Monthly Archives: January 2015

Protest the Crushing Death of Yet Another Palestinian Worker

Protest the Crushing Death of Yet Another Palestinian Worker
Workers Crushed at Checkpoint – Unions, Get Angry!

I’m Stanley Heller.  I’ve been a member of the American Federation of Teachers since 1969.  I’m a former local president and a member of the Greater New Haven Central Labor Council for over 40 years.  I think we, as union brothers and sisters, should take up this issue:

On December 31st Ahmad Samih Bdeir was lined up at the checkpoint trying to get to his job as a construction worker.  The workers have to go through a series of gangways with bars up to the ceiling.  They wait hours in an area that’s a virtual cage worried about getting to work late.  It was overcrowded as usual.  39 year old Bdeir couldn’t breathe.  Workers around him realized he had been crushed to death.   He was he second Palestinian crushed to death in 2014 at that very same al-Taybe checkpoint.

Palestinians on the West Bank are desperate to find even low paying jobs.  So some 40,000 Palestinian go through the humiliating and dangerous checkpoints every day to get to work in Israel.  It’s outrageous.

This is the cage at al-Taybe

As union members we say, “An injury to one is an injury to all”.  Let’s get our unions to send angry letters to Israeli officials, the U.S. media and the politicians.  As Americans we have a special responsibility because our tax money goes to pay for what Israel does.  We send the Israeli government over $3 billion every year.  It pretends to be a democracy that respects human rights, but it treats Palestinian workers much like workers were treated in old apartheid South Africa.

Click here
for a model resolution that could be passed by your union and for more information about workers and checkpoints (including an Israeli TV video about the Bethlehem checkpoint).
Email me if you’d like to sign on to the call above to be sent to labor officials, labor papers and other media.  I’m at   Since I retired I’ve become the Executive Director of the Middle East Crisis Committee.  Our website is

Palestinians in Israel strike to protest police killings (Electronic Intifada)

Palestinians in Israel strike to protest police killings

22 January 2015

Video by Yotam Ronen, Oren Ziv and Keren Manor of Activestills for The Electronic Intifada

Sami Ziadna, who died as a result of excessive tear gas inhalation on Sunday night, was the fiftieth Palestinian citizen of Israel to be killed by Israeli police since October 2000.

Then, as protests spread throughout Palestinian communities in present-day Israel, thirteen unarmed demonstrators were shot and killed by police officers in the northern Galilee region. Since then, Palestinian citizens of Israel have endured ongoing police brutality.

An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians carry Israeli citizenship but dozens ofdiscriminatory laws stifle their political expression and limit their access to state resources, including land and education.

Mourners shout slogans during the 18 January funeral of Sami Jaar, killed last week by police.

(Oren Ziv /ActiveStills)

Tear gas clouds over the cemetery of Rahat during clashes between police and residents on 18 January. The clashes erupted during the funeral of Sami Jaar, who was killed the previous week by police.

(Oren Ziv/ ActiveStills)

Ziadna, from the town of Rahat in the southern Naqab (Negev) region, was killed during a funeral procession for Sami Jaar, a 22-year-old Palestinian Bedouin from the same town who was shot and killed last Wednesday by Israeli police as they clashed with local youth.

Palestinians in present-day Israel held a nationwide general strike on Tuesday and protests have continued in cities including Rahat, Beir al-Sabe (Beersheba), Haifa, Nazareth, Tel Aviv and elsewhere. A three-day general strike shut down business as usual the Naqab.

“All in all, this was a very successful strike,” Nadim Nashif, director of Baladna, a Haifa-based Palestinian advocacy group, told The Electronic Intifada. “Across the Galilee region — even though we are geographically distant from the Naqab — the feeling of solidarity was strong enough for people to close their shops and not send their kids to school.”

“Sent a message”

“People really committed to it, especially the youth and school-age children,” Nashif said, adding that the strikes and protests “sent a message to the Israelis.”

Meanwhile, Israeli media have “been busy demonizing the Palestinian Bedouin in the south … in the Naqab,” he added. “Israel wants to give the image that the police were under attack by the Palestinians, to portray the police as victims.”

In Haifa, dozens of protesters came out and marched throughout the city for three consecutive nights, starting on Sunday. Despite a heavy police presence on Tuesday, approximately a hundred people waved Palestinian flags and marched down Ben Gurion Street, the city’s tourist hub.

