executive Board, a decision now under appeal by the Public Review Board.

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.

Attempts to Stifle BDS Support Within UAW Local Backfires (Shadow Proof)

Shadow Proof

ATTEMPTS TO STIFLE BDS SUPPORT WITHIN UAW LOCAL BACKFIRES

BDSposter

Members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) have been fighting to protect a resolution passed in 2014 to support Palestinian civil society’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) call.

According to an official press release, in December 2014, UAW Local 2865, a student-workers union representing some 13,000 tutors, teaching assistants, and other student-workers at the University of California, became the first major U.S. labor union to demand that their union and employer divest from companies that have been complicit in human rights violations against Palestinians.

UAW Local 2865 members voted to endorse the BDS call for divestment in a landslide—by 65%—with 52% of voting members pledging to support an academic boycott, and over 2,100 voting.

In a letter endorsed by union leadership in the run-up to the vote:

We believe that as student and labor organizers, we have a duty to stand by principles of anti­-oppression organizing. As we stand in solidarity with Palestinian self­-determination, we also recognize that here in the United States we have our own systems of structural racism and settler colonialism to resist and dismantle. In the university system in which we both learn and labor, the disparity in access to people of color and working ­class people as well as the existence of our universities on stolen indigenous land alerts us to the importance of making these connections in our movements.

The measures that were called for were, according to the official statement released by UAW Local 2865:

“[That] the University of California divest from companies involved in the occupation of Palestine; that UAW International to divest from these same entities; the US government to end military aid to Israel. 52% of voting members pledged not to “take part in any research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine and the settler-colonial policies of the state of Israel” until such time as these universities take steps to end complicity with dispossession, occupation, and apartheid.”

Since this historic vote, pressure on members who supported the resolution has mounted. Stephen Brumbaugh, a member of the union’s anti-BDS caucus known as Informed Grads, appealed the results of the vote to UAW Local 2865 in December 2014.

In 2015, the UAW 2865 vote in support of BDS was nullified by the International Executive Board. The IEB did not find any issues with the vote itself and went out of their way to defend the integrity of the process and make clear that the results represented the will of voting members. Instead, the IEB nullified the vote on constitutional grounds, claiming the vote interfered with the flow of commerce and could hurt UAW employers, as well as claiming that, by targeting Israeli policies, the resolutions discriminated against Israeli and even Jewish UAW members.

This claim of vilification, unsupported by evidence in the official record provided to Shadowproof, was upheld by the IEB despite the fact that the same records show significant numbers of Jewish and Israeli members and officers supported the resolution.

According to briefs provided to Shadowproof, UAW Local 2865 went on to appeal the IEB decision, stating in part that “the IEB improperly ignored the UAW constitutional mandate to solidify the labor movement and build solidarities with other unions, such as the Palestinian labor unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers who issued the call for BDS in 2005.”

The Local has appealed the IEB ruling to the UAW Public Review Board, a panel of labor lawyers with no affiliation to the UAW, who are empowered to review decisions of the IEB if they are appealed. Gibson Dunn and the UAW IEB have filed their own responses, and the Public Review Board has started its review of the case, with a final ruling expected in the next few months.

While the fate of UAW 2865’s resolution remains uncertain, the campaign to erase the Local’s Palestine solidarity work through undemocratic means has only backfired on those seeking to shield Israeli policy from criticism.

While major unions like the United Electrical Workers and the Connecticut AFL-CIO endorsed BDS resolutions following UAW 2865’s vote, there has been a greater increase in U.S. labor movement support for BDS following the nullification of their resolution.

Following nullification, rank-and-file activists in Local 2865 gathered nearly 18,000 signatures, including over 11,000 from the pro-BDS Jewish group Jewish Voice For Peace, and close to 500 signatures from US trade unionists. Activists also collected letters of support from a long list of prominent individuals, community groups, labor caucuses, as well as other unions.

Three UAW Locals—UAW 4121, UAW 2322, and GSOC-UAW 2110, which represent academic and other workers at the University of Washington, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and NYU, respectively—each wrote strong letters supporting UAW 2865’s right to local autonomy and democracy, demanding that the UAW IEB reinstate UAW 2865’s vote.

The Autoworkers Caravan, a progressive caucus of auto workers who are members of several different UAW Locals, also joined the chorus of voices demanding the IEB reverse course, showing that support for BDS extends beyond academic workers represented by UAW.

In addition to this outpouring of support for UAW 2865, BDS within the U.S. labor movement has also seen more concrete gains, fueled in part by anger over UAW 2865’s resolution nullification. Just this April, two unions within the UAW overwhelmingly endorsed BDS by member vote. GEO-UAW 2322, which represents 1,700 student workers at University of Massachusetts Amherst, announced on April 15 that they had passed a BDS resolution with a whopping 95% of their voting members in favor.

