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June 26, 2016 6:11 am

Successful Appeal Against NYU Grad Student BDS Motion Has Great Implications in Fight Against Global Anti-Israel Movement, Say Leaders of Campaign

avatar by Lea Speyer

The NYU campus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The NYU campus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A successful appeal against New York University’s (NYU) Graduate Student Union’s (GSOC) motion in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has great implications in the fight against the global anti-Israel movement, students who led the appeal campaign told The Algemeiner on Friday.

Ilana Ben-Ezra and Samuel Zerin — members of GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine — said they applaud United Auto Workers International’s (UAW) decision against empowering the April GSOC BDS motion, which they claimed violated the UAW’s constitutional bylaws. UAW is the parent union of the Graduate Student Union.

According to UAW, GSOC’s BDS resolution “is contrary to the position of the International Union.” Citing as precedents two recent rulings by the UAW’s International Executive Board and Public Review Board nullifying similar BDS motions at the University of California, UAW declared GSOC’s resolution void of “force or effect.” As a result, UAW-affiliated unions at over 15 universities are prohibited from supporting BDS.

Zerin said that what was most interesting about UAW’s decision is that “the International UAW actually did not nullify the resolution. Rather, it declared that the resolution was already null and void because GSOC never had the authority to pass it in the first place.”

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Both Ben-Ezra and Zerin told The Algemeiner they were not surprised by GSOC’s decision to support the global anti-Israel movement. According to Ben-Ezra, what really disappointed her was that “my fellow graduate students had failed to engage in meaningful dialogue about the Middle East, and that our union was straying from its primary purpose of fighting for graduate student workers rights.”

For Zerin — who said he “felt betrayed by my classmates” — GSOC’s decision came at an ironic time in his life. “I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was in Jerusalem, of all places, for my PhD research, when all of this was happening. It felt so ironic to be coordinating the counter-BDS campaign from Israel. It was painful and yet so perfect and fulfilling, and especially so ‘right’ when I finally cast my ballot online against BDS from my apartment in Jerusalem.”

“I guess you can say my body was in the East, but my heart was in the West — with my classmates in New York,” he said.

When news of the BDS motion broke, Ben-Ezra said she and fellow like-minded students who oppose BDS “were prepared in advance and took appropriate action against the motion.” According to Zerin, within days, “putting aside our political arguments and focusing on union policy,” GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine submitted its appeal.

“I read our union’s constitution, our ethical practices codes, the bylaws for both our local and our unit, as well as our union contract with NYU. As I did so, the number of violations just kept piling up and piling up. It was unbelievable to me – yet also totally predictable – that the BDS referendum violated our union policies in so many ways,” he told The Algemeiner.

USW appeal decision courtesy of GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine.

USW appeal decision letter courtesy of GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine.

Zerin believes the UAW decision is making a “strong moral statement.”

“GSOC’s BDS resolution is null and void not because its wording or demands violate a clause of our union’s constitution, but because the union opposes BDS itself. That’s really powerful. This isn’t just about NYU. It’s about every UAW-affiliated union, and it’s about BDS itself,” he said.

While UAW’s decision is a major setback for the BDS movement, Ben-Ezra said she applauds UAW International “for taking a strong stand against BDS but I unfortunately do not believe that it will prevent the movement from finding other avenues for expressing itself. I believe that UAW’s public stance and ruling that BDS is discriminatory sends a strong message to bystanders about what BDS implies, but BDS supporters will remain undeterred.”

According to prominent legal expert Kenneth Marcus — president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law who is currently battling pro-BDS academic institutions in court — GSOC’s resolution is “another example of BDS advocates disregarding the rules.”

“In this case, they are breaking the rules of an organization that will not be messed with: the UAW union. The UAW had already ruled against BDS and it was foolish of a UAW-affiliated student union to think that this didn’t apply to them,” he told The Algemeiner.

Based on its prior rulings, UAW made its position on BDS “crystal clear,” Marcus said, adding that its opposition to BDS was “interestingly for a distinctive reason, because it would harm American corporations that do business with Israel and that also employ UAW and other union members, such as Boeing, Caterpillar and General Electric. The UAW understand that BDS is bad for American workers because it is bad for American companies.”

“The graduate students at the UAW-affiliated student union should have understood that their union’s ruling applies to them, too,” Marcus stated. “It’s about time that the grown-ups step in. The UAW should be commended for their wise and just and decision.”

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