“With our souls and our blood, we will avenge the martyr,” they cried out in Arabic. “From the Naqab to Haifa, resist the police,” others chanted.

Israeli police arrest a youth during clashes following the funeral of Sami Ziadna in the city of Rahat on 19 January.

(Yotam Ronen / ActiveStills)

Talal al-Krenawi, the mayor of Bedouin city of Rahat, displays on 19 January the ammunition fired by the Israeli police during clashes the previous day.

(Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

Elsewhere, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Palestinian students protested on Monday and Tuesday. As demonstrators began to assemble in front of a campus café on Tuesday, employees began hanging dozens of Israeli flags on the building.

“It was clear that they did it as a response to our previous protests,” Farah Bayadsi, a Jerusalem-based lawyer and human rights activist, told The Electronic Intifada.

Majd Hamdan, the secretary of the Balad political party’s student branch at Hebrew University, organized the protests on campus. “We had a duty to come out and protest on behalf of the martyrs in the Naqab,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “As student organizations, we also held strikes in the [Israeli] universities.”

“There were no arrests this time, but there was a large police presence to intimidate,” Hamdan said. “As a student movement, we are supposed to play an important role in the struggle against injustice and police brutality.”

“Arab blood is not cheap”

When dozens of students protested at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba on Wednesday, police responded by detaining and interrogating three of the demonstrators, as reported by the Arabic-language publication Arabs48.

At Tel Aviv University, approximately two hundred Palestinian students protested against police violence on Tuesday afternoon.

“The police came out in huge numbers,” Mohammed Osama Eghbariya, a student activist, told The Electronic Intifada. “We came to show our opposition to the monstrous way that Israeli police kill Palestinians.”

On Wednesday night, dozens of Palestinian students and leftwing activists assembled in front of Tel Aviv University for a candlelight vigil. “We have every intention to continue our direct actions and protests on campus throughout next week,” Eghbariya explained. “We want to continue resisting this injustice until police violence stops once and for all.”

“The police oppression hasn’t slowed down in recent years,” he said. “On the contrary, it has only increased.”

Mourners pray near the body of Sami Ziadna during his funeral in the southern Bedouin city of Rahat on 19 January. Ziadna died after inhaling tear gas during the funeral of a youth killed by Israeli police.

(Oren Ziv /ActiveStills)

Israeli police treat an injured protester after he was hit by a police car on 20 January during clashes in the southern Bedouin city of Rahat following a protest condemning the death of two residents by Israeli police in the last week.

(Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

Although Israeli police claim that Mahash — a governmental body tasked with examining claims of police misconduct — is investigating the recent slayings in the Naqab, few have hope that it will deliver justice for the victims’ families.

A September 2014 report on police violence published by Adalah concludes that “Mahash continues to provide wide immunity to the police from being held to account, and protects them from disciplinary measures for their brutal acts of violence and repression,” including police slayings.

From the 11,282 complaints of police misconduct submitted between 2011 and 2013, Adalah found that Mahash closed 93 percent “with or without an investigation.” More alarmingly still, only 3.3 percent led to disciplinary action against police officers and a mere 2.7 percent resulted in prosecution.

“This grants the police impunity for their actions, and is a factor that shapes the police force’s use of violence against Israeli citizens, particularly against Palestinian citizens,” the Adalah report adds.

Back in Jerusalem, student activist Majd Hamdan said protests would continue as long as police treat Palestinian lives with contempt. “We have to protest to show them that Arab blood is not cheap,” he said.

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor to The Electronic Intifada. His reportage can be found at Follow him on Twitter: @P_Strickland_

Why is the Palestinian Authority arresting trade union leaders? (Electronic Intifada)

Electronic Intifada

Why is the Palestinian Authority arresting trade union leaders?

17 January 2015

Workers say that Mahmoud Abbas (R) and Rami Hamdallah are responsible for crackdown on trade union organizers.

(Shadi Hatem / APA images)

A confrontation between the Palestinian Authority and organized labor will come to a head on Monday when the high court in Ramallah hears an appeal to a decision by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to declare a major union illegal.

The PA’s crackdown on the Union of Public Employees escalated last November amid a series of strikes by public sector workers over wages and conditions.

On 6 November, the PA’s police summoned for interrogation the head of the Union of Public Employees and his deputy in Ramallah.

