Resolution in Support of CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment : Frequently Asked Questions

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Resolution in Support of CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment : Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What’s happening?

Many of us have spent the last couple of weeks grappling with CUNY management’s brutal crackdowns of the Gaza Solidarity encampment at CCNY. We have attended meetings and demonstrations, tended to physical and mental injuries, talked to our students and coworkers, and debated our response as a union on this listserv. We have considered the risks taken by participants in the encampment and how to respond to the students’ urgent call to take on risks ourselves. On May 9, we met in a Special DA to consider a resolution in Support of CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment. A majority voted down an immediate discussion, opting to have more time to consider our response as a union. 

The additional two weeks have given the authors of the original resolution an opportunity to expand the group of delegates working on it and incorporate the many insightful comments and suggestions made by fellow delegates and PSC members. The substitute resolution that we introduce will perhaps be seen as less strong by some delegates. At the same time, the students understand the need for the changes we decided to make due to the urgency of the ongoing genocide in Gaza and what they understand as the need to take concrete actions to end CUNY’s complicity and defend students and workers facing repression and retaliation for standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people. They urge us to take this important step as a union by voting the revised resolution into policy. 

The current resolution (read here: builds upon the PSC-CUNY 2021 Resolution in Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which states that “as an academic labor union committed to anti-racism, academic freedom, and international solidarity among workers, the PSC-CUNY cannot be silent about the continued subjection of Palestinians to the state-supported displacement, occupation, and use of lethal force by Israel.” The 2021 resolution called on the PSC to “facilitate discussions at the chapter level of the content of this resolution and consider PSC support of the 2005 call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions—a movement launched by 170 Palestinian unions, refugee networks, women’s organizations, professional associations and other Palestinian civil society organizations, which calls on ‘people of conscience in the international community’ to act as they did against apartheid South Africa ‘in the spirit of international solidarity, moral consistency and resistance to injustice and oppression’—and report back on these conversations to the Delegate Assembly by the end of 2021.” 

In the intervening three years since the resolution was passed, Israeli settler colonial violence and dispossession of the Indigenous Palestinian population has only gotten worse, culminating in the the current genocide in which over 40,000 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 15,000 children.  Every university in Gaza has been destroyed along with most vital infrastructure, property and land. The UN has declared that northern Gaza is experiencing “full-blown famine” and the rest of the Gaza strip is already or on the brink of famine.  Francesca Albanese, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Territories declared that Israel is committing a genocide in Gaza, calling for an arms embargo.

Q2. Where did this resolution come from?

A group of rank and file PSC members who organize in various Palestine solidarity formations within CUNY came together to draft this resolution. Many of the members involved in drafting the resolution have extensive knowledge and experience in human rights and international law, including in Palestine and the Middle East. In writing this resolution they are responding to the widespread solidarity across CUNY in solidarity with Palestine and opposed to the genocide. 

The resolution follows two decades of extensive Palestine solidarity organizing among CUNY students and workers, most recently culminating in the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment and the CUNY 5 Demands for Palestine, calling on CUNY to implement BDS, including an academic boycott as a response to Israel’s settler colonial and apartheid violence. Over 4000 people and more than 100 organizations have signed on to the Statement of Solidarity with the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment & CUNY Community Members Subject to Brutal Police Violence, Arrest and Detention and close to 700 people signed on to the CUNY Rank and File Workers Call on the PSC and all Supporters to Endorse the Five Demands of the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment.

Q3. Why is Palestine a union issue? 

The PSC has openly expressed its firm commitment to anti-racism and internationalism. For decades we have taken important stances on international questions in the interest of advancing justice and building solidarity. From the PSC’s opposition to the Iraq war and deadly sanctions against Cuba, to support for workers facing repression in Honduras and Colombia, the union recognizes that solidarity is the key organizing principle of the international labor movement. When any organized group of workers asks for us to act in solidarity with their struggle for rights and freedom, we are left with a simple choice: to actively extend our solidarity or to reject solidarity, whether through our actions or our silence. If we want solidarity from the labor movement for our own union’s struggles, we must answer the call for solidarity from Palestinian unions. 

With this resolution our union can chose to join the growing labor movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people, from boycotts and pickets in South Africa, Italy, and the UK to the BDS resolutions  adopted by educational unions in the US, including the Seattle Education Association (SEA) and the United Educators of San Francisco

The PSC resolution is also an act of solidarity in response to the Palestinian General Trade Union Federation call to action. Supporting divestment and the academic boycott is a way for CUNY workers to materially demonstrate that they are not crossing the Palestinian picket line. 

