Hebron, Occupied Palestine – On Tuesday, February 9, Israeli forces patrolled the Palestinian market in occupied al-Khalil (Hebron), harassing and intimidating residents.
A group of soldiers marched through the souq, the main Palestinian market since the closure of Shuhada Street for Palestinians after the Ibrahimi mosque massacre in 1994. Any male adult or youth was stopped on their way to work and forced by the Israeli soldiers to lift up their shirts and trouser-pants, as well as throw their IDs on the ground. After throwing their IDs on the ground Israeli soldiers ordered the men to move back, so they could pick up the IDs from a ‘safe distance’. Most Palestinians were dismissed after this humiliating procedure, whereas some of them were detained for minutes or violently body-searched.
International human rights defenders documenting the Israeli forces violations of basic human rights of Palestinians, were intimidated and harassed by the Israeli soldiers in an attempt to prevent them from documenting. Soldiers took photos of the internationals with their private phones held right in the volunteers faces and as an intmidation tactic ID-checked them.
During the more than one hour patrol Israeli forces repeatedly pointed their assault rifles at the internationals as well as Palestinians.
Not only adults were surprised and shocked by the sudden presence of heavily-armed soldiers right outside their houses, but also children on their way to school and work. Some children, scared by the soldiers, turned around right away after spotting the soldiers and ran back home instead of continuing their way to school or kindergarten. International human rights defenders walked several scared children past the soldiers so they could safely reach their schools and kindergarten.
Jessica Reznicek, 34, an Iowa peace activist, was arraigned yesterday and charged with two felonies for breaking three windows with a sledgehammer at the Northrup Grumman facility outside the Omaha Nebraska Strategic Air Command at Offut Air Force base. After her court appearance she was returned to the Sarpy County Jail where she has remained on $100,000 bond since her action on December 27. Reznicek, who has no plans to post a cash bond, is facing up to twenty years in prison if convicted on both counts. Her trial is set for May 24.
Writing from her jail cell, Reznicek, who has lived and worked at the Des Moines Catholic Worker for years, said she broke the windows as an act of conscience “in an effort to expose the details of the defense contracts currently held by Northrup Grumman with U.S. Strategic Air Command (STRATCOM) at Offutt Air Force Base. Over the years, billions of taxpayer dollars are pouring into the hands of these money-hungry, bomb-building, and computer geek space war criminals.”
Her letter continued, “Yes, glass did shatter. It shattered like the illusion that Northrop Grumman holds human life in any way in its best interest. It shattered like the illusion Iraq ever possessed weapons of mass destruction. It shattered like the illusion Iraqis were involved in 9/11. It shattered like the lie that perpetual war will ever bring peace. Glass shattered in the name of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives taken when Northrop Grumman/STRATCOM’s direct bombs from space rained down upon them from space. I destroyed two windows and a door, yes! STRATCOM with its cooperate partner Northrop Grumman destroys life in the tens of thousands.”
“My intention was to be on the property and to do property destruction, that’s what I wanted to do,” Reznicek told a local television reporter via a jailhouse phone interview. “I didn’t want to hurt anybody. I didn’t want to scare anybody.”
Why Northrup Grumman? Northrup Grumman has been manufacturing weapons and weapon systems for profit for the US government for decades. Its primary customer is the US government which accounts for about 85 percent of its total sales every year. The massive corporation spends $10 to $20 million each year lobbying Congress according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In return it is one of the very top recipients of federal contracts year after year.
In October 2015 Northrup Grumman received the biggest prize of all, a $55 billion contract from the US to build 21 long range strike bombers. According to the Secretary of the Air Force, these bombers will “allow the Air Force to launch an airstrike from the continental US to anywhere in the world.”
USA Today included Northrup Grumman in its list of the ten companies profiting the most from war. The corporation recently reported it generated $2.6 billion in income and earned a profit of 12.9%. Its CEO makes more than $21 million a year. Board members are paid over $250,000 each per year and include several who passed through the revolving door of government like one high-ranking twenty year Democratic member of Congress, a General who was appointed by President Bush to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and an Admiral who was Chief of Naval Operations under President Bush.
Even in jail, Reznicek remains hopeful. “I want to say now that I truly believe that the American people are done with war – done funding, killing and dying in U.S.-led wars and terrorism – and are ready to pave a path to peace.”
