Samidoun members also participated in the Odessa Commemoration prior to the May Day rally, commemorating the deaths of the victims of the right-wing attack on the Trade Unions House in Odessa, Ukraine on 2 May 2014.
During the Immigrant Worker Justice Tour following the rally, among a number of sites where participants stopped and chanted included Bank of America, a client of G4S, the massive security corporation that provides security systems, equipment and control rooms to Israeli prisons, checkpoints and police training centers; as well as Aroma Espresso Bar, the largest Israeli coffee shop chain and the subject of an international boycott campaign. Bank of America also invests in Corrections Corp of America and GEO Group, America’s largest for profit prison corporations.
Other stops on the Justice Tour included Wendy’s, which is the subject of a boycott campaign supporting the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Fair Food program fighting abuse of workers in US agriculture; Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); and City Winery, whose baguettes are supplied by Amy’s Bread Factory, where many workers struggle to survive on meager wages and work two or three jobs.
Palestinian and solidarity activists participated in May Day events around the world, including in Berlin, Hamburg and Paris, where slogans calling for freedom for Palestinian prisoners and the freedom of imprisoned Lebanese Communist struggler for Palestine, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, were raised.
In Palestine, Palestinian labor organizations marched in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine against siege and for the rights of workers, and workers’ role in the Palestinian liberation movement.
Photos by Joe Catron, Michael Letwin, Afif el-Ali, Somaya Badawi
Solidarity Rising: Two More UAW Graduate Employee Units Endorse BDS!
Joint Statement GSOC-UAW 2110 and GEO-UAW 2322 are Latest Unions to Vote for Divestment
This past week the NYU Graduate Employee Union (GSOC-UAW 2110) and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Graduate Employee Union (GEO-UAW 2322), both representing 2,000 members each, endorsed by full membership vote the call from all major Palestinian trade unions and civil society groups to impose Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. . . . In December 2014, the 14,000 student-worker union at the University of California (UAW Local 2865) system passed a similar resolution supporting BDS with 65% in favor.
Context: America’s Labor Unions Are Increasingly Standing with Palestine (Alternet)
Following a well-attended panel hosted by Western Mass Labor for Palestine at the April 16 Jobs With Justice Conference in Springfield, MA, author Vijay Prashad extensively reviews the rise of Labor for Palestine and U.S. trade union support for BDS. Panelists included Prashad, LFP Co-Conveners Suzanne Adely and Michael Letwin, Carol Lambiase (United Electrical Workers), Bill Shortell (International Association of Machinists), and was moderated by WMLFP members Jordy Rosenberg and Ruth Jennison. Prashad’s article concludes by quoting Adely: “Ultimately, building labor solidarity with Palestine and with all anti-racist struggles is part of the fight to build a stronger, democratic union movement.”
Labor to Palestine: We Stand with Palestine in the Spirit of “Sumud”: The U.S. Prisoner, Labor and Academic Solidarity Delegation to Palestine
On April 16, the nineteen-member March 2016 delegation to Palestine, which included LFP Co-convener Jaime Veve and several other trade unionists, issued a powerful report stating, in part: “We join hands with our comrades in the Palestinian labor movement and salute the struggle of striking teachers, labor organizers and workers demanding economic justice, independence and national self-determination from colonial structures. We further pledge to campaign in the ranks of U.S. labor to divest from Israeli bonds and sever ties between the AFL-CIO and the Histadrut.” To host a local event with delegation members, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Labor in Palestine: Mass Rally Against Approval of New “Social Security” Law (IMEMC)
Thousands of Palestinians, on Tuesday, demonstrated outside of a government building, in the occupied West Bank hub of Ramallah, against the Palestinian Authority’s approval of a new law many believe fails to provide adequate protection for workers. . . . Weeks earlier, a teachers’ strike brought the largest public demonstrations against the PA in years.
On March 28th, a “Stop the Boycott” conference was held in Jerusalem. Afraid of the support for the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the participants lashed out against its advocates. Israeli Minister of Transport, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Yisrael Katz called upon his government to conduct “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders. Such an alarming statement is not unusual. Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information said that BDS activists must “pay the price” for their advocacy (he later said that he did not mean to provoke “physical harm”). Israel’s Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri has threatened to revoke the permanent residency of BDS leader Omar Barghouti–who says that he now fears for his life.
Such is the Israeli reaction to the peaceful BDS movement.
The United States Congress sometimes seems like a subsidiary of the Israeli Knesset. Senators Mark Kirk (Republican of Illinois) and Joe Manchin (Democrat of West Virginia) as well as Representatives Robert Dold (Republican of Illinois) and Juan Vargas (Democrat of California) tabled the ‘Combating BDS Act of 2016’ in both houses. This bill asks state and local governments to divest from any group that “engages in commerce or investment-related boycott, divestment or sanctions activity targeting Israel.” Republican donor and gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson held a secret anti-BDS gathering in Las Vegas, where mega-donors pledged to go after BDS activists – mainly the college campus activities of BDS activists and the Students for Justice in Palestine. Last year, Democratic presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton wrote to Democratic donor Haim Saban to pledge her support against BDS. “I know you agree that we need to make countering BDS a priority,” she wrote. Clinton linked the BDS campaign, which targets Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, to anti-Semitism. It is the clichéd way to rebuke BDS campaigns and campaigners.
The Israeli government and its American allies have spent millions of dollars to destroy the credibility of the BDS advocates. It does not seem to have succeeded.
