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Teachers’ Union Head Under Fire for Anti-Semitic Comments

Rabbi: Weingarten 'took legitimate criticism of her union’s refusal to go back to work as a way to demonize the Jewish community'

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• April 9, 2021 3:15 pm

Civil rights groups are condemning teachers' union president Randi Weingarten for accusing Jewish Americans of depriving others of opportunity in their bid to reopen schools.

Weingarten has already found herself in the middle of multiple battles over reopening schools since the union she heads, the American Federation of Teachers, pushed back on CDC guidance about physical distancing guidelines in school. Her comments about American Jews unleashed a firestorm of condemnations from groups that accused Weingarten of trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes.

Rabbi Aryeh Spero, president of the Conference of Jewish Affairs, accused Weingarten of "denouncing her own people and inciting others against Jews in order to be the darling of the Left."

"She took legitimate criticism of her union’s refusal to go back to work as a way to demonize the Jewish community. Historically this was labeled ‘scapegoating,'" Spero said. "She understands that today power is achieved by those who scapegoat Jews."

Weingarten made the comments in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency where she responded to a question about the perception that teachers' unions are trying to keep schools closed. She pivoted to criticizing American Jews as part of the "ownership class" who "want to take that ladder of opportunity away from those who do not have it."

Weingarten defended herself against accusations of anti-Semitism by pointing to her marriage to a rabbi. "My entire life is dedicated to promoting Jewish values like tikkun olam (repairing a broken world)," she wrote on Twitter. She also retweeted another rabbi who defended her as "talking about her disappointment when Jews don't support unions."

But her defense was not sufficient for groups that fight anti-Semitism.

"We are nauseated the head of the Teachers' Union has the audacity to spread century-old antisemitic tropes of Jewish dominance and power," Liora Rez, executive director of Stop Antisemitism, said. "While Ms. Weingarten herself is collecting a hefty six-figure salary, the majority of Jewish Americans do not. Her dangerous rhetoric does nothing but provide white supremacists and other antisemites more verbal weaponry to use against Jews at a time when antisemitism is spreading like wildfire in America."

Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, criticized Weingarten for using "identity politics" to target a religious minority.

"Weingarten's comments represent a growing antisemitism within the progressive Left – which spends its days seeking out fictional ideas weaved in identity politics such as ‘ownership class,'" Romirowsky said. "Anti-semitism is a form of racism. Until racism in all of its varieties is no longer tolerated, it will flourish."

The American Federation of Teachers did not respond to a request for comment. The union told the CDC in a letter sent March 23 that the union was "not convinced" about the agency's updated guidance concerning reduced physical distancing in schools. The union put out a press release this week touting high vaccination rates among its members and an increased desire to return to some form of in-person learning.