“I acted in accordance with my conscience and my spirit and that my property destruction was a useful form of nonviolent direct action. I do not stand in judgment of folks who feel uncomfortable using such methods. Nonetheless, I want to stand beside them, asking them to develop and apply their own means to expose the lies of Northrop Grumman & STRATCOM be it through education, research, writing letters, public discussions, public vigils, rallies and marches and yes, even civil disobedience.
“We all have our part to play. Here in the heartland of America we who seek peace must make efforts to dismantle the U.S. military dominance of space from the top down, by publicly and nonviolently resisting the joint Northrup Grumman and STRATCOM missions.
“This is why I acted. You do not have to act as radically or dramatically as I did, but please make a statement in your own way against government funded companies which focus on war and destruction.
“I’ll sit in jail for as long as I need to if it gets people talking.”
Fran Quigley is clinical professor and director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law.
“Unfortunately today, these neoconservatives whose philosophy is that intellectuals should be in the service of tyrants who rule using big lies and mass murder, have taken over the academy and they don’t belong in the academy,” said Kevin Barrett, who has a Ph.D in Arab and Islamic studies and is one of America’s best-known critics of the so-called war on terror.
“Transparency and freedom are the ideals of the academy; because the neoconservatives reject these ideals, they have no business in the academy” Barrett told Press TV on Monday.
On Saturday, an American female professor at a Christian university who got in trouble after wearing the hijab and saying Muslims and Christians worship the same God has agreed to leave the school.
Wheaton College, located near Chicago, Illinois, and political science professor Larycia Hawkins have reached a confidential agreement in which they will “part ways,” the college said in a statement.
“This seems to be a very strange kind of phenomenon that a professor should not be allowed to teach at a university,” said Barret, who himself was fired from the University of Wisconsin for accusing the US government of being involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“The whole idea is ludicrous but apparently not in Wheaton College, where Islamophobia appears to be mandatory,” he added. “Anyone who doesn’t hate Muslims with all their heart and soul apparently is not welcome to teach at Wheaton College.”
“It’s a disgrace and an outrage and travesty and anybody who cares about freedom in America should head straight to Chicago to protest, to go and occupy the offices of the administration [of Wheaton College] there.”
Was he the great businessman, politician, patriot, and visionary his admirers claim, a man who did more than any other to develop an African continent which in the 19th century was imprisoned behind walls of primitiveness, barbarism, superstition and under-development? Or was he in truth a rampant racist and colonialist, a white supremacist who treated a large swathe of Africa as his personal fiefdom, ruthlessly exploiting its people and resources for personal gain and enrichment?
These are the questions that underpin the contested history not just of Cecil Rhodes but European colonialism and empire in toto.
They are questions that have come to the fore in recent weeks over the campaign by students at Britain’s elite Oxford University to have a statue of Cecil Rhodes removed from the building of one if its colleges – Oriel College, to be precise – on the basis that he was a racist and a colonialist, a slaveholder whose veneration is an insult to the countless millions of Africans who suffered unspeakable exploitation and cruelty under Rhodes in the land he ruled, named after him as Rhodesia, which later became Zimbabwe.
Rhodes and other men like him from across the European continent in the 19th century – colonialists, adventurers, soldiers of fortune, administrators, merchants, etc. – arrived and set about the necessary task of introducing civilization and order to savages who’d only ever known spiritual and cultural desolation. This was their belief and the justification employed to plunder and pillage an entire continent, reducing its people to abject misery and despair while indulging in genocidal brutality and barbarity.
On this basis it is not only the statue of Cecil Rhodes that constitutes an offence to decency and justice. Every second grand statue and monument that litters central London and other British towns and cities are statues and monuments to the brutality of colonialism and empire, dripping in the blood of countless human beings whose only crime was to be born African or Indian or Irish in a period when to be such was to be untermenschen in the eyes of people like Cecil Rhodes and the ruling elites in the societies that produced them.
You would automatically think, then, that a campaign to acknowledge the victims of a man like Rhodes would have no problem in achieving its objectives. Alas, you’d be wrong. For in opposition to the campaign to have the statue removed has come threats from wealthy and not so wealthy members of Oxford University’s alumni to withdraw donations to the university unless the statue stays put.