Upon arrival, both Bassam Zakarneh and his deputy, Muin Ansawi, were detained and transferred to the Palestinian public prosecutor for further interrogation. Their detention was extended for 48 more hours.

Hours after the detentions, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas declared the union illegal.

Abbas’ presidential office declared that the decision was based on a 2012 legal memo drafted by a presidential committee he had commissioned to investigate the legality of the union and which had found it null and void.

Hours before the arrests, a coalition of public sector unions issued a statementcondemning the PA’s plan to cut employees’ wages for days they go on strike. The statement claimed that this was a violation of workers’ right to organize and cited a number of simmering grievances against the PA.

Legitimate leadership?

Ironically, the statement ended with the unions declaring their support for the “legitimate” leadership of Abbas, even though his elected mandate expired in 2009.

A few days after the arrests, the PA continued its crackdown with another arrest warrant. The head of the health workers’ union, Dr. Osama al-Najjar, subsequently handed himself over to the police. Al-Najjar had called the unions to an emergency meeting to discuss the PA’s crackdown.

Following his arrest, the health workers’ union declared a partial strike for the following week. This call was rescinded after al-Najjar was released only hours later.

But the PA crackdown against the unions escalated further when the matter was taken up by the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

On the evening of 12 November, the PLC, in a statement made by its secretary general, Ibrahim Khraisheh, held Rami Hamdallah, the Palestinian Authority’s latest unelected prime minister, responsible for all the measures taken against the unions, deeming them illegal.

The statement also declared an open-ended strike and sit-in by PLC employees in solidarity with the arrested trade unionists. It called on all those who wanted to stand with the strike to join them in the solidarity tent in the yard outside the PLC building in Ramallah.

According to former PLC deputy speaker Hassan Khraisheh, Ibrahim Khraisheh received a phone call from Abbas ordering him to hand himself over to the Palestinian security forces just hours after the statement was made.

Ignoring orders

Union of Public Employees president Bassam Zakarneh is a member of Fatah’sRevolutionary Council, the executive body of the political faction that is headed by Abbas.

For most of its history, the union has carefully avoided doing anything that would upset Abbas and other senior players in the PA. After calling a number of strikes since 2013, however, the relationship between the PA and the union has soured.

The latest in a series of strikes was called on 6 November, the day of the arrests, to protest a decision by the PA to withhold wages for the time workers were off the job.

A strike a week earlier was over delays by the PA in implementing various promises, including that public servants’ pay would be increased in line with inflation.

On Wednesday, Zakarneh took part in a protest in solidarity with nine finance ministry workers who were transferred to regional offices in retaliation for their union organizing. Their case is due to be heard by the high court in February.

Zakarneh and other trade unionists have disseminated a call for public workers to stay off the job when the union’s case is heard on Monday and to rally in front of the court in Ramallah.

Serving the people

Labor unions have served the Palestinian people before and since the first intifadabegan in 1987. On occasion, they have caused significant problems for Israel’s colonial project.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers went on strike at the beginning of the first intifada, halting production in Israeli factories and businesses for days before the Israeli authorities cracked down on the organizers, splitting the unions and creating divisions.

The unions played a major role in organizing Palestinian communities across the occupied West Bank and Gaza during the intifada’s early days.

This laid the foundation for the different local committees that would later work in serving communities in various sectors, such as health, education, safety and food production.

Since the Oslo accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1993, however, the unions have tended to be more eager to serve the elite than to defend workers.

Losing most of their influence on the people, unions became organizations in whichFatah and Hamas, the two dominant political parties, fought for control.

According to some, the main reason the Union of Public Employees was established in the first place was to make it harder for Hamas to govern after its legislative elections victory in 2006.

Former deputy speaker of the PLC Hassan Khraisheh said recently: “The union was established with support from PA leaders to bicker with the Hamas led-government. It looks like they have made a decision to get rid of it, after it was used for a while. This should not happen.”

Good opportunity

Abbas’ attempts to control trade union activists deprives the Palestinian people of yet another opportunity to rise above the rivalries between political parties.

Labor unions have a good opportunity to regain their solid connections with the Palestinian public by becoming more democratic and holding elections once every two years (not based on party affiliation).

The unions also need to break any unnecessary relations with PA figures, starting with Abbas.

The unions gain their legitimacy from the workers and the people — by serving workers’ interests, not through their relations to a certain political party or personality.

