Category Archives: Gaza

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 Steven Salaita, whose appointment to the University of Illinois was withdrawn after he tweeted criticism of Israel.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.

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

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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

BY SEAN HIGGINS | JANUARY 1, 2015 | 4:24 PM

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.”

California Campus Workers Become First Major Local Union to Endorse BDS Against Israel (In These Times)

In These Times

MONDAY, DEC 29, 2014, 10:00 AM

California Campus Workers Become First Major Local Union to Endorse BDS Against Israel

BY MARIO VASQUEZ

In These Times

Will other American unions follow suit and vote to boycott Israel? (raysto / Flickr)

On December 4, United Auto Workers Local 2865, a union of 13,000 teaching assistants and student-workers at the University of California, became the first local of a major American union to pass a resolution by membership vote endorsing the global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Voting results were released December 12 and mark an unprecedented moment for the BDS movement within the context of modern American labor activism.

A total of 2,168 votes were cast by union members, with 65 percent of them in favor of the measure directing the University of California and UAW International to divest their investment portfolios and pensions funds away from companies “complicit in severe and ongoing human rights violations as part of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.” The primary targets of BDS campaigns are Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar, SodaStream, Elbit Systems, G4S, Mekorot, and Israeli banks. The advocates at UAW Local 2865 are demanding that, at a minimum, the university and union divest from these companies.

Local 2865’s ballot also included an optional box asking voters whether or not they would voluntarily pledge to boycott any scholarship sponsored by Israeli universities “complicit in the occupation of Palestine and the settler-colonial policies of the state of Israel.” Fifty-two percent of voters voted in favor. The ballot also called for an end for U.S. aid to Israel “until [Israel] complies with international law.”

According to Local elected official Skylar Covich, a Political Science graduate student at UC-Santa Barbara who serves the campus recording secretary, union leadership passed a resolution in July endorsing BDS and calling for a membership vote on the matter after this summer’s bombardment of Gaza by Israel prompted members to attempt to heed the call of solidarity made by Palestinian trade unions who condemned the violence.

“Even though there certainly have been really horrible acts on both sides, there is something about the way the Israeli government has acted about this all that has been an injustice, especially since they are the far more powerful country,” says Covich. “Since other people in the union were interested in this, I felt I needed to join [the local governing body] to make sure a message was sent about this,” he adds.

The bombardment, which killed upwards of 2,000 Palestinian citizens in a 50-day campaign, along with continuing Israeli settlement encroachment into Palestinian territory, has brought Israel much criticism from human rights groups and foreign nations seeking peace in the region. Covich says that aside from a few abstentions, there was minimal resistance from union leaders when finalizing the election date.

Kumars Salehi, a German Studies graduate student at UC-Berkeley and a member of the BDS caucus within Local 2865, suggests that the resolution’s outcome was symbolic of the crucial link between BDS and American organized labor: “The overwhelming margin of victory shows that a consensus is emerging that BDS is a legitimate and justified strategy of international solidarity,” Salehi said in an email to In These Times. “Palestine is a social issue in the United States: Israel is now something you either boycott or you don’t, and these results suggest for a new generation of workers and students the answer is increasingly to boycott.”

Although rank-and-file enthusiasm is strong according to the results, Local 2865 Executive Board member Katy Fox-Hodess, a sociology graduate student at UC-Berkeley, states that the UAW International has largely ignored its UC members’ desires to link their union to the BDS movement.

“The only comment they’ve made throughout this whole process was to reiterate a 2007 position that they and 44 labor leaders from around the country had signed on to,” says Fox-Hodess. Like Salehi, she hopes that the current generational shift will be favorable for BDS advocates. “[The statement was made] seven years ago and we hope that this vote taken by a local with large membership will lead to the International revisiting their earlier position.”

While Salehi’s home campus of Berkeley accounted for nearly one-third of votes cast, the resolution managed to pass with a majority at all UC campuses except for UC-Irvine and UC-Santa Barbara. The large support for BDS among UC teaching assistants parallels the success seen at the undergraduate level, with six out of nine student governments—UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Riverside, UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, and UCLA—passing resolutions regarding divestment. The undergraduate legislative meetings devoted to these measures were notable for long hours and emotionally charged, packed rooms.