A week later, on April 22, GSOC-UAW 2110, which represents 2,000 student workers at NYU, announced that they had passed a BDS resolution with 67% of their voting members in favor, in an election that saw record-breaking voter turnout. The results at both of these unions came despite legal threats and intimidation from those opposed to the resolutions, as well as attempts by UAW Local 2110 officials to interfere with elections there.

According to discussions with members of the pro-BDS caucus within UAW 2865, other unions they are in touch with are also beginning their own BDS campaigns, meaning more resolutions like these are sure to follow.

Members from both GEO-UAW 2322 and GSOC-UAW 2110 specifically mention the nullification of UAW 2865’s vote as motivation for holding their votes now, showing that undemocratic efforts to stifle BDS activism within UAW have actually benefited the movement, rather than hindered it.

Activists in the UAW are making it clear to everyone that the only way to defeat BDS is to defeat the occupation. Jennifer Mogannam, a Ph.D. candidate at UC San Diego in the department of Ethnic Studies, a rank and file member of UAW 2865, told Shadowproof that the passage of and commitment to BDS at the student-worker union level “marks an important and uplifting shift in both academia and union organizing.”

Mogannam argues that this marks  a critical turn “in a new generation of scholars whereby not only are we able to engage critically on the question of Palestine, but it also indicates an unapologetic commitment to social justice in academia.”

“On the contrary, through the pushback and meaningless appeal based on politics and not protocol,” Mogannam explained, “we see the UAW international board exposing the contradictions within the labor movement by prioritizing fiscal and political relationships over workers’ rights and social justice.”

The attack against UAW is “part and parcel of the larger Zionist movement’s suppression and attacking of those fighting for Palestinian self-determination and against Israeli settler colonialism,” Mogannam said. This is why the fight continues.

The pressure on UAW, groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, and other organizations that have answered the BDS call, has grown with every successful BDS resolution—from targeted campaigns meant to instill fear of losing a job or academic position, to baseless accusations of anti-Semitism against those who oppose the state of Israel.

Kumars Salehi, a graduate student and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Berkeley, told Shadowproof that he’s already seen his career prospects and standing in his field threatened by smears against him, simply for being a Palestine advocate.

“Because of this campaign and other attempts to target me personally and brand me as a bigot, I have to live and work with the constant fear that I will be marginalized in my community and denied career opportunities because mentors, collaborators and employers will see me as a liability and a source of potentially unending controversy, ” Salehi says.

He now has to worry that he will be the target of disciplinary proceedings if a student is uncomfortable with him as a teacher, due to his political activities being publicly associated with bigotry.

On April 19, Salehi shared a poster being plastered across the UC Berkeley campus that read like a hit list. It accused a number of UC Berkeley faculty and students of allying themselves with “Jew hatred.” The poster reads:

“BDS. Boycott, Divestment, Sanction. A Hamas-inspired genocidal campaign to destroy Israel, the world’s only Jewish state. The following students and faculty at UC Berkeley have allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetrate BDS and Jew hatred on this campus.”

The poster listed the David Horowitz’s ‘Freedom Center’ at the bottom, along with the hashtag #StopTheJewHatredOnCampus. And still, whether it’s the fight against the UAW BDS resolution, or the stigmatization of students and faculty members, the push back against Palestine solidarity work has been growing, but that doesn’t mean that resistance has ebbed. The passage of BDS resolutions and organizating around solidarity actions continue. A statement by Kumars Salehi speaks to the attitude surrounding this resistance:

“At this point, being attacked personally doesn’t intimidate me. If my career were going to be fucked by Palestine activism, it already is.”

NYU graduate worker union backs Israel boycott by big margin (Electronic Intifada)

eilogoElectronic Intifada

NYU graduate worker union backs Israel boycott by big margin

New York University’s graduate student worker union has voted by a large margin to join the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in support of Palestinian rights.

The Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC), part of United Auto Workers Local 2110, also voted for stewards and delegates, defying the parent union’sdeclaration last week of an election by acclamation after disqualifying more than half of GSOC’s candidates.

After 38 percent of the union’s more than 2,000 members cast ballots this week, GSOC announced that the results are “clear evidence of a strong mandate for those elected” and a sign of members’ “commitment to the democratic process.”

Many of the candidates who had been disqualified were elected with strong margins.

Backing BDS

Two-thirds voted “Yes” to a question on whether GSOC should join the BDS movement until Israel complies with international law and respects Palestinian rights.