Rhodes, it should be mentioned, was himself a student at Oxford in the 1870s. Upon his death in 1902 he left money to fund an international scholarship at the university. Among the 8,000 students who have since benefited from a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford are Bill Clinton, Bill Bradley, Naomi Wolf, and Rachel Maddow. By this method his legacy has been ‘whitewashed’, along with the history of colonialism he personifies, especially at traditional institutions such as Oxford University, a pillar of the British establishment where a disproportionate number of its political leaders, leading journalists, newspaper editors, and business leaders have been educated.
It’s not only Britain that has this problem of historical legacy, wherein its economic foundations and with them political, cultural, and educational institutions were built on crimes of genocide, slavery, ethnic cleansing, and colonial exploitation. In the United States we have Andrew Carnegie, who rather than exploit Africans and Africa amassed his wealth out of the brutal exploitation of American workers. Yet today Carnegie, a natural born Scotsman, is known as a great philanthropist whose legacy is embodied in the abundance of trusts, endowments, scholarships, colleges, museums, and cultural establishments that are named after him across the world.
Does his philanthropy excuse the barbarity by which he made his fortune? If the workers at the Homestead Steel Mill in Pennsylvania back 1892 could speak to us today about Andrew Carnegie and his legacy, what do you think they would say?
This is why the controversy surrounding the campaign to have Cecil Rhodes’ statue removed from Oxford is so important. It’s about acknowledging the rights of the victims of empire to a semblance of historical justice by refusing to burnish the legacy of men such as Rhodes today. For those who believe that the past belongs in the past and has no bearing on the present or the future, they are hopelessly deluded when we consider the role of Britain and its establishment in the world today. A colonial and empire view of the world continues to underpin British foreign policy, evidenced in its participation in the war on Iraq in 2003, its participation in the destruction of Libya in 2011, its role in destabilizing Syria and the wider Middle East, and its malign role in maintaining Western hegemony as an economic, geopolitical, and military straitjacket, impeding the development of the Global South abroad and upholding the rights of the rich at home in service to a system of injustice sold to us as liberal democracy.
According to prominent Italian publication L’Espresso, more than 160 Italian academics came out in support of the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The petition, reportedly the first large-scale BDS effort from Italian academia, said it was “a response to the known and well-documented complicity of Israeli academic institutions with Israeli state violence and the total lack of serious condemnation on their part since the foundation of the State of Israel.”
The BDS campaign specifically targeted Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology in Haifa, for its prominent role in the Israeli military-industrial complex, and called on Italian universities to sever ties with the institution.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri welcomed the move on Saturday, saying the petition “illustrates the increasing state of isolation the occupation suffers as a result of its crimes.”
Israel has been struggling to tackle a growing Palestinian-led boycott campaign which has had a number of high-profile successes abroad in both academic and artistic fields.
The BDS movement aims to exert political and economic pressure over Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in a bid to repeat the success of the campaign which ended apartheid in South Africa.
In recent years, some 1,200 academics in Spain, 343 British professors and lecturers and more than 200 South African academics have publicly come out in support of BDS.
The worst worries of a child’s school day should be homework. Maybe a lost book, or an argument with a friend. No child’s walk to school should routinely involve armed soldiers and fear of sometimes being chased and assaulted by angry adults. But for the Palestinian children who live with their families in the small rural villages that make up the South Hebron Hills, this is how the school day begins. Illegal settlements and outposts isolate and separate their villages and soldiers are a constant in their lives.
Once, the trip from the tiny hamlet of Tuba to the school in the village of Tuwani was a calm and beautiful walk along a quiet road connecting the two villages. During the 1980s Israeli settlers built a settlement on privately owned Palestinian land, which had been used to graze sheep and goats. Following construction of the settlement, the settlers established an illegal outpost. Now, industrial chicken barns sit astride the road that once served children walking to school, farmers taking livestock to town, and families traveling to Tuwani, or the larger town of Yatta for health care, shopping, and higher education.
Between the settlement and the outpost, what remains of the road is closed to Palestinians. With one exception – children walk behind an Israeli military jeep to reach their school. Their parents are not allowed to walk with them.
