By Gabriel Greschler
(J. the Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — In an historic endorsement, San Francisco’s teachers union passed a resolution in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
The United Educators of San Francisco, which has 6,200 members, is the first American K-12 union of public school teachers to officially support BDS, although other education and trade unions have done so. The resolution passed on May 19, days before Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire on May 20 after 11 days of fighting. More than 250 Palestinians and 12 Israelis were killed in the conflict.
Ten educators working at several K-12 public schools in San Francisco submitted the BDS measure to their union as one sentence in a broader “Resolution in Solidarity with the Palestinian People.” The 388-word document says Israel is perpetrating the “forced displacement and home demolitions” of Palestinians in Jerusalem and has created “a regime of legalized racial discrimination.” It calls on the Biden administration to end aid to Israel.
The resolution says that, “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 US government gives to Israel, thus directly using our tax dollars to fund apartheid and war crimes.”
The last line of the resolution reads, “Therefore, be it further resolved, that UESF endorse the international campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against apartheid in Israel.”
It also calls for Israel to end its “bombardment of Gaza and stop displacement at Sheikh Jarrah,” referring to the neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem that has become a flashpoint of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The resolution does not mention Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.
In a statement, San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council Executive Director Tyler Gregory called the union’s resolution “factually inaccurate” and “inflammatory” and said it could have a negative effect on Jewish students.
“Rather than supporting all students whose families may be impacted by the conflict, Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, this vote will contribute to Jewish students feeling unsafe and unwelcomed in San Francisco public schools,” he said. “We are committed to fighting for fair and inclusive policies to support Jews and other marginalized communities in public education.”
The union’s president, Susan Solomon, said resolutions are “presented, discussed and debated” by the union’s assembly members. According to the online magazine Tempest, which describes itself on its Facebook page as a “revolutionary socialist organizing project,” four San Francisco union members spoke against the resolution while “about a dozen” spoke in support. The final vote, according to the magazine, was 23 in favor, six opposed and seven abstaining.
A substitute teacher and former union executive vice president, Linda Plack, who is Jewish, offered a substitute resolution that omitted the endorsement of BDS, included a mention of Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and called on President Joe Biden to end the conflict through a ceasefire.
”Therefore, be it resolved, that United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) expresses its solidarity with families in San Francisco who are worried for the safety and security of their friends and relatives in the region,” the substitute resolution read.
According to Jeff Schuhrke, a labor historian and visiting lecturer of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has written in support of teachers unions endorsing BDS, this is the first time since 2016 that any union in America has officially backed the BDS movement.
Other unions to support BDS in the United States include the Industrial Workers of the World; the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers; and graduate workers at the University of California (UAW Local 2865); UMass Amherst (UAW Local 2322); and New York University (UAW 2110), Schuhrke said.
The San Francisco union is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the country. It is not part of the two national unions that represent many local teachers unions. The leader of one of those unions, the American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten, has sought to counter labor support for BDS by promoting progressive Zionism in line with her own Jewish values.
Meanwhile, this week, a New York City public school principal was censured after she urged her staff to support the Palestinian cause, in violation of a rule barring public employees from using city resources to advocate political action. Nearly 1,800 people have signed a petition in her defense that was initiated by a Jewish parent at the school, the New York Post reported Wednesday.