As if undaunted, a host of US labor unions have decided to endorse the BDS pledge. The United Electrical Workers (UE), a union of over thirty-five thousand members, debated the question of Israel’s occupation of Palestine at its August 2015 convention. “Our government is on the wrong side,” said Angaza Laughinghouse of Local 150 (North Carolina). “We have to stand on the right side of the Palestine struggle.” Laughinghouse’s union—UEdecided to unanimously endorse BDS and to actively work “to become engaged in BDS.” In October, the two hundred thousand members of the AFL-CIO of Connecticut passed a resolution that called upon the national AFL-CIO to endorse BDS “in connection with companies and investments profiting from or complicit in human rights violations arising from the occupation of the Palestinian territories by the State of Israel.” There is no immediate sense that the national—which represents twelve and a half million workers – would follow suit.
A few years ago, the AFL-CIO—whose membership dwindled in the United States—turned to college campuses to organize adjunct professors and other campus teachers. This strategy has borne fruit, as many unions, especially the United Auto Workers (UAW)—found receptive campus workers (teachers, adjuncts, and graduate students) to fight for and form locals. A number of these campus unions have begun to push for BDS resolutions in their student and faculty organizations. Two affiliates of the UAW took the lead on this road – UAW Local 2865, the University of California’s graduate student union that represents thirteen thousand workers, and Graduate Employees Organization-UAW Local 2322 at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) that represents over two thousand workers.
It is little wonder that the labor movement for Palestine has a strong foundation on college campuses. Many scholarly bodies voted in favor of BDS—American Studies Association being the most prominent, while the American Anthropological Association is currently getting ready to vote on a resolution. Anti-BDS advocates are correct to point to the colleges as a hotbed of BDS activity, with bold Students for Justice with Palestine (SJP) units sprouting up across the country. Pressure to rein in the SJP groups runs up against moderate faculty support for these student initiatives, either on the grounds of free speech or of solidarity with Palestine.
Social movements across the United States—whether Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ struggles—have stretched out their arms towards Palestine. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Palestinian Liberation Organization cleverly linked its struggle to that of the Vietnamese and the Algerians, building on global solidarity movements already in motion. This current solidarity is an echo of that era of “Palestine is Another Vietnam.” The 2015 Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine and the many tours of Black Lives Matter activists to Palestine as well as the solidarity statements from Palestine to Ferguson provide the template for the new connections. The most powerful symbol of this was the visit to Palestine by activists from Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, Dream Defenders and Ferguson/Hands Up United. Standing in Nazareth, the young men and women sang a powerful song of solidarity, drawing a line between Ferguson and Palestine. This is the culture that moved the CUNY Doctoral Students Council to endorse BDS. “The repression of CUNY students,” said fourth year History student Jeremy Randall, “is connected to the same systems of power that uphold the Israeli state’s violation of Palestinian rights.” Comparisons and connections between the security state in the West Bank and in the United States embolden the solidarity.
In 2004, activists in al-Awda New York and New York City Labor Against the War formed Labor for Palestine. They did so, as Michael Letwin told me, “to honor the BDS picket line and fight for full inclusion of the Palestinian liberation struggle in the post-9/11 antiwar movement.” Letwin, who comes from a radical family and has been involved in most radical struggles in New York since the 1960s, understands that there has been a strand in the labor movement committed to Palestine. “There is a hidden tradition of US trade union solidarity with Palestine,” he told me. In 1969, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers took a position against Zionism, and in 1973 Black and Arab workers in the UAW “held wildcat strikes against the UAW.”
Labor for Palestine prods the US labor movement for good reason. Suzanne Adely, another leader in Labor for Palestine, tells me that the US labor unions have to disinvest from the Israel Bonds, which provide capital towards the occupation. Adely understands that the movement, however, has a history of complicity not only with the Israeli labor federation but also with the Israeli state. “Labor solidarity against apartheid and racism,” she says, “has always come from below.” The leadership has to be pushed by the union locals and by campaigns such as Labor for Palestine.
Western Massachusetts’ Labor for Palestine is one of these local chapters. It comes out of both the GEO-UAW Local 2322 struggle and the Western Mass Coalition for Palestine; the labor movement and the Palestine solidarity movement, in other words. The members of this chapter come out of union work, but also from Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ liberation groups. “We wanted to remain active in the Western Mass Coalition for Palestine,” says Ruth Jennison, an English professor at UMASS, “but we also wanted an organization that drew on the constant and permanent nature of union activism.” The chapter hosted a panel discussion last weekend at a Jobs with Justice conference in Springfield, MA, which was attended by representatives from Labor for Palestine and the Connecticut AFL-CIO. The Connecticut unionists – Carol Lambiase (UE) and Bill Shortell (Machinists union) – reported on a union trip to Palestine in 2015. In Palestine, Lambiase delivered a copy of the UE resolution for BDS to Shaher Sa’ed, the General Secretary of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions. The panel in Springfield was well attended. Jennison told me, “Many union members and some leadership are excited about our organization, and want to help us build.”
Pressure against BDS will continue. Attempts to make it illegal remain on the table. The UAW leadership continues to attempt to nullify the resolutions of some of its locals. The fight inside the unions has now turned from the question of BDS to that of union democracy. These are conjoined issues. “Ultimately,” Adely says to me, “building labor solidarity with Palestine and with all anti-racist struggles is part of the fight to build a stronger, democratic union movement.”
Vijay Prashad is professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He is the author of 18 books, including Arab Spring, Libyan Winter(AK Press, 2012), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South(Verso, 2013) and the forthcoming The Death of a Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016). His columns appear at AlterNet every Wednesday.
The Adjunct Project endorses the Resolution Endorsing the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, scheduled to be voted on at the April 15 plenary meeting of the Doctoral Students’ Council (DSC) at the Graduate Center, CUNY. This resolution responds to a call from Palestinian academic workers in the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and the General Union of Palestinian Teachers, among other Palestinian labor and civil-society organizations. If passed, it would require the DSC to adhere to the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and support the work of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) groups and other solidarity efforts.
