(September 12, 2021, JNS Wire)
StandWithUs is deeply disturbed by the bias and misrepresentations in the AFT Guild Local 1931 statement. Simply writing “we’re not antisemites” does not eliminate the antisemitic nature and impact of this statement, which at its core denies Israel’s right to self-defense, and the Jewish peoples’ right to decide what constitutes antisemitism.
As we have seen in recent months, dehumanizing campaigns targeting Israel, are anything but harmless. Anti-Israel narratives fueled a shocking spike in hate crimes against Jewish communities across the United States, including assault, vandalism, and harassment. As a result, too many teachers and students now question if they are safe and welcome in the places where they work, study and live. This statement only adds more fuel to the fire.
Unfortunately, instead of uplifting both Palestinians and Israelis and encouraging a just and peaceful solution, statements like these seek to perpetuate the conflict. Ignoring terrorism by Iran backed Hamas, for example, including the launching of thousands of rockets and missiles towards Israeli schools, playgrounds and hospitals, gives a dangerous free pass to deadly acts of terror that will only serve to sustain the conflict.
One sided narratives do great harm by exacerbating divisions and hatred within unions. Teachers across the United States have spoken up against harmful statements like this, as they undermine efforts to advocate for students, build bridges with parents and communities, and protect public education.
Academic integrity and historical accuracy are crucial to public education and this statement ignores crucial evidence-based historical context. For example, terms like “ethnic cleansing and apartheid” misrepresent and dehumanize Israelis, incite hatred, and have no connection to the facts. While violence between Israelis and Palestinians has caused immense suffering for both peoples, the populations of both groups have increased dramatically since the conflict began and continue to grow.
Moreover, Israel’s founding document as a democracy established a legal system to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.” In fact, it is one of only two free countries in the Middle East according to the human rights group Freedom House. Israel’s society is made up of people from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East. Like all multi-ethnic democracies, Israel’s laws are meant to eradicate—not institutionalize—discrimination and disenfranchisement.
Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza do not constitute apartheid either. Israel has never annexed the West Bank or Gaza, and Palestinians are not Israeli citizens. They have their own governments and leaders: Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Most importantly, most Palestinians do not want to be part of the Jewish state. They want to have their own state which fulfils their legitimate aspirations to nationhood and self-determination. This was made clear after 1967, when Israel offered Palestinians in East Jerusalem full citizenship but nearly all of them refused for political reasons. Subsequently Palestinian leaders have rejected several attempts at peace and self-determination. Thus, Israel is still in the West Bank primarily because Palestinian leaders have rejected peace offers, and not because Israelis seek to maintain any system of oppression.
The Sheikh Jarrah unresolved legal case is another inflammatory mischaracterization. This is echoed in the AFT Local 1931 statement that “the recent forced removal of Palestinian civilians from homes they occupied in Shaikh Jarrah” is part of a pattern of disenfranchising Palestinians. Yet, no home evictions have taken place; the court delayed the decision on numerous occasions; and the Prime Minister has spoken out against the eviction case.
Finally, while Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has the right to voice its opinions, the organization does not speak for the wider Jewish community. Using a tiny minority of Jews to delegitimize the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, adopted by over 30 democratic nations, including the United States, and invalidate the voices of the vast majority is a clear example of tokenization. This tactic is unacceptable when it targets other communities and it should not be acceptable when it targets Jews.
IHRA does not prevent criticism of Israel. It acknowledges that for most Jews, Israel is a fundamental part of their ethnic and ancestral heritage identity and religious practice. Inflammatory hateful speech about Israel harms Jews around the world.
Sadly, the contents of the AFT Local 1931’s statement is a clear example of the definition and real-life forms of antisemitism outlined by IHRA.
If the union is going to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it should bring people together, humanize Israelis and Palestinians, support fact-based education, uplift diversity of perspectives, and promote mutual understanding.