Unions worldwide have responded to the call for solidarity with Palestine against the genocide, with actions such as refusing to transport weapons to Israel, organizing marches, launching campaigns to end arms trade, and protesting companies involved in supplying weapons to Israel, including those using white phosphorus, accused of violating international law. 

On the May 15, 2024, the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, UAW 4811 members at the University of California voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike in solidarity with Palestine, prompted by the violent suppression of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at UCLA and similar attacks at UCSD, where law enforcement violently arrested protestors as they did at CCNY. This action was part of a nationwide campus movement sparked by Columbia University students, challenging U.S. foreign policy support for Israel’s actions in Gaza, and marked a significant shift as organized labor, including unionized university workers, have begun taking decisive action in support of Palestine. As a social justice union, the PSC can and must be part of this movement. 

Furthermore, we must heed the call of our sibling academic unions in Palestine. For example, the Union of of Teachers & Employees of Birzeit University Ramallah – Palestine called on all US academic institutions to implement BDS, arguing the campaign is  “more urgent than [ever] as we confront the greatest atrocity of this century in the genocide against Gaza and Palestine.” 

BDS has become a litmus test for unions to show that they are on the right side of history. Just as happened with the struggle against South African apartheid in the 1980s, when Palestine and Palestinian workers are finally free, it will be celebrated as one of the proudest achievements of international solidarity with people resisting racism and settler-colonialism. Unions can and must be central to this struggle. 

Q4. How will this resolution help the Palestinian people?

The PSC’s resolution has already started making our members more aware of the struggle of the Palestinian people, and it contributes to an ongoing global shift in public opinion toward defense of Palestinian rights and freedom. Of course our resolution won’t, by itself, bring an end to the genocide and colonization of Palestine. But as union members who have ourselves been the beneficiaries of public expressions of solidarity, we know that such statements can encourage us to keep fighting for justice, draw more media attention to our demands, and shift the narrative in our favor.  

By demanding that CUNY divest from genocide and settler colonialism, our union is contributing to an international campaign for Palestinian freedom. The example of South Africa in the 1980s, as with the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, shows us that boycotts can be effective in supporting the efforts of oppressed people to win freedom from apartheid. The CUNY Board of Trustees divested from apartheid South Africa in 1984. If enough CUNY students, staff, and faculty embrace the BDS call, we can also force the university to divest from Israel in the coming years and place CUNY on the right side of history on the issue of Palestine.

Q5. Why is Palestine and the repression of students and academic workers in solidarity with Palestine a CUNY/PSC issue?

As of 2021, CUNY has spent over $8.5 million USD on 13 contracts with companies that aid in and profit from the occupation and genocide, including Dell, IBM, HP, Lenovo, Cisco, and BMC Software, including investments in companies that provide weapons to Israeli forces committing genocide, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and RTX. RTX, formerly known as Raytheon, supplies missiles and bombs to Israel, and enjoyed a share price increase of ten per cent following the beginning of Israel’s assault on Gaza in October 2023. As an institution that claims to be a “people’s university,” committed to social justice, CUNY has no business investing in or maintaining ties to companies, institutions and organizations that enable the oppression of anyone, including Palestinians. 

There is a long tradition of Palestine solidarity organizing at CUNY, going back to anti-racist student movements during the 1960s and 1970s, which has included student-led initiatives calling on CUNY to divest from investments that support Israeli violations of human rights and international law. CUNY has a majority working class, Black and Brown student body with a large number of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students who are impacted directly by these issues and who join many other CUNY students and workers in supporting solidarity with Palestine.

For years, CUNY leadership has tolerated and facilitated the stifling of Palestine solidarity organizing at CUNY. Students and faculty speaking out about Palestine, particularly Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and other students of color, have been harassed, surveilled, and defamed by Zionist organizations as well as the NYPD and FBI. CUNY administration has either remained silent or complicit in this repression of student organizing for Palestine, imposing bureaucratic burdens and administrative obstacles not faced by any students organizing around other issues on campus. If we permit repression against any members of our community, that opens the door for further attacks. This resolution helps to protect our most vulnerable students and faculty. 

Since October, the surveillance, doxxing and repression of students and academic workers speaking out in solidarity with Palestine has increased. Several adjuncts have lost their jobs for speaking out about the genocide and the the recent attacks on the CUNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment resulted in nearly 200 arrests, including 29 felony charges, against CUNY students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members as well as numerous injuries to protesters including chemical burns, broken bones, concussions, broken teeth and more. Rather than defend their students and workers, the CUNY administration has thrown them under the bus and actively contributed to their repression. 

Q6. Why does the resolution call for divestment and an end to academic collaboration with Israeli institutions?