Palestinian workers face some of the world’s highest unemployment rates and are increasingly forced to take exploitative, unregulated, non-unionized jobs. Answering the call to boycott is a refusal to cooperate with institutions complicit in Palestinian workers’ exploitation and occupation.
In New York City and across North America, groups supporting Palestinians have come under attack. Students, faculty, and other workers associated with CUNY SJP chapters currently face unsupported charges of anti-Semitism that infringe on their freedom of speech, their academic freedom, and their working conditions. The Adjunct Project joins the SJPs in vehemently opposing anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of bigotry and racism. We advocate an end to Israeli state apartheid policies as a specifically anti-racist and anti-colonial project.
We further condemn local and state politicians who attempt to justify a regime of austerity through the suppression of solidarity organizing on campuses. In March, the New York State Senate voted for a $485-million reduction in state funding for CUNY in part as retribution for Palestinian solidarity organizing on campuses. This planned defunding failed in last-minute budget negotiations, but the CUNY system still faces a massive shortfall: in addition to millions of dollars in cuts to individual colleges, no funds were allocated for contract negotiations with the 25,000 workers represented by the Professional Staff Congress who have gone six years without a pay increase.
The passage of this academic-boycott resolution is important for resisting both the austerity politics that target public employees like CUNY workers and, in particular, the effects of such politics on working-class people-of-color students, faculty, and staff, who must contend with forms of structural racism, settler colonialism, and racial capitalism similar to those faced by Palestinians.
We join the graduate student worker union UAW 2865 at the University of California in endorsing academic boycott and the many other academic groups that have done so as well, including the Association for Asian American Studies, the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, the African Literature Association, the American Studies Association, the American Anthropological Association, and the National Women’s Studies Association, and we support the GSOC for BDS caucus of the union of graduate student workers at New York University in their referendum on BDS, including academic boycott.
The boycott resolution before the DSC is an important step in supporting the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. We encourage representatives of the DSC to vote for the resolution, and all members of the CUNY community to raise awareness, through resources like those provided by Labor for Palestine, and to support or get involved with efforts on their campuses, including CUNY for Palestine and SJP chapters.
In an address on Middle East policy last month, Bernie Sanders —the first Jewish American to win a presidential primary—did something virtually unheard of in contemporary U.S. politics when he called for an end to “what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory” by Israel.
The only candidate to skip the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington, Sanders instead delivered a speech from Utah in which he acknowledged that “today there is a whole lot of suffering among Palestinians” due to the occupation.
“For a presidential candidate to break from the mold, like it seems maybe Sanders is doing, and to talk about the fact that the occupation needs to end, is something that’s exciting to Palestinians,” says Manawel Abdel-Al, a member of the general secretariat of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).
“We hope this isn’t just election talk,” he adds. “People were very excited about Barack Obama as well and we didn’t get much progress. But we’re hopeful.”
Abdel-Al—who lives in occupied East Jerusalem—is visiting Chicago this week at the invitation of the United Electrical Workers (UE), the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, and Jewish Voice for Peace to enlist the support of the U.S. labor movement in the Palestinian liberation struggle. He addressed standing-room-only audiences of rank-and-file unionists at last weekend’s Labor Notes conference and again on Tuesday night at the local UE Hall.
A machine repair technician by trade, Abdel-Al has been a union activist for three decades. He tells In These Times that throughout their history, Palestinian trade unions have always waged a “two-part” battle. “We represent workers in the class struggle for socioeconomic rights, but also in the national, political struggle for freedom and independence,” he says, noting that the Palestinian labor movement has managed to endure despite a century of repression and upheaval under British, Jordanian, and Israeli control.
Abdel-Al’s PGFTU represents 14 private sector unions in the West Bank and Gaza. In the West Bank, Abdel-Al says the PGFTU negotiates collective bargaining agreements with employers and successfully convinced the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) to pass a minimum wage law in 2012. The union federation is now calling for the P.A. to implement social welfare policies by next year.
Meanwhile, over 25,000 public schoolteachers (not affiliated with PGFTU) staged a one-month strike earlier this year to call for the P.A. to honor a promised pay raise that had been “left on the backburner for three years,” Abdel-Al says. The strike ended last month after President Mahmoud Abbas intervened and promised back pay and a 10 percent wage increase.
Abdel-Al’s PGFTU is not recognized by the Israeli government, leaving unprotected the approximately 92,000 West Bank Palestinians who regularly cross into and out of Israel and Israeli settlements for work. Abdel-Al explains that while many of these workers have legal permits to be employed in Israel, many others are unauthorized workers—hired under-the-table by Israeli employers—and face extreme exploitation. “When they’re injured on the job, they’re simply taken to the closest border checkpoint and left there. The employer disappears.”
Abdel-Al at Chicago’s Haymarket monument. (Jeff Schuhrke)
Regardless of their legal status, Abdel-Al says that all Palestinian workers in Israel, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, face discrimination, arbitrary dismissal, low pay, and a host of other issues on the job. “All we want is freedom from oppression,” he says, asking U.S. unionists to do whatever they can to help their fellow workers in Palestine.
Heeding this call, last August, UE became the first national U.S. labor union to endorse Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)—a global, nonviolent movement to protest Israeli human rights violations inspired by the successful efforts of civil society groups to pressure South Africa’s apartheid regime in the 1980s.
While the activist network Labor for Palestine has been pushing U.S. unions to get behind BDS for the past decade, serious strides have only been made in the two years since Israel’s 2014 bombardment of Gaza, which killed 1,462 civilians. In December 2014, BDS was endorsed by University of California graduate student workers with UAW Local 2865—a vote that was controversially nullified by the UAW’s International Executive Board earlier this year. Following Local 2865 and UE’s lead, the Connecticut AFL-CIO also passed a resolution in favor of BDS late last year.