Despite the dual success for union and undergraduate advocates, the 26 Regents appointed by the state Governor to control the UC system have attempted to block BDS. In the past 15 months since Janet Napolitano became President of the University of California, she has not only criticized the academic boycott that 52 percent of Local 2865 members now belong to, but also reaffirmed a 2010 position on divestment stating that the University would only adopt it in the cases of genocidal foreign entities.

The lone seat on the Regents designated for students has also met controversy in recent years due in large part to divestment issues. UC Regent Richard Blum, husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, abstained from a vote to approve the 2013 appointment of Sadia Saifuddin, an undergraduate at UC-Berkeley, due to her political activity as an advocate for BDS during her term as a senator at Berkeley’s student government. Earlier this year, UCLA undergraduate Abraham (Avi) Oved was appointed amid protest stemming from a possible connection with pro-Israel donors.

Regardless of the recurring problem with the “undemocratic” UC Regents, Fox-Hodess told In These Times, “It’s going to take people from many different sectors within the university—other UC unions, the faculty and hopefully the broader public in California—to build on this momentum begun by undergraduate activists that we have continued with this union resolution.” Referencing the popular connection used by BDS activists, she adds, “Divestment from South Africa didn’t happen overnight, but was the result of years and years of groundwork by activists.”

Clarence Thomas, a member of ILWU Local 10, the same union that honored the “Block the Boat” picket lines at the Port of Oakland this past August, mentioned in an interview that while the union has not taken a formal stance on BDS, the institutional memory of BDS movement against apartheid in South Africa is very much a reason for expanded consciousness regarding Israel.

“Current members of Local 10 know past longshoremen have taken similar actions in the past. Many of them feel this is their chance to step up to the plate and be consistent with our history of honoring community picket lines, which we’ve done since the 1930s. They’re paying attention to things on social media and progressive press, and it has made people’s perspective change,” he says.

Thomas, speaking as a rank-and-file activist rather than on behalf of Local 10, says the movement for BDS against Israel will only grow stronger as it mirrors the anti-apartheid actions against South Africa in the 1980s. For the longtime rank-and-filer, ILWU Local 10’s “courageous” actions go hand-in-hand with the rest of the movement’s attempts to provoke large-scale economic shifts in Israeli investment.

“Anytime the working class can help out with rank-and-file grassroots victories it is really important and people have to pay attention to it,” Thomas says. Members should “think about the South African anti-apartheid struggle: we did it once, and we can do it again.”

Mario Vasquez is a writer from Santa Barbara, California. You can reach him at mario.vasquez.espinoza@gmail.com.

Student workers “have spoken”: US labor union backs Israel boycott (Electronic Intifada)

Electronic Intifada

Student workers “have spoken”: US labor union backs Israel boycott

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This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

The Electronic Intifada podcast is available on iTunes! Click here to view the podcast archive, or subscribe via the iTunes interface (search for The Electronic Intifada).

Nablus

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus rally in support of the boycott of Israeli goods, 29 November 2014. A growing number of international labor unions, student groups and academic associations are signing onto the boycott movement.

(Nedal Eshtayah / APA images)

Interview with Kumars Salehi

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Student workers at the University of California have voted by a landslide to support the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign to hold Israel accountable for its violations of human rights.

The votes, which were cast on 4 December by members of UAW Local 2865, resulted in 65 percent of voting members casting their support of a BDS resolution against 35 percent voting against.

UAW Local 2865 has thus become the first major labor union in the US to join the BDS movement.

The union represents 13,000 student workers in the University of California system. It joins a growing number of student governments, academic associations and activist organizations in the US which have pledged to hold Israel accountable for rights violations and to end the complicity of corporations and universities which profit from such violations.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: First off, your reaction to the landslide victory as the UAW Local 2865 voted in support of BDS, and the significance of this being the first US labor union to join the BDS movement.

Kumars Salehi: I’m overwhelmed because our margin of victory was so overwhelming. We expected to win, but not by a thirty point margin.