The resolution would require the PSC to endorse the student movement demand that the CUNY administration commit to full financial transparency regarding the university’s institutional investments and immediately divest from all Israeli companies, including weapons, tech and surveillance, and construction companies as well as ban all academic trips to Israel, encompassing Birthright, Fulbright, and Perspectives trips, and cancel all forms of cooperation with Israeli academic institutions, including events, activities, agreements, and research collaborations.

These demands derive from the BDS campaign, a Palestinian-led, global movement for human rights, freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. 

The BDS movement adopts a nonviolent strategy to hold Israel accountable to the same human rights standards and international law as other nations. It is asking the international community to heed the boycott call, as it did in the struggle against South African apartheid, until Israel complies with international law by meeting three demands: 

  • Ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantles the Wall;
  • Recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality;
  • Respects, protects, and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

BDS does NOT call for a boycott of all Israelis. It calls for a boycott of Israeli government institutions and companies that support the occupation. The institutional academic boycott calls on supporters to “comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic institutions…at the national and international levels.” You can read more about how academics are engaging with the boycott here

Israeli universities and academics have played a prominent role in upholding and abetting Apartheid and genocide. The “Academic Boycott” section of the BDS website contains a wealth of information to document this, including a 64-page research document co-authored by both Israeli and Palestinian researchers. 76 universities in Spain have just suspended collaboration with Israeli academic institutions that haven’t demonstrated support for international law in Palestine. The call for an academic boycott has previously been endorsed by Israelis and/or Jews in support of an end to Israel’s crimes against Palestine. Here is one example of 40 Holocaust survivors placing a NY Times ad to support “the full economic, cultural, and academic boycott of Israel” in response to its massacres in Gaza. 

The academic boycott is intended to internationally bring pressure on Israel to force a change in its policies towards Palestinians and to end the genocide and occupation. For more information on the academic and cultural boycott as a defense of academic freedom see this FAQ sheet developed by Tony Alessandrini, Chair,  PSC-CUNY Academic Freedom Committee. 

Q7. How is this resolution related to anti-racism?

The PSC re-committed itself to being an anti-racist organization. Anti-racism work that aims to achieve structural transformation must create space for difficult conversations to take place. The union has an important role to play in facilitating these conversations, and in creating an organizing space where all members, especially those from oppressed communities, can be empowered to speak up. 

Anti-racist movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, Dream Defenders, Jewish Voice for Peace, Association for Asian American Studies, and many others have affirmed for years that anti-racism requires talking about Indigenous justice, refugee rights, and people’s right to live free of colonialism and the crime of apartheid. That means talking about Palestine. As educators in a largely working class, Black and Brown university, we have a pedagogical duty to teach within an anti-racist and decolonial framework that reflects and reinforces the knowledge and lived experiences of our students. 

Q8. Will the resolution on Palestine divide our union?

It is true that some members of the union have expressed discomfort with the resolution. Outrage at a resolution that references the well-documented genocide in Gaza and other human rights abuses committed by Israeli with US tax dollars and also the repression of CUNY students and workers seems disproportionate when compared with the abuses themselves. As we create space for those who are upset with the resolution to voice their opinions, we should also consider the justified outrage of those members of our community who are directly impacted by settler colonial and apartheid violence, including our Palestinian, Arab and Muslim colleagues and students.  

As union activists, scholars, and teachers we should not shy away from uncomfortable discussions and actions. For example, although teaching about slavery might make some white people in the CUNY community uncomfortable, can we imagine giving in to the rightwing, racist attacks on the 1619 project or Critical Race Theory? As Sarah Schuman noted in a New York Times interview, “discomfort is good for a society because it means that lots of different experiences of difference are being expressed. And the only people who really insist upon being comfortable all the time are people who are in the dominant position. And the only way they can be comfortable all the time is if everyone else is oppressed, and that’s not a healthy social structure.” 

In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), our parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), faced an upsurge of pressure from delegates to confront apartheid within the union itself. While the AFT’s constitution forbade segregation, the union’s leadership had long tolerated it in practice. In the South, segregated local unions mirrored segregated school systems.

The issue came to a head at the AFT’s 1956 convention, when delegates had to decide between “unity” and enforcing desegregation. Southern whites-only local unions fearmongered about the potential consequences of expulsion. “Labor is falling prey to political vultures from the outside. These are certain political and anti-labor elements that are stirring up this issue,” said a delegate from Chattanooga, Tennessee’s white local. For this pro-segregation delegate, opposing apartheid within the union hurt labor’s “real” interests.

The whites-only Atlanta Federation of Teachers cited community sentiment as a further excuse for the status quo. “If we are integrated we wouldn’t be able to function effectively tomorrow,” the local president said. “In fact, the AFT would probably not be able to function in the South. We can’t move any faster than the communities (in the South) will let us.” Curiously, his sense of “community” only encompassed those invested in apartheid. In hindsight, threats of union implosion and appeals to “community values” were merely respectable ways for Southern segregationist delegates to defend their investments in white supremacy.