For a number of months, Gaza workers have been denied pay because of the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Fatah. Declaring a strike in solidarity with them would be an important step towards restoring the independence of Palestinian labor unions.

Ahmed Nimer is a freelance photographer currently living and working in Ramallah.


Breaking Taboos, BDS Gains Ground Among Academics (The Nation)

The Nation

Breaking Taboos, BDS Gains Ground Among Academics

Dr. Steven Salaita, whose appointment to the University of Illinois was withdrawn after he tweeted criticism of Israel. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Most academic organizations have been wary of discussing, much less endorsing, the academic boycott of Israel. But things have changed since April 2013, when the Association of Asian American Studies became the first academic organization to answer the call for solidarity from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) emanating out of Palestinian civil society. The American Studies Association vote to endorse the academic boycott of Israel that December put into motion a mass movement that has had a ripple effect way beyond the United States. The horrific Israeli attack on Gaza this past summer, which killed more than 2,200 Gazans, including over 500 children, garnered worldwide protest demonstrations on an unheard-of scale. And just recently, continuing the Israeli government’s hard turn to the far right, the Israeli parliament passed a Nationality Law that, according to the Christian Science Monitor, “threatens to further alienate Israel’s minority of Arab citizens, tarnish its reputation as a democracy, and erode Israel’s ties with western allies.”

At the November 23 meeting of the cabinet of Israel, there was open contention over this controversial law, which would “enshrine in law Israel’s nature as a Jewish state, reserving what the prime minister called ‘national rights,’ such as the flag and anthem and right to immigrate, for Jews alone.” And while according to Netanyahu, “it would also underline Israel’s democratic nature, with equality for all its citizens,” nobody can seriously accept that contention, given the nature of the law—even if they could before.

The combination of unmitigated building of illegal settlements, massive and inhumane military operations, and legislative maneuvers to codify racism has changed the playing field. If not in resounding resolutions in support of the BDS movement, we see a significant shift of attitude in academic organizations. No longer is it taboo to even talk about a possible boycott—organizations such as the American Anthropological Association (AAA) are formally opening the conversation.

Gathered in December in Washington, DC, members of the AAA addressed a petition that would have closed off discussion of a possible boycott of Israeli institutions. Before that, more than 1,000 members of the AAA had signed a statement supporting the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. In one of the largest gatherings in the history of the association (so large that hotel staff had to remove a partition in the meeting room in order to accommodate 700 participants), a pro-boycott faction in the AAA observed, “The effort to shut down the boycott discussion backfired spectacularly: members present overwhelmingly voted down the [anti-boycott] measure, which mustered a mere 52 supporters. The atmosphere in the room was electric, as anthropologists from across the profession discussed the boycott and the ongoing violations of Palestinian academic freedom and human rights. Of the 24 members who spoke, three-quarters opposed the resolution, arguing that it was an attempt to shut down a crucial debate.” (Emphasis in the original.)

And on November 20, Rosalind Petchesky, a member of the National Women’s Studies Association, reported: “This past week, at the annual conference of the National Women’s Studies Association in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a coalition of feminist Palestine solidarity activists—mainly Palestinian and Jewish—succeeded in urging almost the entire attending body of the conference—a hugely diverse group of around 2,300 faculty members and graduate students in Women & Gender Studies from around the country meeting in occupied Puerto Rico—to support a statement concerning injustices in occupied Palestine.” A draft of the NWSA statement reads in part:

We, the undersigned members of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA), endorse the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), issued by a broad coalition of Palestinian civil society in 2005. As feminist scholars, activists, teachers, and engaged intellectuals we recognize the interconnectedness of systemic forms of oppression (including genocide, slavery, racism, sexism, homophobia, class-based oppression, Islamophobia, ableism, ageism and more) and the transformative potential of resistance and solidarity in all our communities as well as across divides and borders. We cannot overlook the injustice and violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, perpetrated against Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, within Israel as well as the colonial displacement of millions.

The previous month, in October, the Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA), a bi-national professional association, including peace and justice scholars, activists and educators in the United States and Canada, joined the BDS campaign. After three months of deliberation, with 87 percent of the vote, the association endorsed the proposal to respond to the Palestinians’ call for international solidarity and to join the BDS movement.