Although academic boycott was not up for a vote, 52 percent, by our calculations, of voters actually made a personal pledge on their ballot to respect the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, which of course Palestinian civil society has asked us to do, including their academic organizations. We actually won every UC campus except Irvine and Santa Barbara — we even won at UCLA, which last time we talked I said I didn’t even really think that we had a shot at UCLA until divestment passed there a couple of weeks ago in their student government.

That means six of nine undergrad student governments have voted to divest; they’ve spoken, the UC student body, and now the UC grad workers have too. It’s our labor that keeps these universities running, and if the Regents want to continue to ignore students’ voices, they have to ignore us too. And I think that I’m more hopeful when it comes to other unions following suit — as you mentioned, what makes this resolution so historic isn’t just the margin of victory, it’s that we’re now the first major US union to pass a BDS resolutions by a member vote.

And I think that what this indicates to me is that peoples’ views are really changing. Palestine really is a social issue in the United States, and a new generation of workers and students is seeing how we’re linked — not only as workers, not only as students, not only as Americans, but as people of conscience to the struggle of Palestinians, and how we can actually help them in their struggle.

NBF: What’s the next step here, in terms of activating this resolution and pressing forward with the demands for divestment from the University of California?

KS: Well, there isn’t a particular mechanism that is on us right now to complete. I think that the opposition is going to try to contest this result, they have already indicated that they’re going to try to dispute the result on some sort of procedural grounds, maybe even file legal injunctions, which they’ve been threatening to do the whole time.

However, we feel that we went to enough lengths to ensure an open and transparent democratic process that this result will stand. This is a non-binding resolution, so UAW International, our umbrella organization, doesn’t have to act on it and to divest its funds from companies complicit in the occupation.

But I think that the general view, in my personal opinion, is that this will trigger something of a domino effect, and that as more and more unions, perhaps other locals of UAW in the US follow suit and also pass BDS resolutions, that eventually the pressure will build, and UAW International will see that their locals across the United States are starting to join their counterparts in Europe and across the rest of the world in supporting the call for BDS.

NBF: Finally, if people want to learn more about this resolution and get in touch with members of UAW Local 2865, if they want to start replicating this kind of BDS activism on their campuses, where can they go?

KS: They can go to UAW2865.org, where the results as well as all of the procedural information, all of the press releases and statements from way back when this bill was first being considered by the joint council — the elected body — of the union, you can basically see how we did it. And if you want to talk to us about it, you can send an email to the union, you can find the contact information on the website.

And frankly, if you want to do this at your union, you should talk to us individually. You can talk to me on Twitter at @KumarsSalehi. This information is probably going to get put into more of a readily-accessible form, but for now, I think we’re going to take a couple of days and celebrate.

Davis, other UC grad students vote yes on BDS (Davis Enterprise)

Davis EnterpriseThe Davis Enterprise

Davis, other UC grad students vote yes on BDS

By
From page A1 | December 12, 2014 |

UC Davis, along with graduate-student workers at eight other University of California campuses, have voted to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

UAW 2865, the local union that represents UCD’s graduate-student workers, announced the victory Wednesday in a news release, saying, in part, “The measure calls on the University of California to divest from companies involved in Israeli occupation and apartheid; the UAW International to divest from these same entities; the US government to end military aid to Israel.”

The release continued: “52 percent of voting members also 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.”

The only campuses to vote against BDS were UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara.

BDS caucus representative and UCD graduate student Tory Brykalski said this election generated the highest percentage of voters they’ve had on any ballot measure. BDS is the issue “that engaged our membership more than anything before,” she said.

That number, however, is difficult to pin down. The full tally from the vote taken on Dec. 4 was 1,411 in favor of joining BDS, and 749 against. A total of 203 votes were cast at UCD, which, according to Brykalski is about 33 percent of the approximately 600 eligible voters.

But the union represents some 13,000 graduate-student workers, systemwide. Graduate students reportedly could sign up to become union members at the polls, which could have increased the number of voters substantially.

The numbers are important because both the union and the opponents of BDS — specifically a student organization called Informed Grads — are claiming opposite outcomes. While UAW 2865 calls the results a landslide, because 65 percent of voters were in favor of joining the movement, Informed Grads issued a news release stating that “a small unrepresentative minority of UC graduate students” voted.

Specifically, the release said that “2,189 UC graduate students voted out of a total of over 52,000 potential voters.”