The twenty or so children who make this trip start their school day in an unprotected field, anxiously waiting for the Israeli soldiers who will oversee their walk to school. Villagers had built shelters in which the children could await the soldiers, but Israeli authorities have dismantled every shelter. If it is raining, the children get soaked. Some days the soldiers are the same soldiers who chased or arrested shepherds the day before – shepherds who may be the brothers or fathers of these children. Some days the soldiers are late, leaving the group of children waiting, vulnerable to attack and within easy reach of the outpost. Some days the military escort does not arrive at all, and the children make the trip to school with international volunteers along a longer path, which also lies alongside the settlement.
About 1,000 people live in the neighboring villages, an estimated half of whom are children. Nevertheless, because the villages lie inside of Israeli Firing Zone 918, the military uses the land for military training.
Amazingly, despite all of this, it is almost unheard of for children to miss a day of school. Parents are determined that their children will be educated. When I began volunteering in Tuwani, the school reached only to third grade. Now thanks to the community’s determination to provide their children with education, students can complete high school in the village, and although facing a continued threat of demolition by Israeli military bulldozers, villagers have built and staffed primary schools for children who live in 8 nearby villages.
This is what nonviolent resistance to military occupation looks like.
I’m grateful that I can spend a portion of this year in Palestine. For many years children in these villages have taught me about nonviolence. Sometimes, the presence of international human rights workers holding cameras has some small positive effect on their days.
U.S. people bear some responsibility for the interruption of their childhoods. The U. S. subsidizes about 25% of Israel’s military budget, at a cost to U.S. taxpayers conservatively estimated at $3.1 billion a year.
I’m working with the Italian organization Operation Dove.
They support Palestinians who resist the Israeli occupation, standing with families in their commitment to remain on their land. This includes accompanying school children and farm families as they walk to school, graze their animals and tend their crops. Operation Dove helps document the harassment, intimidation, arrests, detentions, home demolitions, checkpoints, road closures, military training exercises, and settler attacks. Villagers also report to Operation Dove when they endure theft and when their crops and property are destroyed.
Protective presence provided by activists is not a large-scale solution to the violence that intrudes into childrens’ lives in Palestine. But many years of visits with these families persuades me that it’s important and necessary to support and participate in the villagers’ nonviolent efforts. Families that confront militarism and occupation help us move beyond our addiction to militarism and violence.
The children I met early on are grown now. Some have gone on to college, and some have families of their own. These young people have every reason to be angry. Their childhoods included fear, intimidation, demolitions, arrests and isolation. But they have also grown up witnessing their community’s steadfast commitment to nonviolently resist injustice. Their families have supported them well, including them in the community’s struggle for dignity. Against all odds they are growing up with humor and tenacity instead of anger and bitterness. They are living proof to the rest of us that love wins.
*Author’s Note: This little girl was injured by two masked settlers who attacked her with stones as she gathered herbs with a friend on the path between Tuba and Tuwani. She and her siblings make the same trip on foot each school day. She is an amazingly smart and tough young girl — insistent that the many odd volunteers that pass through her life should learn her name and visit her family’s home. She needed four stitches in a head wound after the attack.
An Israeli law firm with links to Mossad has lost a case it brought against the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), after the trade union endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement at its national convention in August 2015.
A report on the UE website states that, on January 12, the National Labor Relations Board dismissed an unfair labour practice charge brought by Shurat HaDin. UE, an independent union representing some 35,000 workers in a manufacturing, public sector and private non-profit sector jobs, was the first national US union to endorse BDS.
The Israeli law firm had filed the charge on October 13, alleging that UE’s resolution violated the prohibition in US labour law against ‘secondary boycotts’. UE, meanwhile, argued that “Shurat Hadin’s action was an attempt to interfere with the First Amendment rights of the union and its members to express opinions on political and international issues.”
Responding to the decision by the National Labor Relations Board, an independent agency of the US government, UE National President Peter Knowlton said that the union had “withstood attempts by the US government to silence us during the McCarthy era in the 1950s,” and was “unbowed by the latest attempt of a surrogate of the Israeli government to stifle our call for justice for Palestinian and Israeli workers.”