Screenshot 2016-04-26 20.18.51The petition that triggered the referendum, signed by more than 300 members, calls on NYU and the UAW’s national organization – known in US labor parlance as the international – to “withdraw their investments from Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in the ongoing violation of Palestinian human and civil rights.”

It also urges NYU to close its program at Tel Aviv University, arguing that the partnership violates NYU’s non-discrimination policy.

Israel has frequently barred entry or harassed visitors who are Muslim or of Arab or other Middle Eastern ancestry, including US citizens.

The UAW international nullified a similar BDS resolution passed by University of California graduate student workers, UAW Local 2865, in 2014. The local union is currently appealing the nullification to the UAW Public Review Board.

The president of UAW Local 2110 in New York had tried to persuade GSOC to postpone this week’s BDS referendum pending the outcome of the California case.

In addition, 58 percent, or 366 GSOC members, voted to adhere to the academic boycott, agreeing to refrain from participating in research and programs sponsored by Israeli universities.

“This historic endorsement of BDS by GSOC at NYU occurs in the wake of growing momentum for the movement across university campuses and labor unions nationwide,” Shafeka Hashash, a member of the GSOC for BDS caucus, said in apress release.

“NYU’s GSOC referendum set an important precedent for both solidarity with Palestine and for union democracy,” the press release added.

“The referendum success is indicative of the traction the movement is gaining across university campuses, and increasingly among graduate students,” stated Maya Wind, another member of GSOC for BDS.

Wind had initially been disqualified as a candidate by the local, but was elected to a steward position with 32 percent of the votes. Only one other candidate received as large a share of the votes.

A week ago, City University of New York doctoral students passed a resolution in favor of a boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in abuses of Palestinian rights.

In denouncing the Doctoral Student Council’s vote, CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken reiterated the school’s opposition to BDS.

“We are disappointed by this vote from one student group, but it will not change CUNY’s position,” Millikin said.

Blacklist

The two recent BDS victories in New York come at a time when state legislators are pushing for a crackdown on Palestine solidarity activism.

“The most far-reaching, unconstitutional anti-BDS bills in the country are currently under consideration by the New York legislature,” according to the legal defense group Palestine Legal.

In January, New York lawmakers introduced bills in the lower house and senate that would require state officials to publish a blacklist of supporters of the BDS movement.

The state senate passed its version of the law, which applies to boycotts of any nation allied to the US, and is currently awaiting the governor’s signature.

The proposed laws would bar those on the blacklist from working with state agencies. The bill would also prohibit state pension funds from investing in companies engaged in politically motivated boycotts of Israel.

NYU grad union votes for Israel boycott (Politico NY)

Politico New York

NYU grad union votes for Israel boycott

a-Tel Aviv University_0
Students walk throughout the Tel Aviv University campus in Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov) 

By CONOR SKELDING 10:16 a.m. | Apr. 22, 2016

New York University’s graduate students union voted to approve a “Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions” resolution regarding the state of Israel, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee announced Friday morning.

The resolution passed with 66.5 percent in favor, with “over 600 members” voting, GSOC said.

It called for the NYU union and the United Auto Workers, GSOC’s parent, to divest from Israeli companies and stop doing business with them, and also for NYU “to close its program in Tel Aviv University, which continues to violate the NYU Non-Discrimination policy.”

It also included a personal pledge not to work with Israeli academic institutions.

The resolution supports a boycott “until Israel complies with international law and ends the military occupation, dismantles the wall, recognizes the rights of Palestinian citizens to full equality, and respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees and exiles.”

University leadership reiterated its opposition to the boycott.

NYU spokesman John Beckman said, “NYU has a long-standing position opposing boycotts of Israeli academics and institutions. This vote is at odds with NYU’s policy on this matter, it is at odds with the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, and it is even at odds with the position of their own parent union, the UAW,” referring to the nullification of a BDS vote by a University of California graduate student union by the UAW International.

GSOC also announced its election results for representation in the union’s Assembly of Stewards and UAW Local 2110’s Joint Council.

Some grad union members had accused Local 2110 of disqualifying certain BDS-supporting candidates and last Friday installing a full slate “by acclamation” in lieu of an election. GSOC’s Votes Committee decided to go ahead with its own elections, with the local-disqualified candidates on the ballot.

Local 2110 president Maida Rosenstein said that GSOC’s accusations were “completely untrue,” and that the disqualified candidates had not worked during the last academic year, signed cards, or paid dues.

Members of the anti-BDS caucus also asked to have their names removed from the ballots for the “rogue elections,” the results of which GSOC announced Friday.

It is unclear whether Local 2110 will recognize the election results. (Rosenstein was out of the office Friday.)