AFT delegates saw through these threats. They voted by a supermajority to give the segregated locals an ultimatum: either integrate or have your charter revoked. This principled, pro-integration stand did indeed cause Southern apartheid apologists to flee the AFT. Within months, Atlanta’s white local seceded from the union, and Chattanooga’s charter was voided. One historian estimates that the AFT lost 4,000 members, roughly 10 percent of the national membership at the time. But in cities where this occurred, Black union locals often remained in the AFT and became bases for integrated teacher unionism. Needless to say, this small membership loss did not destroy the AFT. Over the 1960s and 1970s, hundreds of thousands of new members flocked to the AFT precisely because its militancy and progressivism distinguished it from the conservative National Education Association. Today, the AFT boasts 1.7 million members. 

Over the last month, pro-Palestine resolution supporters have repeatedly amended the resolution to incorporate feedback and criticism; the resolution is much stronger for it. But a faction of dedicated opponents will brook no compromise, instead fearmongering about union implosion and unbridgeable divides (for which only vague, anecdotal evidence has been offered). We ask our fellow delegates, would our union have been better off ignoring its conscience on the issue of segregationist locals?

If we come together to have uncomfortable conversations across our political differences, power imbalances, and experiential divides, it will make us stronger—as a political force, as a bargaining unit, and as a union committed to social justice and solidarity. 

Just because the PSC represents members with a diversity of perspectives and opinions doesn’t mean we can’t take positions on controversial issues. As this article by an academic unionist from Australia explains, taking a position on Palestine is an opportunity to explain to our fellow union members that “racism and colonialism are the enemies of workers everywhere, and that meaningful solidarity is an obligation. Declaring a topic like the boycott against Israe] off-limits is a sure-fire way of suppressing political energy and cultivating timidity and hesitation – exactly the qualities that employers want to foster in union members.”

Q9. Is this resolution antisemitic?

Antisemitism is discrimination against Jewish people based on their religion and/or ethnic heritage. The state of Israel does not speak for or represent all Jewish people, and no government is beyond criticism. Many Jewish PSC members firmly support the resolution and endorse the call for BDS as a nonviolent tactic aimed at Israeli institutions that are directly complicit in systematic discrimination against Palestinians. 

Zionism is an ideology and political movement, not a race or a religion. To criticize any political ideology is not racist, as hundreds of thousands of anti-Zionist Jewish and/or Israeli rabbis, documentarians (examples 1, 2), labor organizers, political scientists, novelists, historians, journalists, Holocaust experts (examples 1, 2, 3), Holocaust survivors, and relatives of Holocaust victims have argued.

For decades, grassroots Palestinian organizers have roundly rejected antisemitism. Palestinian liberation and dismantling antisemitism are intertwined projects. Jewish organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now take a strong stand for BDS as an important strategy for supporting Palestinian freedom and ending Israeli apartheid. 

Anti-Palestinian propagandists often use false accusations of antisemitism to discredit and silence anyone, including Jewish people, speaking out for Palestinian freedom. Israel also uses such accusations to portray itself as a victim despite its immense and disproportionate military, economic, and political power over Palestine.

Q10. Why focus on Israel and not other human rights abusers?

The PSC members who have worked on and supported this resolution have multiple political commitments and are passionate about a variety of political issues. PSC committees, chapters, and delegates are free to bring resolutions on any topic to the Delegate Assembly for discussion. If enough delegates agree with them, such resolutions may be approved. There is nothing about the June 10 resolution on Palestine that precludes future resolutions on human rights abuses anywhere in the world.

This particular resolution is an act of solidarity with a specific call put out by Palestinian labor unions and civil society organizations. When Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers called for a boycott of grapes in 1965, it did not make sense to ask “but what about apples?” 

The fact is, the United States government provides Israel with advanced weapons, unconditional diplomatic support, and billions of dollars of annual assistance, far more than it does to any other state. As trade unionists based in the United States, who pay taxes to the U.S. government, we therefore have a particular responsibility to take up the cause of Palestinian freedom to ensure that our tax dollars do not enable and abet violations of human rights and international law, especially in Israel as the largest recipient of US military aid. 

Q11. How can PSC members get involved?

Here’s how you can help:

  • If you are a rank and file PSC member: tell your chapter chair and executive committee members that you support the resolution and urge them to vote in favor of it at the upcoming May 23 Delegate Assembly meeting.
  • If you are a PSC delegate: vote in favor of the resolution in the upcoming May 23 Delegate Assembly meeting and urge your union siblings to do the same! 
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