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April 14, 2016 7:26 pm

U Mass Amherst Faculty Offer Last-Ditch Opposition to BDS Before Conclusion of Grad School Union Vote

avatar by Andrew Pessin

University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Photo: Website

University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Photo: Website

A half-dozen faculty members at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMass) published a letter in the student newspaper Thursday criticizing a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution currently being voted on by the school’s graduate student union, The Algemeiner has learned.

“It is frankly shocking,” the faculty letter states, “that UMass students have put this up for a union vote.”

A faculty member who preferred to remain anonymous told The Algemeiner that in endorsing BDS, “The resolution essentially calls for the destruction of the sole Jewish state in the world, not to mention the only democracy in the region that strongly protects the rights of its minorities.”

The letter argues that BDS resolutions “blame one side entirely for a complex historical conflict,” and “encourage polarization by stigmatizing any engagement or affiliation with Israel.” It further states:

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They impose one partisan view of a complex situation on the whole organization as a kind of ‘loyalty oath.’ To be a member of the graduate student union, this resolution suggests, one must stand against Israel … Jews are welcome so long as they reject the Jewish state in the way the BDS movement does (or at least keep quiet about it).

The resolution under consideration by the union, the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO), calls for BDS to be maintained until Israel “ends its occupation of the Palestinian territories and dismantles the Wall,” as well as “protects the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.”

“That is all code for destroying Israel,” the anonymous faculty member said. “They don’t specify which ‘territories,’ so as to include 1948 Israel, and of course demanding that 5 million ‘refugees’ return — where exactly would the current Jewish citizens go? Would only Jews have to leave, or also the 20% of the Israeli population which is Arab?”

The resolution proposes specifically that the GEO should: call on UMass to divest from Israel and from corporations “complicit in” Israel’s “oppression of the Palestinian people;” join other “labor, academic and cultural organizations” in calling for the end of US military aid to Israel; and call on numerous other organizations to join the BDS movement.

It closes with a disclaimer that the GEO is opposed to “all forms of discrimination including discrimination based on race, religion, national origin or ethnicity,” and fully supports “academic freedom for all in the UMass community.”

The faculty letter, to the contrary, insists that the BDS resolution is discriminatory “in its effect, if not its intent,” and reports that its discriminatory nature was “recognized by the United Auto Workers International Board, when, in December 2015, they clearly rejected a similar measure floated by University of California at Los Angeles graduate students.”

The GEO is affiliated with the United Auto Workers (UAW), which makes its policies, like all affiliated unions, ultimately subject to UAW approval, as reported earlier this week by The Algemeiner. Four months ago, UAW overturned a BDS resolution passed by the University of California Graduate Student Union, also affiliated with UAW, on the grounds that the resolution espoused “discrimination and vilification against Israelis and UAW members who are of Jewish lineage,” and could “easily be construed as academic and cultural discrimination against union members on the basis of their national origin and religion.”

The GEO vote is occurring this week, and runs through Friday.

When reached for a comment, the Office of UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy replied that the chancellor had never expressed support for BDS, and referred The Algemeiner to a 2014 statement in which he said,

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is opposed to academic boycotts of any kind. The current boycott of academic institutions in Israel by several academic associations is no exception. While individuals have the right to express their views, we believe that academic boycotts undermine the fundamental principles of free expression and inquiry that are central to our mission of teaching, research and service.

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