BDS is gaining traction within the international labor movement as well, with support from unions in South Africa, the UK, Norway, Brazil, and elsewhere. Last April, it was endorsed by Canada’s Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), which represents 325,000 public and private sector workers in Quebec.
“I think BDS is a powerful tool to educate people on what is happening in Palestine,” Nathalie Guay, coordinator of CSN’s international relations, tells In These Times. Guay, who helped connect the PGFTU and UE, hopes that more North American unions will not only endorse BDS, but also send their members on delegations to Palestine to learn about the situation first-hand. “Every single person who goes there comes back as an activist for Palestine. We need more of that.”
Noting the growing international influence of unions from the global south, including Brazil’s pro-BDS Central Única dos Trabalhadores, Guay predicts the international labor movement will continue to increase its support for Palestine in the years to come. “I think there will be some evolution,” she says.
This evolution is already evident in the International Trade Union Confederation—a global organization composed of the world’s major labor federations—which has issued increasingly critical statements of Israel since the 2014 assault on Gaza.
“We believe statements are not enough and hope the ITUC will change its policies in a more definitive way to help end the occupation,” Abdel-Al says. “But no matter how small, this is a positive change.”
Abdel-Al took time out of his busy schedule this week to visit the Haymarket memorial—a tribute to martyred Chicago unionists who were hanged in 1887 as a result of their activism in support of the 8-hour workday. “This is the birthplace of the worldwide labor movement. Around the world, we celebrate labor on May 1st because of what happened in Chicago.”
He wants U.S. labor activists to remember that occupied Palestinians are also oppressed workers. “Any activism, any support for us would be in accordance with a slogan that is well known by the working class everywhere—workers of the world, unite! Through solidarity and willpower, workers can make changes and bring about the achievement of rights for persecuted and oppressed people everywhere.”
Jeff Schuhrke is a Summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel’s apartheid policies won big victories in 2015, 10 years after BDS was launched by Palestinian civilian organizations. Now, a vicious campaign is targeting Palestine supporters at the state and national levels in the U.S. through “enemies list” laws aimed at BDS advocates.
In New York state, Senate Bill S6086/Assembly Bill 8220 has been introduced to punish people, companies and nonprofit organizations that support boycotting Israel because of its attacks on the Palestinian people. The bill would create a list of people “engaging in actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the state of Israel or companies based in the state of Israel or in territories controlled by the state of Israel.”
Individuals, organizations and companies on the list would be denied access to grants, funding or contracts with New York state. For instance, a church, mosque or synagogue participating in a rally advocating for BDS could potentially lose state funding for its homeless shelter or its community food bank program.
To get off the list, accused individuals or groups would be required to sign a statement repudiating a boycott of Israel. This parallels the notorious 1950s McCarthyite policing of people’s political beliefs, when to receive government scholarships, for example, students had to sign loyalty oaths to the Constitution.
Petition drive launched
The Syracuse-based Palestine Solidarity Collective has launched a petition drive to inform people about the BDS movement and to alert people to the reactionary New York state bill.
The petition reads in part: “[New York] Senate Bill S6086/Assembly Bill 8220 seeks to criminalize political action. … In effect, this law would grant the state the power to coerce those who wish to support Palestinian human rights and the call for BDS. … The Bill conflates BDS with anti-Semitism. …. BDS is not anti-Semitism because it targets the expanding and illegal occupation by the state of Israel and its military, which uses disproportionate and illegal forms of violence against Palestinian civilians.” (tinyurl.com/np8hvaj)
In a sustained attack on BDS, similar laws have been passed by the Illinois and South Carolina legislatures and are under consideration in California, Florida, Massachusetts and New Jersey. (palestinelegal.org/legislation/) An anti-BDS clause was attached to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a major U.S. “free trade” deal with the European Union that was OK’d by Congress in July.
The current anti-BDS campaign is a reaction to powerful BDS initiatives against Israel. In a stunning victory, a seven-year BDS campaign drove French-based corporate giant Veolia out of Israel in 2015, forcing it to sell off all subsidiaries there. Veolia was deeply invested in infrastructure projects in illegal Israeli settlements, and its withdrawal reportedly cost it billions of dollars.
BDS economic muscle helped cut foreign direct investment in Israel by 46 percent in 2014, according to separate United Nations and World Bank studies. A Rand Corp. analysis projected BDS could cost Israel between 1 and 2 percent in annual national income over ten years. (mondoweiss.net, Dec. 30)
A 2015 cultural boycott of Israel reinforced the economic boycott, supported by over 1,000 artists, writers and musicians, including Lauryn Hill, Alice Walker and Arundhati Roy. A parallel academic boycott has international support, including U.S. professional groups like the National Women’s Studies Association.
A growing international movement against racism has linked Palestinian struggles to the Black Lives Matter movement, with chants and signs asserting, “From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation is a crime,” at many protests. U.S. student divestment campaigns have proliferated, and student-worker movements have weighed in, as when United Auto Workers Local 2865, representing all graduate students in the University of California system, endorsed BDS in 2014.
International unions have passed BDS resolutions, including the Arab Labor Union and Canada’s Central Council of the Confederation of National Trade Unions. The United Electrical Workers Union became the first major U.S. national trade union to adopt BDS.
The Palestine Solidarity Collective petition against the New York state “enemies list” bill has been signed by organizations including Labor for Palestine, the International Action Center, Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
Why is the American Federation of Teachers promoting Israeli apartheid?
Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Thu, 03/26/2015 – 19:23
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten led a propaganda tour to Israel and uses her union to push J Street’s anti-Palestinian-rights agenda. (Flickr)
The Israel lobby group J Street has just wrapped up its annual conference in Washington, DC.
The prevailing mood of alarm and despair in the wake of Israel’s election was captured by keynote speaker Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.5 million-strong American Federation of Teachers (AFT) trade union.