Perhaps the most significant discussion took place at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) in November, in Washington, DC. As Magid Shihade, a professor at Bir Zeit University, notes, “MESA has historically opposed even discussing the boycott as an association.” Yet during its business meeting, 75 percent of those attending voted for a resolution that supports the rights of individuals, groups and associations to boycott and be protected against any backlash. MESA will create a yearlong forum for all members to discuss the topic of boycott. Shihade also reports that MESA intends to “open more space for Palestinians and for topics such as settler colonialism in Israel-Palestine.” The Associated Press writes: “The organization resolved to remain an open forum for discussion of academic boycotts of Israel and deplored attempts to intimidate those taking part in such activities. The issue arose from the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.”

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So, too, the Modern Language Association, one of the largest academic organizations in the world with nearly 24,000 members in a hundred countries, has agreed to formally talk about an academic boycott of Israel and academic boycotts in general. The organization has announced that it will devote considerable time to discussion of the specific case of the academic boycott of Israel, and academic boycotts in general, and the right to academic freedom and free speech. In a recent e-mail to its members, the MLA states that this year’s Delegate Assembly meeting will consider “Institutional and Individual Boycotts: How Can the MLA Approach This Issue?”; “What Is the Relation of Boycotts to Academic Freedom?” and “How Should the MLA Respond to Problems with Faculty Governance and Retaliation against Public Speech?” One of the sponsors of a resolution for an academic boycott of Israel, David Lloyd, reports that the organization has decided that its 2016 convention will include a debate on the subject, with both sides represented. The MLA will then give its members a full year to continue the discussion before entertaining a resolution for boycott.

And now in the Steven Salaita case—a related and very prominent matter regarding the right to criticize Israeli state policies frankly and without threat of punishment—the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure has found that

The process by which Dr. Salaita’s proposed appointment was withdrawn and eventually rejected did not follow existing policies and procedures in several substantial respects, raising questions about the institution’s commitment to shared governance. The reasons given—the civility of tweets made by Dr. Salaita in the summer of 2014—is not consistent with the University’s guarantee of freedom of political speech. Statements made by the Chancellor, President, and Trustees asserting that the incivility of a candidate’s utterances may constitute sufficient grounds for rejecting his appointment should be renounced. We conclude, however, that the Chancellor has raised legitimate questions about Dr. Salaita’s professional fitness that must be addressed. In light of the irregular circumstances leading up to the Board of Trustees’ disapproval of an appointment for Dr. Salaita, the Committee recommends that Dr. Salaita’s candidacy be remanded to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for reconsideration by a committee of qualified academic experts.

Again, at this point this finding falls short of vindication, but it is a momentous decision by a regularly appointed university committee to have an open and fair discussion of the issue.

Finally, it is not only academic organizations that are signing on to and discussing BDS. Crucially, people in the community and unions are getting involved. Some rank-and-file members participated in the Block the Boat campaign this summer, a consolidated effort to stop an Israeli ship, the Zim, from docking on the West Coast. The campaign states its purpose thus:

By Blocking the Boat we are disrupting business as usual at ports throughout North America and we are putting BDS into action. Direct action. By stopping Zim we are disrupting international commerce and an asset to Israel’s national security. We are not only choosing to refrain from buying an Israeli product, or engaging with an Israeli institution, we are choosing to take action to stop Israel in its tracks. And we are doing so in struggle with workers, with Black and Brown communities, and with all those impacted by the role of Israel in global repression. The Block the Boat campaign is not only an escalation of BDS tactics; it is bringing BDS into the streets and into our communities.

This month has been a particularly momentous one in demonstrating the impact of BDS. On December 4, UAW 2865, the University of California Student-Worker union, became the first major US labor union to support divestment from Israel, by a wide margin in its membership vote. The union’s press release states,

UAW 2865 joins several labor unions in the United Kingdom and Ireland, UNITE New Zealand, CUPE in Canada, COSATU in South Africa and many dockworker unions around the world. It also joins growing grassroots voices in the U.S. labor movement including rank and file members of the International Longshore Workers’ Union Local 10 that supported community pickets and successfully blocked Israeli ships from unloading goods similar to their historic involvement in the anti-South African apartheid movement, and hundreds of labor organizers who signed onto the Labor for Palestine statement.

