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Labor Solidarity Demands a “No” Vote on Israel Boycott

by Alliance for Academic Freedom (AAF) Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014 at 6:07 PM

The AAF currently consists of over 120 liberal and progressive scholars, affiliated with The Third Narrative, who are dedicated to combating academic boycotts and blacklists, defending freedom of expression and promoting empathy and civility in the debate over Israelis and Palestinians.

As an association of progressive scholars and academics, many of whom are union members and all of whom support the labor movement, the Alliance for Academic Freedom is deeply disturbed that the Joint Council of UAW Local 2865, representing more than 13,000 student-workers across the University of California system, seeks to lend the local’s support to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. We urge our brothers and sisters in UAW Local 2865 to vote “no” on December 4, 2014, in the membership vote on this question.

The internationalism to which the labor movement has proudly and historically been committed does not mean siding with one nationalism against another; it means supporting the progressive and emancipatory forces and opposing the reactionary forces within each nation. Support for the BDS movement constitutes a betrayal of internationalism properly understood, for it fails to distinguish progressive and reactionary elements within Israeli and Palestinian societies. It is for this reason that U.S. labor leaders issued a joint statement in July 2007 denouncing calls by British trade unions for “divestment from and boycotts of Israel.” The signers of the statement included the presidents of the AFL-CIO and more than two dozen major unions, including the steelworkers, autoworkers, teamsters, mine workers and garment workers, as well as the heads of the two most important black labor organizations, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. A decision by UAW Local 2865 to support or join the BDS movement would be internally divisive and place it in opposition to other unions, undermining the solidarity upon which the labor movement depends and without which it cannot be effective.

Moreover, a union of student-workers has an especially good reason to reject the BDS movement: it threatens the vital professional interest of the union’s own members in academic freedom and open intellectual exchange. We believe that boycotts of academic institutions cannot be meaningfully separated from the individuals whom those institutions employ and whom such boycotts inevitably harm; that a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is therefore more accurately described as a blacklist; and that individual scholars should not be punished on the basis of their nationality, political views, or the policies of their employers or governments. A blacklist of Israeli academic institutions also harms student-workers in the University of California system by restricting their academic freedom to work with scholars from other institutions around the world. Such freedom is necessary for the fulfillment of their professional responsibilities as current and future educators and researchers. It is for these reasons that the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors have consistently opposed academic blacklists.

We commend and share the desire of many UAW Local 2865 members to aid their Palestinian colleagues and oppose Israeli occupation of the West Bank. However, we believe that BDS will have perverse consequences, doing economic harm to Palestinians and isolating and weakening Israeli progressives. Furthermore, contrary to the claims of BDS proponents, it is hardly the only means to support Palestinian colleagues and oppose Israeli military occupation. For example, unions can promote these goals by supporting progressive movements and organizations within Israel such as Peace Now and the New Israel Fund, and by joining Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), an organization of unions in countries around the world which in the spirit of genuine internationalism seeks to promote cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.

The labor movement is strongest when working people stand together, not when they are divided by nationality, political views, or the policies of their employers or governments. For these reasons, we appeal to our brothers and sisters in UAW Local 2865 and urge them to vote “no” in the membership vote for joining the BDS movement on December 4, 2014.

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