Brykalski said the union’s next steps will be to “live the vote,” which involves actions such as sending letters to the UC Office of the President asking for divestment from Israel, as well as letters to UAW international.

She also hopes the union can use “the momentum on this vote to raise awareness about the role of corporations” in UC education.

Additionally, Brykalski believes the “vote opens up academic freedom. Until yesterday, it has been swayed in the other direction,” meaning pro-Israeli discourse overshadows pro-Palestinian discussion.

“We have opened up the possibility for an open debate,” she said.

Luanne Lawrence, associate chancellor for strategic communications, pointed to a September letter from UC’s Office of the Provost to all chancellors regarding the issues surrounding academic freedom and expected codes of conduct by students and faculty. Lawrence said “the academic enterprise cannot be compromised,” and that the letter from UC is “an accurate statement of how all the campuses feel.”

The letter states, in part, that “students must be free in the classroom to express a wide range of viewpoints in accord with the standards of scholarly inquiry and relevance to the topic at hand.”

The directive also reminds UC affiliates that “the university should remain aloof from politics and never function as an instrument for the advance of partisan interest.”

To see the full BDS ballot wording, visit http://www.uaw2865.org/wp-content/uploads/BDSSampleBallot.pdf.

— Reach Tanya Perez at tperez@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8082. Follow her on Twitter at @enterprisetanya

In unprecedented vote, UC student-workers union votes to support divestment (Daily Californian)

In unprecedented vote, UC student-workers union votes to support divestment

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Members of a UC student-workers union voted Dec. 4 to pass a measure that calls for the University of California and the United Auto Workers International to divest funds from companies associated with the Israeli military, becoming the first major U.S. labor union to support this type of divestment by a membership vote.

United Auto Workers Local 2865 is a labor union representing more than 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and other student employees at the university. More than 2,100 members voted, with 65 percent in support of the divestment measure.

Nearly one-third of the votes were cast at UC Berkeley, of which about 70 percent were in favor. The vote passed with a majority at all UC campuses except for UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara. Student governments from six of nine undergraduate UC campuses — UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Riverside, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and most recently, UCLA — have passed divestment resolutions to date.

The divestment efforts are in line with the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. The ballot language specifically called on the union’s members to divest funds from “Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in severe and ongoing human rights violations.”

The ballot also included an optional question asking members to make a voluntary, nonbinding pledge not to participate in any research, conferences, exchange programs or other activities sponsored by “Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine.” Approximately 52 percent of voting members across the UC system and 55 percent of voters at UC Berkeley took the pledge.

“We see this as another very significant drop in the bucket in the University of California that builds on the work of what undergraduate student groups have done,” said Katy Fox-Hodess, spokesperson for UAW Local 2865’s statewide executive council.

Kumars Salehi, a doctoral student at UC Berkeley and a member of Cal Students for Justice in Palestine, hopes the vote will not only hold significance within UC system but will also become a catalyst for other unions across the nation to join the movement for divestment.

The regents have explicitly stated that they do not support a policy of divestment, but Salehi believes that a broad consensus across the UC system could pressure them into action.

“As soon as the regents decide to respect the growing consensus, then we will have dealt a concrete blow to the mechanism,” Salehi said.

The vote and its outcome were met with opposition from a group called Informed Grads, which believes that the vote was undemocratic. Jonathan Kummerfeld, a UC Berkeley graduate student and the leader of Informed Grads’ UC Berkeley chapter, believes that insufficient discussion occurred prior to the vote.

“I came into this expecting that these were people with strong opinions and that we were going to debate the issue and see opinions from both sides,” Kummerfeld said. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to hear what our members really think.”

As a group, Informed Grads is discussing what to do next and is looking into appeals, but it will not pursue legal action against the union, Kummerfeld said. He said those who opposed the divestment measure now face the dilemma of recognizing the importance of unions but opposing the adoption of the measure in their names.

“I think unions are important, which is why I signed up in 2011,” Kummerfeld said. “But if the union is going to take such an extreme stance, then I’m really opposed to it. I don’t want them to claim that they are representing my views.”

The labor union’s next steps will be decided upon by the joint council, comprising 83 elected officers across nine UC campuses, as it discusses strategies to approach the university and the national union, Fox-Hodess said.