As another indicator of the sea change when it comes to the BDS campaign, The Chronicle of Higher Education has just named the American Studies Association to its “2014 Influence List,” commenting: “As national organizations go, the American Studies Association is fairly small. But its impact this year on political discourse has been outsized. By voting in favor of an academic boycott of Israel, its eighteen-member executive body provoked a bitter debate nationally and internationally, within higher education and beyond.” As ASA president Lisa Duggan, a professor at New York University, notes in that piece: “We got into the mainstream press and triggered a number of conversations not visible before about Israel-Palestine. In that sense we had done what we wanted to do.” What the ASA has done, in endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, has been to launch a new and unprecedented national discussion on the issue of Israel-Palestine, one that promises only to gain volume in 2015.

‘Workers Initiative’ is a first polish trade union that endorses BDS!

‘Workers Initiative’ is a first polish trade union that endorses BDS!

Polish BDS

Workers Initiative Trade Union in Poland

Kościelna 4 Street

60-538 Poznań

REGON: 634611023

KRS: 0000215247




Statement by the National Commission of Workers Initiative Trade Union in Poland

In response to the international appeal issued by the Palestinian civil society organizations and trade unions, the National Commission of Workers’ Initiative Trade Union in Poland declares its support for the BDS campaign which aims to restore the national rights of the Palestinian people living under military occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, as well as those of the Palestinian refugees, Palestinians living in Israel and the Diaspora.

The BDS campaign, launched in 2005, was inspired by the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The current situation in the Occupied Territory largely resembles that which prevailed in South Africa during the apartheid era. The creation of a regime that separates populations and leads to institutional domination of Israels over Palestinians while denying the Palestinians their right to self-determination, the unlawful seizure of land for the purpose of building illegal Israeli settlements, construction of the “apartheid wall” that locks Palestinians into “Bantustans” as in South Africa, ongoing demolitions of Palestinian homes, wholesale repression of the civilian population, violent attacks on social protests – all these recall the worst days of apartheid.

The BDS Campaign has 3 main goals:

Ending the occupation and colonisation of Palestinian lands and the dismantling the separation wall built inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory;

Equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel; and

Recognition of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their lands and homes in accordance with UN Resolution 194.

During the last Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip, “The European Network of Grassroots and Alternative Trade Unions,” in which we participate as an observer, issued a statement supporting BDS and recommending that unions cut ties with the Israeli trade union, the Histadrut, which supports Israeli government policy. The Warsaw Commission of the Workers’ Initative Trade Union also supported a demonstration against the Israeli massacre in Gaza, and in many ways we have shown our solidarity with the struggle against the occupation of Palestine.

We support the BDS campaign because, as members of Workers’ Initiative, we believe it is imperative to stand in international solidarity and support for all communities and peoples who are victims of violence, exploitation and imperialism. We encourage all our members to actively support initiatives of the Polish Palestine Solidarity Campaign <>.

Our position stems from opposition to inequality, racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Just as we condemn the racist policies of Israel, we oppose any form of discrimination based on nationality or religion that may oppress the citizens of Israel or the Jewish people. Our enemies are the states and capital, regardless of nationality, not individual nations or peoples.

University of California Student Workers Achieve Landslide BDS Vote as the First Labor Union in the USA: a report from the USA (BRICUP Newsletter)

BRICUPbanner_animatedBRICUP Newsletter 83
January 2015

University of California Student Workers Achieve Landslide BDS Vote as the First Labor Union in the USA: a report from the USA

December 4, 2014 marked a decisive victory for justice in Palestine. The labor union representing 13,000 student workers of the University of California, the United Auto Workers (UAW) local 2865, voted to call on the UC system and UAW international, to divest from companies supporting and profiting from the Israeli colonization of Palestine. It also called on the US government to end military aid to Israel. Sixty-five percent of voting members voted to pass divestment and sanctions; while fifty-three percent 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 a time that these universities take steps to end complicity with dispossession, occupation, and apartheid in Palestine.

The vote follows several years of monumental student divestment victories at six out of the nine UC campuses; efforts that ultimately set an alternative political climate for how Palestine is taken up amongst the new generation of student organizers on University campuses in the US.

These efforts were largely lead by various chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as well as the growing academic boycott initiatives supported by the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). In the last two years alone, major US academic associations have voted to adhere to the academic boycott including the Association of Asian American Studies, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the Critical Ethnic Studies Association and the American Studies Association.

While BDS campaigns have grown across the globe and have particularly taken off in the US in more recent years, the significance of the UAW 2865 victory deserves special attention. It offers Palestinians of the global Diaspora, Palestine solidarity activists and labor organizers new ways to imagine how we might achieve more sound wins while also maintain justice-centered principles, practices and politics as we cultivate our strategies.

