Union-led BDS Campaign at University of California Accused of ‘Discrimination’ as December 4 Vote Nears
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists at the University of California will seek to escalate their campaign against Israel’s existence next week, with a union chapter representing 13,000 mainly graduate workers scheduled to vote on a resolution on whether they should join the “global BDS movement.”
Members of United Automobile Workers 2865, a union comprised principally of teaching assistants at nine University of California campuses, will be presented with a ballot paper this Thursday, December 4, asking whether they should “join the global movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, until such time as Israel has complied with international law and respected the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and all Palestinians refugees and exiles.”
The wording of the resolution, which centers on the so-called “right of return” for the descendants of Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war – code for the elimination of Israel as a sovereign state – is consistent with the declarations of BDS movement leaders like Omar Barghouti, a Tel Aviv University graduate student who has proclaimed that the BDS movement opposes “a Jewish state in any part of Palestine… [only] a sellout Palestinian would accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”
The foundation for the resolution was laid in July, at the height of Israel’s war against Hamas terrorists in Gaza, when the UAW 2865 Joint Council declared its intention “to support our Palestinian counterparts.”
According to informedgrads.org, a group of union members opposed to the BDS motion, the Joint Council has demonstrated utter contempt for basic democratic procedures. UAW 2865 is, the group says, “already sponsoring BDS and anti-Israel activities without waiting for the vote,” engaging in such activities as attending and endorsing anti-Israel demonstrations, including the violent blockade of Israeli ships docking at the port in Oakland. Additionally, around $50,000 of union money has already been spent on promoting the BDS campaign, prompting informedgrads.org to protest at the “redirecting of political capital that should be used to push our university administrators to improve our working conditions.”
“The UC administration is not required to consider these calls for boycotts and divestment, and they have unequivocally stated that they oppose such actions,” the group adds.
While previous BDS initiatives on American campuses have been led by student bodies, anti-boycott activists point out that the current battle at the University of California is different, since it involves a labor union. The Amcha Initiative, an organization defending the rights of Jewish students, sent a strongly worded letter to University of California President Janet Napolitano stating that “we are greatly concerned that these union members, who are responsible for instructing undergraduate students on 9 UC campuses, will bring their unscholarly, politically-motivated and antisemitic propaganda and advocacy into UC classrooms, where it certainly does not belong.”
Such activities are likely a violation of university rules. “Teaching undergraduate students one-sided propaganda which falsely alleges that Israel is a ‘settler colonial’ and ‘apartheid’ state worthy of elimination and promoting an antisemitic boycott of Israel do not constitute education but unabashed political indoctrination, which is expressly forbidden by the UC Regents in their Policy on Course Content (also known as the Regents Policy on Academic Freedom,)” the Amcha letter said.
A recent Inside Higher Ed report on the UAW 2865 campaign observed that “while some education-related unions in Europe and the Middle East have signed on to the boycott, none in the U.S. have done so, and the American Federation of Teachers recently opposed it as stifling to academic freedom and intellectual engagement.”
In the United Kingdom, where the clash over the academic boycott has raged since 2005, the University and College Union (UCU) has been the main vehicle for boycott initiatives.
“Our experience is that treating Israelis as being exceptionally deserving of boycott imports antisemitic ways of thinking and feeling into a trade union,” David Hirsh, a British academic and the founder of the anti-boycott group Engage, told The Algemeiner. “It sets up a fight with most Jewish members, it puts them in the dock and requires them to answer for Israel. It also disempowers those who fight for a politics of peace and reconciliation, while empowering those who want to flag wave for a victory of one nation over the other.”
Jonathan Kummerfeld, an academic based in the Computer Science department at UC Berkeley and a prominent member of informedgrads.org, told The Algemeiner that reaching out to the vast majority of undecided UAW 2865 members was key to defeating the BDS proposal.
“All the information from the union has been pro-BDS, but I think we’ve made a lot of progress and we have a good chance of winning this,” Kummerfeld said.
Kummerfeld said that the “real goal” of the BDS resolution “is to justify the opinion of some of the members of the leadership that this should be a core part of our union activity.” He expressed concern that the passage of the resolution could lead to “institutionalized discrimination” against those who oppose it. Some academic colleagues, Kummerfeld said, are already reluctant to oppose the resolution out of the fear that doing so could “impact them professionally.”
The success of the BDS resolution would negatively impact UAW 2865’s relationship with the rest of the labor movement, Kummerfeld predicted. As evidence, he cited a November 4 letter signed by Randy Cammack and Rome A. Aloise of the powerful Teamsters union that was sent to Michelle Glowa, the president of UAW 2865. The Teamsters, the letter declared, “cannot conceive of an action more hostile to the interests of our members and more antithetical to the most basic principles of the union movement,” and warned: “We would find it difficult to ask our members to support your union in a labor dispute with the University of California so long as you are engaged in activities that are fundamentally hostile to their interests.”