Contact Amy Jiang at ajiang@dailycal.org and follow her on Twitter @ajiang_dc.

Victory: UAW 2865 Endorses BDS — An Injury to One is an Injury to All (JFPROR)

2865 JFPROR

University of California Labor Union Makes History with BDS Vote in Solidarity with Palestinians (Tikkun)

Tikkun

University of California Labor Union Makes History with BDS Vote in Solidarity with Palestinians

by: Kumars Salehi on December 11th, 2014

Tikkun1

The union that represents 13,000 graduate student-workers in the University of California system has become the first major U.S. labor union to pass, by member vote, a resolution endorsing the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli occupation and in solidarity with Palestinian self-determination.

The teaching assistants, tutors, and other UC student workers who belong to United Auto Workers Local 2865 voted strongly in favor of a bill calling on the union’s umbrella organization, UAW International, and the University of California Regents to divest from companies complicit in Israeli occupation, and calling on the U.S. government to end all military aid to Israel. The results were released yesterday, following the counting of ballots cast on December 4, and the measure passed with 65 percent in favor and 35 percent opposed.

Tikkun2The resolution won on all University of California campuses except for UC Irvine and Santa Barbara – it even won at UCLA, which has a notorious history of organized opposition to quash divestment debates.Although academic boycott was not up for a vote, 52 percent of voters checked a box indicating their personal pledge to respect the boycott, which has been called for by Palestinian academic organizations, among others.

Last week’s vote was just the beginning. Consciousness about these issues is spreading, and our work is far from done. Here is the letter that the union’s executive board sent out to the 13,000 members of our union statewide, which will be sure to spark more discussion and organizing in the coming months:

Dear Fellow Student-Workers,

UAW Local 2865 has become the first major labor union in the United States to endorse by membership referendum the grassroots Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). In July, the Joint Council issued a statement in support of boycott, divestment and sanctions in solidarity with the call from Palestinian workers and students under occupation. The Joint Council asked the statewide membership to vote on the issue. After fourth months of internal debate, we held a membership vote and members clearly indicated their support.

65% of voting members approved calling on our parent union, the UAW International, to divest. We also voted to call on the UC to divest financial portfolios from companies involved in the Israeli occupation and to call on the U.S. government to end aid to Israel until Israel ends its colonial and apartheid practices and respects the human rights of Palestinians. In addition, 1136 (52% of voting members) pledged to take part in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions to end their complicity with Israeli dispossession, apartheid and occupation of Palestinian people and lands.

We recognize that our members hold many different views on the proposal. We thank union members from every perspective who shared your views and your life experiences to inform debate and engage vigorously in such an urgent issue for workers and students. We value dissent within our union, and we think that, as shown by the influx of new members during this campaign, vigorous debate strengthens our union.

With the announcement of the results, we reiterate our opposition to discrimination in all forms, and re-commit the union to ending racism. We welcome members from all national origins – including Israelis – to join the union and engage with us in addressing the local and international issues confronting workers.

The goal of this non-violent global strategy is that Israel end the military occupation, land confiscation, and human rights violations against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; recognize the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality and respect; and promote the right under international law of refugees to return to their homes.

We join 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. We also join growing voices in the U.S. labor movement to end many U.S. labor unions’ uncritical support of Israel and show labor solidarity with Palestinians. These include the leadership of North Carolina’s Public Service Workers’ Union-UE Local 150, rank and file members of the International Longshore Workers’ Union Local 10 who successfully blocked Israeli ships from unloading goods echoing their historic involvement in the anti-South African apartheid movement, and hundreds of labor organizers who have signed on to the U.S.-based Labor for Palestine statement. Furthermore, our attention to Palestinian struggle is not without precedent in the UAW. In 1973, Arab-American auto workers in Detroit protested the union’s purchase of Israeli bonds that financed the seizure of Palestinians’ lands.

We are also inspired by the substantial turnout of voters; over 2,100 union members voted in this election! We stand together in support of the rank-and-file Palestinian members of our union who brought this call to our attention and the rank-and-file members of all national origins, including Israelis, who have supported them. We are inspired by the incredible displays of solidarity across communities which demonstrate for us that only when all people are given the right and dignity to be free can we enjoy our own freedoms. From Palestine to Ferguson and Ayotzinapa, our union’s commitment to social justice must always ground itself in intersectional politics of solidarity.

