Members of two California teachers’ unions affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers are endorsing the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, a sign of the unions’ increasingly hostile relationship with the Jewish community.
United Educators of San Francisco late last month became the first teachers’ union to officially endorse the BDS movement, voting in favor of a resolution that also accused Israel of committing "apartheid and war crimes" and called for a halt to all U.S. aid for Israel. That same day, union leaders for United Teachers Los Angeles passed a resolution expressing their "solidarity with the Palestinian people" with nearly identical demands as the San Francisco teachers.
"As public school educators in the United States of America, we have a special responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people because of the 3.8 billion dollars annually that the U.S. government gives to Israel, thus directly using our tax dollars to fund apartheid and war crimes," the San Francisco teachers wrote in the resolution, which passed on May 19.
Teachers’ unions have grown increasingly political over the past year. United Teachers Los Angeles last July published a report claiming that defunding the police and passing Medicare for All were necessary for safely reopening schools. The American Federation of Teachers last year passed a resolution endorsing the Green New Deal.
Jewish parents in San Francisco objected to the union’s resolution. Ira Gert, an Israeli parent, told the Jewish News of Northern California that she regrets sending her children to San Francisco schools. "I feel like my race and my nation is being singled out in a negative way. It is uncomfortable to be an Israeli here," Gert said. Another parent said the San Francisco union’s resolution "hurts the entire community and society as a whole."
The anti-Israel votes go against past statements from the American Federation of Teachers, which spoke out in 2013 against the push to economically isolate Israel. Randi Weingarten, the union’s president, denounced the National Council of the American Studies Association for boycotting Israeli universities, arguing that it "stifle[s] the intellectual and democratic engagements through which the solutions to our world's most difficult problems spring."
Weingarten has not commented on the BDS votes in California. An AFT spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
The anti-Israel votes come months after Weingarten came under fire for criticizing Jewish parents pushing for schools to reopen. In an April interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Weingarten described those Jewish parents as "part of the ownership class," arguing they were looking to deprive others of opportunity. Weingarten, who is herself Jewish, draws a six-figure salary at the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union.
On May 26, Weingarten introduced a statement on the recent conflict in Gaza to Education International, a group of national teachers’ unions. The statement criticizes Hamas for launching "rockets into civilian centers" but calls Israel’s counterstrikes "unacceptable and unethical."
The same day, Weingarten flew to Israel "to express solidarity and hope with our colleagues and allies, both Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel," according to a Facebook post. On May 29, Weingarten posted that she and her wife had joined a protest outside the home of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In subsequent posts, she appeared to criticize Israeli counterstrikes and blamed Netanyahu for Israel’s problems.
The California unions’ statements condemn Israel in strikingly similar language, accusing Israel of creating "a regime of legalized racial discrimination" and calling on President Joe Biden to end all U.S. aid to the Jewish state.
Both unions’ statements accuse Israel of "directly using our tax dollars to fund apartheid and war crimes" and call on the Jewish state "to end bombardment of Gaza." Neither resolution mentions the Hamas rocket attacks on Jerusalem.
Seth Brysk, the Anti-Defamation League’s San Francisco regional director, criticized United Educators of San Francisco’s "biased and polemical resolution" in a May 26 letter. "The resolution is replete with inflammatory and counterfactual assertions and rhetoric about Israel, including blaming the recent outbreak of violence solely on Israel and questioning Israel’s right to defend itself," Brysk said.
United Teachers Los Angeles leadership on Tuesday worked to distance itself from the resolution. In an unsigned "statement on Middle East conflict" posted to the union’s website, the group says the "motions brought by UTLA members at regional Area meetings are not the official expressed opinions of UTLA or its elected leaders." The statement does not condemn chapter leaders or even mention the BDS movement, which encourages businesses to inflict economic harm on Israel.
Neither California union responded to requests for comment.
The American Federation of Teachers is one of the Democratic Party’s largest backers. The union spent nearly $20 million in the 2020 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Teachers’ unions are not the only groups to endorse the BDS movement in the wake of Hamas attacks on Jerusalem. Student groups at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan last month called for sanctions in letters decrying Israel as an "apartheid state." The push for sanctions comes as a wave of anti-Semitic violence sweeps the United States.