“This is a difficult moment for those of us who believe in the ideal of Jews and Palestinians living side by side, in two states, with real rights, and with security,” Weingarten lamented.
She lambasted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “last-ditch effort to retain power.” It was, she said, “both painful and pitiful – just days after thousands of us went to Selma to honor those brutally beaten fighting to exercise the right to vote – to watch Netanyahu renounce the two-state solution and demonize Israel’s Arab citizens for exercising their basic democratic rights.”
Weingarten fretted about a status quo that “threatens the future of the State of Israel.” She posited herself as a representative of the reasonable middle in a “vast chasm between those who believe: Israel, right or wrong, and never mind the occupation or democracy; and those who believe: Israel is evil and doesn’t have a right to exist, which then justifies BDS, or worse, violence or terrorism.”
Her attack on BDS – the Palestinian-led campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions – and her attempt to associate it with “violence” and “terrorism,” echoes her earlier condemnation of the American Studies Association for endorsing the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli institutions complicit in occupation and human rights violations.
Weingarten then began to speak about a delegation of AFT officials earlier this year to “Israel and the West Bank” that she traveled on along with J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami.
Weingarten is one of the most influential and high-profile union leaders in the country. But at a time when inner city public school teachers are battling against education cuts and privatization, she is spending her time on advocacy for Israel that has nothing to do with that agenda.
Without consulting her constituents, she is using her union platform to push a Zionist agenda informed by her view that the Israeli occupation army is the sacred and miraculous answer to the Holocaust.
Her address to J Street represented precisely the kind of liberal Zionism that Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf condemned when he appeared on the same stage: full of easy potshots at the bogeyman Netanyahu, but total silence about Israel’s siege and massacres in Gaza.
The AFT president’s speech was not the only involvement of a US teacher’s union in the conference. The J Street program lists the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) as a major donor to the conference.
IFT, which represents more than 100,000 educators and public employees in Illinois and is affiliated with the AFT, ignored repeated requests for comment about the amount of the donation and its purpose.
But here’s a clue: IFT president Dan Montgomery, who serves as a vice-president of the AFT, also went on the junket with Weingarten and Ben-Ami.
Israel lobby’s kinder face
J Street poses as the kinder, gentler face of the Israel lobby, the alternative to hardlineAIPAC. But it is just as adamantly opposed to fundamental Palestinian rights.
For the same reason, J Street opposes the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
It has unyieldingly supported recent Israeli massacres of Palestinians, including the attack on Gaza last summer that killed more than 2,200 people. It has endorsed the Obama administration’s campaign to end all efforts to bring Israeli war criminals to justice.
Neither Weingarten nor Ben-Ami responded to requests for comment about the AFT/J-Street visit to “Israel and the West Bank.”
But we can gain much insight into the delegation and its pernicious politics from this ten-minute video released by AFT to coincide with Weingarten’s appearance at the J Street conference.
Bearing Witness: AFT Leaders Mission to Israel and the West Bank
It opens with Weingarten standing against the backdrop of occupied East Jerusalem and waxing poetic about looking out over “four thousand years of history.”
She enthuses about Israel’s “Declaration of Independence” as a document that embodies Israel’s supposed egalitarian, open and democratic spirit. (This is the same document that historian Ilan Pappe describes in the current issue of The Link as “window dressing aimed at safeguarding Israel’s future international image and status” from the reality of ethnic cleansing and apartheid.)
With uplifting music playing throughout, the video reproduces almost every conceivable trope of what Palestinians condemn as normalization.
There is a relentless insistence on “dialogue” and heart-warming singing groups and schools bringing Arab and Jewish children together. There is constant chatter about “both sides,” obscuring the enormous power imbalance between a nuclear-armed, US-backed military occupation engaged in industrial-scale colonization, and a nearly defenseless, impoverished, occupied and disposessed people.
The American delegates are presented as caring innocents who just want to make a difference.
J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami (far right) with AFT president Randi Weingarten and Illinois Federation of Teachers president Dan Montgomery (fifth and sixth from right, respectively) with other members of the AFT delegation and Dalia Rabin (center) at the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv. (via Facebook)
PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, defines normalization as: “cultural activities, projects, events and products involving Palestinians and/or other Arabs on one side and Israelis on the other … that are based on the false premise of symmetry/parity between the oppressors and the oppressed or that assume that both colonizers and colonized are equally responsible for the ‘conflict.’”
Such activities, PACBI states, “are intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible forms of normalization that ought to be boycotted.”
PACBI is not opposed to all contact between Israelis and Palestinians, but says context and politics are critical.
It welcomes “co-resistance” activities in which “the Israeli party in the project recognizes the comprehensive Palestinian rights under international law” corresponding to the rights set out in the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions: an end to occupation, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and full respect of the rights of Palestinian refugees.
But even when the AFT video documents delegates being shown some of the most brutal aspects of the occupation, it is overlaid with an anesthetizing, normalizing fog.
The delegates are seen on a tour of Hebron, led not by Palestinians who live there but by an Israeli Jew from the group Breaking the Silence. They witness the emptiness of Shuhada Street, once the bustling heart of the Old City, but forbidden to Palestinians by the occupation army.
One AFT delegate says the situation in Hebron is “symbolic of the distrust on both sides.” But what former UN Special Rapporteur and international jurist John Dugard has documented in Hebron is an Israeli-imposed regime he explicitly likens to the apartheid that existed in his native South Africa.
This episode, like the rest of the video, deceptively presents occupier and occupied as equally vulnerable and equally responsible.
Erasing Gaza massacre
The only exception is when Israelis are shown as the victims of Palestinians.
“We went to a community right along the Gaza Strip,” Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery explains.