He added: “The NLRB’s decision is a victory for the growing BDS movement across the US, which faces increasing political attempts to silence and intimidate critics of the Israeli government. As Americans who have a constitutional right to criticize our own government, we certainly have a right to criticize and, if we choose, boycott a foreign government that is heavily subsidized by US taxpayers.”
Shurat HaDin, in the words of the UE report, “is an Israeli organization that uses legal cases to harass supporters of Palestinian rights and critics of Israel.” Its director has “privately admitted to taking direction from the Israeli government over which cases to pursue.”
According to one Israeli journalist, Shurat HaDin “files lawsuits at the behest of the Israeli government”, yet still “dares to define itself as a ‘human rights organisation’.” The firm’s track record of failure includes a lawsuit against Jimmy Carter, and an ‘anti-discrimination’ case brought against a pro-boycott Australian academic.
Mary Anne Grady Flores is in jail today and American citizens everywhere can surely breathe a sigh of relief that we are safe from her criminal behavior at least for the next six months.
That’s the length of the sentence this 59-year-old peace activist in upstate New York began on Tuesday — one day after the United States honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for his commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience. If he were here today, the martyred Dr. King would surely be shaking his head that America still has a problem with peaceful dissenters of conscience.
And what exactly did Grady Flores do to warrant spending the next six months in jail? She photographed a peaceful protest outside Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, New York. The base is where the US trains pilots to launch drone strikes in the Middle East, particularly in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. It wasn’t a crime for her to be taking pictures of the demonstration, but when she briefly and unintentionally — yes, unintentionally — stepped onto a road that belongs to the base, she violated what authorities called “an order of protection,” which had been issued in 2012 to forbid protesters from approaching the home or workplace of Col. Earl Evans, a commander of the 174th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard. She had never met Evans, never threatened him, never showed any intention of harming him.
Nonetheless, a town justice, David Gideon, issued the order to “protect” the Colonel from the activists. That’s right — the commander of a major military operation, piloting drones on lethal missions half-way around the world, requested a court order of protection against a group of mostly gray-haired demonstrators whom he had never met. In stepping briefly on the roadway at the base, Grady Flores violated that order, despite the fact that, as she says, “We weren’t at the security gate. We were out at the roadway.”
Now get this: The order issued by Judge Gideon was of the sort commonly used against victims of sexual or domestic abuse. “The legal terms ‘victim’ and ‘witness’ have been expanded in this case in a way that’s new and unique in the state of New York,” said attorney Lance Salisbury at a press conference yesterday before Grady Flores was hauled off to jail.
Grady Flores had protested outside the base before. She belongs to The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, which has criticized the drone program since 2010, calling for a change in policy to uphold life and law.
President Obama and the Pentagon insist that using drones in pursuit of terrorists causes minimal civilian casualties and protects American troops, but Grady Flores takes issue with that justification. She told us she had been moved, in particular, by reports of the staggering numbers of civilians killed by US drones, and she says her fears were confirmed by documents recently leaked to journalists at The Intercept revealing that during one five-month stretch, 90 percent of those killed in one part of Northeastern Afghanistan were not the intended target.
Grady Flores says she was also shaken by the 2013 testimony before Congress of a family from Pakistan that had suffered a drone strike in North Waziristan. A grandmother of three herself, Grady Flores listened as Rafiq ur Rehman recounted his mother’s death in the presence of her grandchildren. “She was out in the fields picking okra with the kids around and a drone strike happened, and she was sent to four winds… now the kids live in terror,” Grady Flores recalls.
“That’s why citizens are at the gates of Hancock,” says Grady Flores. “That’s why we’re there.”
Grady Flores was arrested in 2012, when she and 16 others blocked the entrance to the base, prompting the request from the military for the order of protection. When she was arrested again a year later — not for protesting herself but for stepping on the road outside the base and taking pictures of others who were protesting — she was found to be in violation of that protection order. And the protestors she was photographing? They were acquitted.
Justice David Gideon threw the book at her. He sentenced her to a year, claiming in his five-page ruling that he didn’t buy her First Amendment argument. Instead, he thought she “was willing to ‘break the law’ to seek publicity for her cause.” After an appeal, her sentence was shortened to six months.
