Jewish Voice for Peace
Guest Post by Karen Ackerman, former political Director of the AFL-CIO and current JVP Board Member
I was the Political Director of the AFL-CIO (the largest federation of unions in the U.S.) for 8 years. But long-before I worked for the AFL-CIO, one of my first jobs in the labor movement was with the United Auto Workers, one of America’s biggest and best unions. I’m so proud of the work we did at the UAW, fighting for better pay and conditions for workers. But today, I’m incredibly disappointed in the leadership of the UAW.
In December 2014, rank-and-file members of Local 2865 of the United Auto Workers (they represent over 14,000 teaching assistants and other workers at the Universities of California) voted to support boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) of Israel. With their vote, they honored the call of Palestinian civil society, and joined millions of people the world over who are taking non-violent action to protest Israel’s human rights abuses.
But then their vote was undemocratically overturned by the International Executive Board of the UAW, the highest body of their union. That decision is now heading to an impartial review board, who’ll have the final say.
I’ve been speaking to members of Local 2865 all week, and they need our help: they need us to show UAW leaders and the review board that there are people all over the world — Jews and allies — who stand with them in support of BDS.
There’s no suggestion (really, none at all) that there were any problems with the vote that Local 2865 took. In fact, it was supported overwhelmingly, by over two thirds of those who voted — more people than voted in the union’s contract ratification! But the defenders of Israel’s racist policies couldn’t accept defeat, and they’ve been fighting dirty.
Working with a corporate law firm, a small group of anti-BDS union members petitioned the International Executive Board to overturn the democratic vote. They tried to claim that the vote had been unfair, or compromised — but there was no evidence whatsoever for that. So they resorted to the oldest trick in the book: false charges of anti-Semitism.
Let me be absolutely clear: anti-Semitism is real, and we need to fight it. But slandering those of us who speak out against Israel’s human rights abuses doesn’t help the fight against prejudice. As Jews and allies, we need to stand up proudly and declare: criticising Israel is not anti-Semitic. Boycotting Israel is not anti-Semitic.
Send a message of support to UAW Local 2865. It might not seem like much, but a quick message will make a big difference to rebutting the claims of our opponents.
Support from the labor movement played a vital role in bringing down South African apartheid, and UAW Local 2865 is following in those footsteps. But now, they’re having their name dragged through the mud for daring to speak out against the crimes that Israel commits. Their union is being slandered as anti-Semitic, and as Jews and allies committed to justice, we must not let it stand.