He talks about how “when fighting broke out in Gaza,” Israelis living in the area got fifteen-second warnings of rocket strikes. “And you’re frantically trying to find out where your small kids are,” he adds.
As he speaks, the video lingers on Israeli elementary school children. It then shows how many “safe places” – bomb shelters – they have.
This Israeli-centric view regularly instilled in participants of hasbara, or propaganda, tours completely ignores the 900,000 children – half the total population imprisoned in the Gaza Strip under Israeli siege – who have no shelters.
There is no mention of the UN schools repeatedly bombed during Israel’s attack, as they served as makeshift shelters, killing children and their families.
Neither is there any mention of Israel’s relentless ceasefire violations and attacks on Gaza, before and after the summer massacre.
Palestinians in Gaza are invisible, not a subject of concern for AFT or for J Street.
Weingarten made no mention of them in her speech, except, like the video, as a threat to Israelis.
Palestinians: visible but absent
The AFT delegates, however, do remind us repeatedly that they met and spoke to Palestinians in many places in the West Bank – an assertion meant to deliver an impression of even-handedness.
But in the film all the analysis and framing is given by Israeli and American Jews. No Palestinian is seen or heard providing analysis or bearing witness to Israeli crimes.
At one point, J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami is seen lecturing to the group. In the background is a slide showing relative population figures of Arabs and Jews – the “demographic threat” supposedly posed by Palestinian births is a particular obsession of liberal Zionists.
Scholars Mayssoun Sukarieh and Stuart Tannock have termed AFT’s US-funded teacher training programs in the Middle East “labor imperialism” that serves “US government foreign policy interests in maintaining and extending American control and influence over the region.”
At the same time, the video suggests AFT is encouraging normalization between Palestinian and Israeli teachers’ groups.
Towards the end of the video, there is a sanitized segment on how the Nakba – the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine – is commemorated at Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand School, one of a tiny number of mixed Jewish-Palestinian schools.
Jewish and Palestinian students and teachers briefly speak about how difficult it is. A Palestinian teacher talks about how she teaches the history from “both sides.”
A Palestinian girl says that Nakba Day “reminds us that we need to move on and not just stick to the past and all the bad things that happened.”
The message is clear: forget about the past, and forget about its present – the unfulfilled rights of millions of Palestinian refugees.
But forgetting is only a prescription for Palestinians, never for Jews.
After the visit to Palestine, Weingarten and the rest of the AFT delegation went to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland – and this is featured in the video.
The lesson of Auschwitz, Weingarten explains, is “Never forget. You can’t combat hate and prejudice if you forget.”
Using the Holocaust
The inclusion of Auschwitz in a video on the situation in Palestine seems calculated to send the not so subtle message that whatever is happening to Palestinians is dwarfed morally and in scale by the Holocaust.
In her address to J Street, Weingarten made the connection clear, using the Holocaust – or Shoah – as a rhetorical device to justify Zionism and whitewash and elevate the Israeli state to a sacred principle and manifest destiny.
She intersperses this passage with “dayenu” – a word taken from the Passover ritual meaning roughly “it would have sufficed for us”:
For our ancestors, if we had said: There will be a Jewish state – for the 6 million who died in the Shoah, there is now a homeland where more than six million Jews live – they would have said, “Dayenu.” A state with a powerful military. Dayenu. A vigorous economy. Dayenu. A proud democracy. Dayenu.
Here, Weingarten really lays out her cards. Her interactions with and ostensible concern for Palestinians are nothing but a liberal cover for Jewish nationalism. In the end she represents the Israeli army as the answer to the Holocaust – a classic Netanyahu talking point.
In addition to Weingarten, Montgomery and Ben-Ami, the delegation included Ted Kirsch, president of AFT Pennsylvania; Dennis Kelly, president of United Educators of San Francisco; Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers; Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, leader of Congregation Simchat Beit Torah in New York; Louis Malfaro, an AFT vice-president and an officer of Texas AFT; Ruby Newbold, an AFT vice-president and vice-president of AFT Michigan and Patricia Keefer, AFT’s director of international affairs.
AFT’s sordid history
A little history is useful to put the AFT’s support for Israel and for the anti-Palestinian rights agenda of J Street in perspective.
During the decades of the Cold War, AFT functioned as an arm of US imperialism and foreign policy, particularly in Latin America.
The union’s leaders, foremost among them Albert Shanker, its president from 1974 to 1997, formed close alliances with the CIA and other US government agencies. Their mission was to stem the influence of communism by creating politically amenable US-sponsored international labor organizations. In the process they helped divide and destroy the trade union movements in many countries.
AFT was central to a nexus of organizations doing such work, including the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), the US-financed organization sponsored by the AFL-CIO labor federation. AIFLD notoriously worked closely with the CIA and the US embassy to destabilize Chile and instigate Pinochet’s 1973 coup.
This quotation from Selden suggests that much of the international activity undertaken by Shanker and like-minded associates was motivated by a desire to advance Israel’s interests:
The whole AIFLD, CIA, AFT, AFL-CIO and Social Democrats USA web of relationships is complicated by the Israel problem. American Jews are understandably concerned for the future of Israel, and rightly or wrongly they consider the policy of the Soviet Union to be anti-Israel, at least in its effect. This in turn leads many Israeli supporters to condone activities of the interlocking defense-intelligence labor establishment which they otherwise would indignantly denounce. It is hard to take a balanced view of such an emotional problem.
Democracy’s Champion, a book published by the AFT’s Albert Shanker Institute to honor Shanker’s legacy, confirms that his Zionism was a strong motivation throughout his life and leadership, turning the union into a perfect tool for both Israel and US imperialism.