Before she went to jail yesterday she told us: “I asked my grandchildren, ‘Do you know where I’m going?’ and they said, ‘yeah, you’re going to jail, Nana.’” She told us that it is difficult to leave her 88-year-old mother who is ailing, but that her mother appreciates her carrying on in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King and the iconic Catholic activist Dorothy Day, with whom her mother once worked. Day famously said, “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”
Grady Flores says her mother’s good-bye shared that sentiment, “Mom said to me, ‘I’ll pray for you, I’ll be with you in that cell.’ She said it in a whisper, but she’s grateful that I’m continuing the work.”
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM – Mercator, Slovenia’s largest supermarket chain, has removed Israeli products from its shelves – including pomelos, dates and avocados, following pressure from the BDS movement, Ynetnews newspaper reported Wednesday.
The Slovenian ambassador to Israel was summoned this week for a discussion at the Foreign Ministry in Occupied Jerusalem, the same source added.
According to the newspaper, senior Israeli ministry officials explained the seriousness with which the Israeli occupation views the affair.
Israel’s ambassador to Slovenia, Shmuel Meirom, is expected to arrive in the country soon in order to raise the issue with Slovenia’s Foreign Ministry, as well as with Mercator’s management.
In 2014, the chain attempted to boycott Israeli “JAFFA”-branded grapefruits, again following pressure from BDS activists.
The move comes a couple of days after European Union Foreign Ministers pushed for boycotting Israeli products manufactured in illegal settlements, a move dubbed by observers a barefaced condemnation of Israel’s illegitimate settlement policies in the occupied Palestinian territories.
It has taken just three days for 200 Brazilian academics to sign a letter in support for the academic boycott of Israeli institutions, in protest against Israel’s ongoing policies of occupation and discrimination. Professor and former UN rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro and physician and pharmacologist B. Boris Vargaftig are among the signatories.
In a statement released today the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PACBI) “salute” their solidarity: “Through these campaigns Brazilians continue to demonstrate that solidarity with the oppressed is the most politically and morally sound contribution to the struggle to end oppression.”
According to PACBI Brazilian movements, individuals and unions have long been committed to isolating Israeli academic institutions as part of the struggle against the Israeli settler colonial and apartheid regime.
Members of a local Californian branch of United Auto Workers said Friday they were appealing a controversial decision by the larger union to overrule a pro-Palestine resolution backed by rank and file members.
The United Auto Workers Local 2865 (UAW 2865) made history in late 2014 when its members voted overwhelmingly to support a boycott of corporations accused of involvement in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. The vote was one of the most well attended in UAW 2865’s history, and came after months of intense discussion among union members. The union’s boycott resolution was framed as part of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has sought to use economic pressure to push Israel to end what human rights groups say are widespread human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories. Supporters of the movement say their campaign is modeled on the 1980s anti-apartheid boycott of South Africa.
UAW 2865 was the first major union in the United States to endorse BDS through a vote put directly to ordinary members. Since then, the United Electrical Workers union has followed suit, endorsing BDS during its 2015 conference.
Internationally, BDS has also been backed by COSATU of South Africa and the Unite the Union in the U.K.
International UAW Steps In
However, in December 2015, UAW 2865’s parent union, International UAW surprised workers by nullifying the pro-Palestine vote, claiming the decision discriminated against Jewish union members.
Now, a group of UAW 2865 members have told teleSUR they have begun an appeals process against the International UAW board’s decision. The members said they are seeking to overturn the nullification through the union’s public review board, after filing an appeal Thursday.
They have argued the original UAW 2865’s BDS resolution was reached democratically by ordinary members, and said the larger union leadership should respect the demands of ordinary members.
teleSUR has obtained union documents that some members of UAW 2865 say indicate some of the fiercest supporters of BDS within UAW 2865 were rank and file members identifying as Jewish – calling into question the International UAW’s primary reason for overruling the vote. There is also evidence of at least one multinational firm weighing in on the union’s decision.
Speaking to teleSUR, UAW 2865 President Robert Cavooris said he firmly disagreed with the International UAW board’s decision to overrule the BDS resolution, stating, “Many Jewish members of our own local, like myself, took part in the campaign for BDS.”
He argued the board’s decision “conflates the state of Israel with a diverse global diaspora of Jewish people.”