The move to support Palestinian freedom, as with all other solidarity with other anti-racist and anti-colonial movements, is only a first step and it is up to us to follow this statement with action so that our solidarity translates into material transformation of living conditions of Palestinians. The union will follow up with the International and the UC Office of the President, and we look forward to working with our members to determine next steps. We invite you to think of creative ways to translate our union’s support for the Palestinian struggle into concrete action.

Thanks for your involvement in this process!

In solidarity with all of our members,

UAW 2865 Executive Board

The overwhelming margin of victory adds to the weight of this historic vote, which union members such as I believe will be the first of many BDS endorsements by major unions in the United States, including UAW International. We hope the UC Regents will heed the voices of graduate student-workers just as they should heed the six out of nine UC undergraduate student governments that have passed resolutions to divest from Israeli occupation and human rights abuses. This vote confirms that a new generation of U.S. students and workers sees how we’re linked to the oppression of Palestinians, and how we can do what is asked of us in their struggle for freedom.

Kumars Salehi is a PhD student at UC Berkeley and a rank-and-file member of UAW 2865.

Historic Landslide BDS Vote by Grad Student Union at University of California

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For Immediate Release: December 10, 2014

Historic Landslide BDS Vote by Grad Students’ Union at University of California

First time membership of any major union body in the US has taken a stand in support of boycott of Israel

University of California graduate student-workers have ratified UAW 2865’s resolution to join the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The historic December 4 vote, passed by a landslide 65%-35% margin, is the first time that the membership of any major union body in the United States has taken a stand against more than six decades of complicity by U.S. government, university and top labor officials in Israeli apartheid.

Labor bodies in the United States have — often without knowledge or consent of union members — invested billions of dollars in State of Israel Bonds.

UAW 2865’s resolution answers urgent calls from Palestinian trade unions and Labor for Palestine issued amid last summer’s Israeli war on Gaza — armed and funded by the United States government — that ultimately killed more than 2000 people, including more than 500 children.

It embraces BDS demands for decolonization of all historic Palestine: an end to Israeli military occupation of the 1967 territories; full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel; and the right of return for Palestinian refugees, as affirmed by UN resolution 194.

By respecting the worldwide BDS picket line, UAW 2865 joins the Congress of South African Trade Unions and labor organizations around the world, including ILWU Local 10 dockworkers who refuse to handle Israeli Zim line cargo.

It also reflects a long tradition of labor, civil rights and South African anti-apartheid boycotts, while mirroring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous condemnation of the Vietnam War, and his declaration that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

As Richard Trumka, now head of the AFL-CIO, said in 1987: “Sanctions alone cannot eradicate apartheid; that task is ultimately left to the people of South Africa themselves. But economic pressure and political isolation of the South African government can hasten the day when justice and freedom reign in that troubled land.”

UAW 2865’s BDS resolution also builds on Students for Justice in Palestine’s BDS victories at six of nine UC campuses, and is deeply connected to ongoing battles now being waged by UC students and workers against attacks on public higher education, and protests against institutional racism and state violence.

As the UAW 2865 Joint Council pointed out: “Working people everywhere have a common interest in opposing oppression and exploitation wherever they are found. Working together as a global labor movement to oppose injustice around the world strengthens us all in our individual struggles against anti-labor employers and states and in our collective efforts to build the world that working people deserve. An Injury to One Is an Injury to All.”

“Labor solidarity means speaking truth to power — from Ferguson, to New York City to Palestine,” said Michael Letwin, former president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW 2325, and co-founder of Labor for Palestine. “And UAW 2865’s courage will inspire other unions in this country to stand up for justice.”

Contact: Michael Letwin
laborforpalestine.us@gmail.com

-End-

Union Press Release: HISTORIC: UAW 2865, UC STUDENT-WORKER UNION, BECOMES FIRST MAJOR U.S. LABOR UNION TO SUPPORT DIVESTMENT FROM ISRAEL BY MEMBERSHIP VOTE