Soon after he took office, for instance, Shanker appointed AFT staffer Eugenia Kemble to join AFL-CIO delegations to the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO). One of Kemble’s “main tasks,” according to Democracy’s Champion, “was to help defeat the anti-Israel resolutions that arose quite regularly at ILO conferences.” Kemble received the “Israel State Medal” for her efforts.
During the 1970s, the AFT regularly adopted resolutions pledging staunch support for Israel. A 1974 resolution railed against the UN for voting to allow Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat to address the General Assembly.
“Not even the terrorists’ most ardent supporters seriously envision the wolf turning into a lamb,” the resolution states, before asserting, “We stand firm with the State of Israel and her heroic people, Jews, Arabs and Christians alike.”
Similarly, a 1976 resolution called Israel “our only remaining sister democracy in the Middle East” and “a cornerstone of America’s defense against the spread of totalitarian movements and military dictatorship into the Mediterranean and the Middle East.”
In 2006, the AFT adopted a resolution fully supporting that year’s invasion of Lebanon, during which Israel killed more than 1,200 civilians and deliberately destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure.
It was not without opposition, however. “The delegates narrowly passed this resolution after heated debate,” wrote AFT San Francisco Local 2121 member and past president Allan Fisher in a letter published by the The Boston Globe.
According to Fisher, “half the delegates on the convention floor vigorously opposed this resolution because it does not call for a ceasefire and makes no criticism whatsoever of Israel’s unjust and brutal behavior.”
Michael Letwin, co-convener of the solidarity group Labor for Palestine, says that despite the complicity of union leaderships like the AFT’s, rank-and-file labor is playing a growing role in the Palestinians’ struggle to regain all their rights.
“That is why BDS is championed by the Congress of South African Trade Unions and numerous other trade unionists around the world, including dockworkers on the US West Coast who refuse to handle Israeli Zim line cargo, and UAW 2865 at the University of California,” Letwin told The Electronic Intifada.
“Weingarten and other US labor leaders must end their longstanding complicity with apartheid Israel, and support a free Palestine, from the river to the sea, with equal rights for all,” he added.
The support for Israel may be rooted in the AFT’s history but it is also symptomatic of the approach Weingarten takes to politics and power today when it comes to the union’s core mission.
The strike by the AFT-affiliated Chicago Teachers Union the following September was seen as a model and inspiration for educators across the US facing neoliberal “reform” and privatization agendas.
Chicago has long been ground zero for the assault on public education, especially stealth privatization through the creation of charter schools. In 2013, Emanuel announced the closure of dozens of schools, overwhelmingly in long-neglected African American neighborhoods.
Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, was tipped as a possible challenger to Emanuel for mayor, but declined to run for health reasons.
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.”
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.
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UAW 2865 Joint Council: Statement of Endorsement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions
from the Joint Council of UAW Local 2865
November 20, 2014
At their July meeting, the Joint Council of UAW 2865, the UC Student-Workers’ Union, voted to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and to call for a full membership vote to be held on this issue. The statement below was passed by the Joint Council at their October meeting in order to clarify why they view BDS as a labor movement issue.
This September, a coalition of organizations in Gaza issued a renewed call for trade unions and other organizations throughout the world to divest from Israel as a non-violent means of putting pressure on the Israeli state to end its ongoing violations of the human rights of Palestinians. Of the twenty Palestinian organizations that signed on to the call, at least eight were trade unions, including the Palestinian University Teachers Union. A previous call was issued in July by most of the same organizations, amidst a series of particularly deadly attacks on Palestinian civilians by the Israeli government. The six-week long assault left over 2000 Palestinians murdered by Israeli forces, and the Gaza Strip devastated, its material infrastructure crippled and people’s lives and livelihoods destroyed. The Israeli assault on Gaza is the latest in decades of ongoing violence and oppression against Palestinians.
We believe that violations of human rights anywhere in the world should concern working people everywhere. In light of the Israeli state’s assault on Gaza this summer, the statewide Joint Council of our union, UAW 2865, the UC Student-Workers Union, endorsed the call for Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) and made public its intention to call a full membership vote on this issue during the school year.
In the United States, efforts to support the Palestinian trade union movement’s call for divestment have been led by Labor for Palestine. In addition to our local union, North Carolina’s Public Service Workers Union (UE Local 150) has also endorsed the call for divestment. Several labor coalitions, including Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace and Justice, New York Labor against the War, and the Filipino Workers Association signed Labor for Palestine’s founding statement. Members of ILWU Local 10 have taken important leadership on this issue by respecting a community picket set up this summer outside the Port of Oakland to boycott Zim, an Israeli shipping line. The call for BDS is also supported by growing numbers of officers and rank-and-file members in numerous other union locals around the country.
Labor for Palestine activists demonstrate at the Israeli Consulate in NYC in solidarity with the dock actions on the West Coast.
Outside of the United States, the Palestinian call for BDS has seen wide and growing support in the labor movement, including by several unions in the UK and Ireland, UNITE New Zealand, CUPE in Canada, COSATU in South Africa and many dockworker unions around the world, among others. In addition to joining the call for BDS, trade unionists from many sectors have been active in Block the Boat activities in ports around the world, including this summer in Oakland.
BDS is not the first social justice effort that looks beyond the primary economic and representational activities of the union. For example, in recent years, campus units and our statewide local have issued statements and taken actions in support of divestment from fossil fuels, the Occupy movement, immigrant rights, justice for Trayvon Martin, the South African Marikana miners and the Chilean student movement, among others. Labor unions, including our own national union, the United Auto Workers, were active in the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s.
It is our right and responsibility to engage in political expression on the critical issues of our time. Many American labor unions actively opposed the military dictatorship in Chile during the 1970’s and 1980’s and played a key role in supporting the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. In fact, our own national union, the UAW, played a particularly critical role in leading the labor movement’s divestment campaign to end apartheid in South Africa. Additionally, union members in the United States have been active in the global anti-sweatshop movement and numerous other targeted campaigns against labor rights abuses around the world.