On July 29th, 2014, the Joint Council of UAW 2865 released a statement in solidarity with Palestine declaring their full support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and announced that they were preparing for a full membership vote to take place in the upcoming academic year. This letter came as a response to calls from Palestinian trade unions, students, civil society and transnational Palestinian communities to join BDS efforts as a tangible way of standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation. The urgency of UAW 2865’s response was undoubtedly fueled by this past summer’s devastating assault on the Gaza Strip which by that time had stolen nearly 1,100 lives and destroyed, for the third time, nearly all of Gaza’s infrastructure and countless homes.

The letter drafted by UAW 2865 leadership set it apart from other BDS initiatives because it placed Palestinian suffering within the historical continuum that commenced with the catastrophe of 1948, displacing nearly 750,000 Palestinians, who until today are denied their right to return to their homeland. The Joint Council accounted for all of the Palestinian population: those in the occupied territories, in 1948 Palestine, living in refugee camps across the Arab world, and in exile transnationally. Additionally, the Joint Council recognized the importance of situating Palestine within its transnational scope and accounted for how the Palestinian struggle is intimately connected to the struggles of Third World peoples, people of color, indigenous populations, laborers, women, queer communities and others. Most importantly, the Joint Council acknowledged that the catastrophe that befell Palestine is one of settler-colonialism and drew stark parallels to US society, stating, “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.” Last, the Joint Council emphasized the important historical role and mandate that labor unions have and must play today in matters of social justice, freedom and equity.

In the months following the release of the letter, UAW 2865 provided fact sheets, held educational forums across UC campuses, and maintained an open process in which its membership could actively discuss, and debate the issues in order to make informed decisions on voting day. This grassroots character of the campaign was possible because of UAW 2865’s democratization structure which encouraged participation by rank and file membership, a structure widely lacking among most labor unions across the US. Several other factors set this initiative apart from other BDS campaigns in the US. The UAW 2865 initiative is the first to simultaneously call for all three components of BDS: boycott, divestment and sanctions, thereby making it a comprehensive strategy with limited contradictions or inconsistencies. By expanding a more justice centered framework of solidarity, such as accounting for the multiplicity of the Palestinian population, the organic relationships between Palestinians and other oppressed communities and the historical context that explains for injustice today, UAW 2865 also expanded its strategies. The overwhelming win of the UAW 2865 campaign proved that monumental victories are possible when maintaining strong, clear, justice-centered and consistent political goals, a collective community working diligently to achieve them and ambitious strategies that set the bar high. While many Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists have wished to have a stronger political approach to BDS, we are often persuaded that a more limited political framework and strategy might be more successful. UAW 2865’s campaign proved the exact opposite. The challenges encumbered in solidarity work for Palestine is not resolvable by a flattening of Palestinian political voices and needs, a liquidation of the Palestinian experience, struggle and national aspirations. In fact, Palestine solidarity circuits stand a chance to produce more effective and successful campaigns if they are to expand political framework, discourse, strategies, sectors and communities they engage with.

Secondly, because of our tripartite role as students, academics and laborers, this campaign is the first initiative to highlight intersections between all three sectors. Therefore it allowed for a re-conceptualization of how growing movements are in fact intersectional and popular and that various sectors can and should be held accountable to one another. An influx of letters of supported were sent to the UAW 2865 leadership and made public, including an internal membership letter from Jewish supporters of BDS as well as a feminist and Queer letter of support. Additionally, two dozen local community based organizations signed a letter of support and a broader Jewish community letter, with over one thousand signatories, was sent in support of the UAW 2865 vote on BDS. However, it was letters that poured in from members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and SJP’s West Coast regional collective, Labor for Palestine as well as other labor movements and a widely circulated faculty letter of support that highlighted the direct intersections of students, academics and labor community organizing.