“Defining political issue of our time”: NYU grad student union overwhelmingly votes to boycott Israel over violations of Palestinian human rights (Salon)

Salon

“Defining political issue of our time”: NYU grad student union overwhelmingly votes to boycott Israel over violations of Palestinian human rights

NYU Graduate Student Organizing Committee is first private university labor union to support BDS, as movement grows

nyu_gsoc_bds-620x412(Credit: NYU GSOC)

Graduate students at New York University have overwhelmingly voted to boycott Israel in protest of its violation of Palestinian human rights.

Exactly two-thirds of voting members of the graduate student union the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, or GSOC-UAW 2110, supported a referendum on Friday that calls for New York University and United Auto Workers International to withdraw their investments from Israeli state institutions and international corporations complicit in violations of Palestinian human and civil rights.

At least 645 union members participated in the vote. An additional 57 percent of voting members pledged to uphold the academic boycott of Israel, refraining from participating in research and academic programs sponsored by institutions funded by the Israeli government.

The union says this “was an unusually large membership turnout, a testament to union democracy.” It explained in a statement that the vote took place after a period of “vigorous debate and engagement with the union among wide layers of graduate workers.”

“After months of mass mobilization and a four-day election, GSOC members have taken a clear stand for justice in Palestine,” explained Shafeka Hashash, a member of the union’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, caucus.

“This historic endorsement of BDS by GSOC at NYU occurs in the wake of growing momentum for the movement across university campuses and labor unions nationwide,” she added.

BDS is an international grassroots movement that uses peaceful economic means to pressure Israel into complying with international law and respecting Palestinian human rights. The campaign was called for by Palestinian civil society and by major trade unions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Graduate Student Organizing Committee is a labor union representing more than 2,000 teaching assistants, adjunct instructors, research assistants and other graduate workers at New York University, or NYU. It is the first recognized graduate worker union at a private university in the U.S.

The union says its referendum vote it sets “an important precedent for both solidarity with Palestine and for union democracy.”

“In addition to bringing material gains for their members, NYU graduate students are reclaiming the union as a political platform for social justice causes,” explained Maya Wind, an Israeli activist and Ph.D. student at NYU who is a member of the union.

“Through the recent mass mobilization for justice in Palestine we have taken a stand on one of the defining political issues of our time,” she added. “The referendum success is indicative of the traction the movement is gaining across university campuses, and increasingly among graduate students.”

The referendum also calls on NYU to close its sister program in Israel’s Tel Aviv University, which the union says violates its own non-discrimination policy.

A recent U.S. State Department report acknowledged the “institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel,” as well as the unlawful killings, excessive force and torture people endure at the hands of the Israeli military in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

The BDS movement is growing rapidly throughout the U.S. and the world.

In the past week, at least two major graduate student unions voted to endorse a boycott of Israel. The Graduate Employee Organization at the University of Massachusetts Amherst passed a BDS resolution by referendum, as well as the City University of New York Doctoral Students Council, which approved an academic boycott measure overwhelmingly via vote.

“The impact of NYU’s referendum will not only reverberate across private academic institutions where unionization efforts have gained momentum, but across the American academy more broadly,” GSOC said in a statement.

At least eight major U.S. academic associations have voted to boycott Israel in protest of its violation of Palestinian human rights, including the American Studies Association, the American Anthropological Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies. Many of these votes had resounding majorities in favor.

Several national unions have also made similar votes, including the United Electrical Workers union.

Despite the democratic nature of these votes, the efforts have faced huge backlash.

Legislators around the U.S. are proposing bans on boycotts of Israel, which legal experts say is unconstitutional.

When the University of California system’s graduate student union voted to endorse the BDS movement by a landslide in 2014, Salon exposed how the small pro-Israel opposition derailed the democratic process with the help of a prominent law firm that has defended powerful multinational corporations like Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple and Chevron. Under this pressure, the United Auto Workers International Executive Board nullified the vote, even while admitting that it was thoroughly democratic.

NYU’s graduate student union also says the UAW Local 2110 Executive Board “attempted to interfere with democratic elections to union leadership bodies.” GSOC condemned union executives for having “cracked down on their own membership” in an undemocratic manner.

Ph.D. student and union member Sean Larson told Salon the local executive executive board has disqualified a large number of candidates for the leadership election, “disputing our membership criteria eligibility and the eligibility for candidates to run in both elections.”

GSOC is pushing back against the backlash. “In the fight for social justice and against repression, the BDS movement and union democracy are natural allies,” the union affirmed in a statement.

“By empowering the members themselves to speak, the emerging movement for union democracy among graduate students is helping to lead these efforts. Rank-and-file democracy is the future of the labor movement, and the labor movement can secure a vigorous future for BDS in the United States.”

 

Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at@BenjaminNorton.