Labor activists oppose Israeli state policy toward the Palestinian people on human rights grounds. We condemn unequivocally Israeli state violence against the civilian population in Gaza and the West Bank and the denial of basic citizenship rights to Palestinians living in Israel and the denial of Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes and lands as stipulated in U.N. Resolution 194 and numerous other U.N. resolutions. As trade unionists, we additionally express our concern with the ways in which the Israeli occupation enables widespread violations of labor rights such as the right to organize and the hyper-exploitation of Palestinian workers by Israeli employers. As academics, we condemn the denial of academic freedom to Palestinian scholars and students under conditions of Israeli occupation. We are also acting in solidarity with Palestinian members of our own union who have been personally impacted by the Israeli occupation and assault on Gaza.
Finally, the union’s motivation in responding to Palestinian trade unionists’ call for boycott and divestment is to oppose all forms of racism, which include anti-Semitism and anti-Arab racism. We reiterate that while we condemn anti-Semitic and bigoted hate speech, criticism of Israeli state policy is not anti-Semitic; it is principled human rights activism and protected political expression. Many Jewish and Israeli individuals from around the world, including from among our own membership, have echoed the call for justice in Palestine, and we support their right to free speech and adoption of a political position divergent from the Israeli state’s.
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.
UAW 2865 is a statewide union representing 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and readers. The union will be holding a full membership on BDS on December 4.
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Michael Letwin, staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society and member of Labor for Palestine discussing the relationship between BDS and Labor organizing.
Pro-Palestinian student groups on the UC Berkeley campus continue their efforts to intensify the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions(BDS) Movement, as many Palestinians are still suffering from the devastation wrought by the Israeli government’s deployment of Operation Protective Edge—the ceaseless 50 day bombardment of Gaza Strip (from July 8th to August 26th) that claimed the lives of over 2,140 Palestinian civilians, injured around 11,000 others, and destroyed approximately 42,000 houses. Israel’s blockade of Gaza Strip renders Palestinians destitute of the resources needed to rebuild their homes, to restore the infrastructure of their livelihoods, and to provide adequate medical care and sustenance for thousands of displaced families.
On Wednesday, November 12th, the UAW 2865 BDS Caucus hosted a panel discussion among graduate student workers and labor union organizers to illuminate the significance of Labor organizing in BDS, to stress the exigencies of worker participation in BDS as part of an international solidarity movement against colonial occupation, and to encourage members of the graduate student union to vote yes on the UAW 2865 Ballot Initiative to join the BDS Movement on December 4th. This resolution calls on the University of California System and UAW International to divest from companies complicit in Israeli occupation of Palestine and calls on the US government to cease aid to Israel until it complies with international law.
Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC)
“It’s a good reminder of where and how our struggle began. It was shaped by Labor. It was shaped by peasants, and it was led by workers. Disrupting the economy was the way in which they started the fight.”
Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), provided a historical synopsis of the relationship between organized labor and the Palestinian liberation struggle. She explained how early resistance mobilizations even before the state of Israel was established—such as the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt against British colonial rule—were peasant-led uprisings. As the steady influx of settler immigrants systemically displaced indigenous families and forced them into poverty, peasant workers organized a year-long strike and boycott of British imported goods. According to Kiswani, actions such as this strike reveals the extent to which the historical legacy and continued efficacy of BDS tactics are rooted in organized labor efforts. Kiswani mentions that this historical survey of Palestinian resistance demonstrates the inseparability of labor from liberation politics:
Clarence Thomas, a long time member of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU)
Clarence Thomas, a long time member of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), shared his own insights as a veteran of ILWU solidarity organizing against projects of imperialist conquest and colonial occupation. He explained how the recent Block-the-Boat mobilizations against the Israeli shipping line, Zim, are a continuation of a rich 80 year tradition of labor organizing. He described how a community-organized picket line stopped the shipment of brass and nickel to Italy in 1935, when Italy invaded Ethiopia, and how another community blockade stopped the delivery of scrap iron to Japan In 1939 when Japan invaded Manchuria. Thomas went on to emphasize the significant role of organized Labor in the United States in challenging systems of colonial oppression all around the world.
“When you have international Labor solidarity actions, that means that workers in some part of the world are making a sacrifice, because solidarity is not an empty slogan. It means something.”
Michael Letwin, staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society and member of Labor for Palestine, echoed this sentiment and emphasized how active participation in organized Labor mobilizations – combined with consumer consciousness on the part of people living in the United States – is inextricably linked to the life outcomes of Palestinian people by virtue of the U.S. government’s subsidy of the Israeli military. He states that:
“Palestine clearly is a Labor issue—it’s a union issue—as any anti-colonialist, racial justice, or human rights issue should be. Because the most fundamental principle of Labor is that injury to one is an injury to all. So, it shouldn’t be a big leap to figure out why Palestine is a Labor issue.”
In an interview conducted after the discussion segment, David McCleary, graduate student in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Department and organizer with the UAW BDS Caucus, explained how the UAW 2865 Ballot Initiative to join the BDS movement is an unprecedented gesture of democratization. All that is required for the endorsement to pass is a 50% plus one majority vote by the 83 elected members of the Joint Council, however, the Union has extended the process to a membership vote that will allow for the 13,000 rank-and-file union members across all of the University of California campuses to vote on the issue. David goes on to explain the imperatives for graduate students to vote “yes:”
“It’s about ending our complicity as union workers, as graduate students. It’s [about] ending our complicity with the oppression in Palestine. It’s about ending this global system of oppression, its not just about Palestine. The oppression in Palestine is connected to the oppression in our communities in Oakland and we need to fight this system of oppression in a wholesale way.”
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