Third, as the first labor union in the US to officially divest and endorse the academic boycott, UAW created new opportunities for stronger labor union solidarity with Palestine. Labor for Palestine commended the UAW 2865 for taking up the matter and allowing for a full membership vote by stating, “This historic moment is the first time that the membership of any major union body in the United States will have a chance to vote on more than six decades of complicity by their government, university and top labor officials in Israeli apartheid.” While, UAW 2865 is the first labor union to allow for a full membership vote, the political climate was also shaped by the unparalleled victory that took place in the “Block the Boat” campaign in which members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 refused to handle Israeli Zim Line cargo. The success Oakland’s Block the Boat initiative sparked actions at ports from LA all the way to Florida. As a member of the union’s BDS caucus noted, “The success of Oakland’s Block the Boat makes clear the centrality of organized labor to the global movement for Palestinian freedom. This, and the upcoming UAW 2865 vote on BDS, signal a sea change in US labor’s willingness to be complicit in apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

Lastly, as a Palestinian having been involved in various BDS and Palestine solidarity circuits, it was a rare experience that our community’s needs, voices and calls for solidarity were not undermined, forgotten or silenced. I have worked for several years with the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), a transnational body of young Palestinians who have come together to revitalize our role in the liberation of our homeland. We believe in full justice and liberation and therefore never exceptionalize or prioritize our struggle above the struggles of countless other peoples’ fighting for justice in the world. It has helped all of us realize that justice is indivisible and hence we must remain mindful that our efforts to challenge racism, colonialism, sexism, homophobia, and all other structures of power and oppression is not in fact the most we can do, but the least we can do, and is our duty as students, laborers, academics and citizens of the world. Being a part of the grassroots effort to stand on the right side of history and to end my own complicity, as a UC student and laborer, in the occupation of my homeland and dispossession of my people has been a privilege. But most importantly, to watch UAW 2865 leadership and rank and file members display transparent, democratic, thoughtful and principled qualities in the pursuit of social justice, despite efforts from opposition to scare or bully them into silence, has been the most rewarding experience of it all. Their tireless efforts to fight for labor rights, undocumented student rights, gender-neutral bathrooms and to stand for justice from Oakland to LA, Ferguson to Ayotzinapa all the way to Palestine, is what makes them the unique community of social justice thinkers and workers that I am proud to be a part of.

Loubna Qutami

Note: Loubna Qutami is a Ph.D. student in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside and a rank and file member of UAW 2865: also a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM).


Labor for Palestine Response to Simon Wiesenthal Attack on UAW 2865 (Washington Examiner)

Washington Examiner


Labor for Palestine, an activist group that has worked with Local 2865, called the center’s charges “defamatory” in an email to the Examiner: “The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s defamatory charge of ‘anti-Semitism’ against UAW 2865 members — many of them Jewish — who overwhelmingly supported their union’s courageous BDS resolution proves just one thing: supporters of apartheid Israel have no legitimate defense against the growing worldwide movement for justice and equality in Palestine.”

Anti-Semitism rising in academia, group warns


In its annual year-end survey of global anti-Semitism, the Simon Wiesenthal Center warned that the global effort to “demonize and delegitimize” Israel was gaining a foothold in U.S. academia.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s social action director, told theWashington Examiner that colleges and universities were now part of the “front lines” in the struggle against anti-Semitism. Israel’s critics “are trying to take a page out of the playbook used against South Africa in 1980s,” Cooper said.

As evidence, the center’s study, “2014 Top Ten Worst Global Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Incidents,” pointed to a union, United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents teaching assistants at the University of California at Berkeley. In December, the local voted to back the global movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel — the first-ever US labor group to do so.

The BDS movement is sharply critical of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians and aims to use economic means to force it to change. The Wiesenthal Center warns that its “real impact is to hurt prospects for peace and to mainstream hate against Israel and her supporters.”

“It is not having an impact on the Israeli economy, but it is poisoning the discourse,” Cooper said.

The center reported that in a November forum at UC-Berkeley, hosted by Local 2865, a pro-boycott activist told a pro-Israel student: “As long as you choose to be on that side, I’m going to continue to hate you.” Cooper noted that the calls to join the BDS movement have spread through academia, citing Columbia and New York University as prominent examples.

Cooper said the center would also push UAW’s leadership, which has not backed the BDS movement, to release a strong statement opposing the local’s decision.

A spokesman for Local 2865 could not be reached. The union’s website is down and receiving a “makeover,” according to a statement posted at its web address.

Labor for Palestine, an activist group that has worked with Local 2865, called the center’s charges “defamatory” in an email to the Examiner: “The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s defamatory charge of ‘anti-Semitism’ against UAW 2865 members — many of them Jewish — who overwhelmingly supported their union’s courageous BDS resolution proves just one thing: supporters of apartheid Israel have no legitimate defense against the growing worldwide movement for justice and equality in Palestine.”