Not all union members appear to agree. During the appeal hearing in December 2015, one union member alleged the BDS campaign was “rampant” with “anti-Semitism and active promotion of hate.”
In a complaint submitted to the International UAW’s board, another UAW 2865 member said, “The … local union (2865) pledged that it would not discriminate against members who are Israelis and stated that the academic boycott was aimed at ‘institutions’ and not individuals.”
“But this is a distinction without a difference: boycotting Israeli academic institutions can only be carried out by discriminating against individuals associated with those institutions,” the member argued.
However, internal union documents show the board was also contacted by a group of Jewish UAW 2865 members who firmly supported the BDS resolution.
“As an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere and none of us are free until all of us are free. As Jews, we understand from our own experiences with discrimination and our own history of resistance to oppression that standing on the right side of history necessitates standing in solidarity with Palestinians,” a petition in favor of BDS directed at the board stated.
The petition was signed by more than 40 UAW 2865 Jewish members who said, “We affirm our right and responsibility as Jews to oppose the state of Israel’s actions and policies that we believe to be unjust.”
The final International UAW’s decision also noted the UAW 2865 carried out its internal vote in a democratic matter, and “made an earnest effort” to engage all members in months of pre-vote discussions, but found the BDS resolution anti-Semitic nonetheless. The decision was based on the board’s conclusion that the BDS resolution unduly focused on Israeli policy and actions when discussing “atrocities against Palestinians.”
“Thus, the local union’s platform is apparent in its unfavorable stance against the state of Israel, Israelis and, invariably, Jewish union members,” the board said in its conclusion.
However, Cavooris said Israel hasn’t been singled out by his branch at all, pointing to an extrensive list of resolutions related to human rights issues from Mexico to China.
“For example, our local passed a resolution condemning the disappearance of 43 Mexican students at Ayotzinapa in 2014, and last fall we made a statement of support for South African students fighting against racism and for better university conditions. Just last week we signed a letter to condemn the repression of Chinese labor activists in Guandong,” he explained.
Cavooris continued, “We have also criticized political institutions in the U.S. for their repression of protests in Ferguson and elsewhere.”
“A brief scan of our political record shows that we are proud to stand against injustice against working people and others wherever it occurs,” he said.
Yet disagreements over the board’s decision to label the BDS resolution as anti-Semitic aren’t the only concerns raised by rank and file UAW 2865 members.
Also included in a collection of documents handed to teleSUR was a letter from industrial vehicle manufacturing giant Caterpillar. Caterpillar armored tractors have been used by Israeli forces to demolish Palestinian homes, sparking the ire of BDS activists and human rights advocates. Dated August 20, 2015, the letter from the firm’s labor relations head Jonathan Ginzel was addressed to International UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell. The letter denied allegations Caterpillar is “engaged in or complicit in human rights violations,” and warned BDS advocacy was viewed as an “attack on our business and our customers.”
“The actions taken by UAW Local 2865 are without merit and set a dangerous precedent in our relationship,” Ginzel wrote to Jewell.
The letter also included a paragraph supporting an appeal against UAW 2865’s resolution.
The International UAW’s final conclusion expressed similar concerns to those raised in Ginzel’s letter, stating the BDS resolution could have blow back on union members employed by companies like Caterpillar.
The UAW 2865’s rank and file BDS Caucus has accused the International UAW of effectively prioritizing the interests of companies like Caterpillar over the interests of union members.
“The (board of the International UAW) support for the profits of these companies – their prioritization of the so-called “flow of commerce” – trumps their support for other labor unions, such as the Palestinian labor unions that initiated the call for BDS, and their own members, like the 65 percent of affirmative voters from UAW 2865,” the caucus said.
The International UAW was invited to respond to these complaints, but didn’t respond by the time of publication.
The UAW 2865’s president, Cavooris described the International UAW board’s decision to “consider” Caterpillar’s input in internal union matters as “rather amazing.”
“When the (International UAW board) listens to executives at Caterpillar Inc. instead of workers in one of its locals, I think there is a clear breach of democracy and autonomy,” he said.
Cavooris continued, “This sort of deference to employers definitely raises the question: Who is the union supposed to represent? Are we an organization that fights for the rights of working people worldwide or are we an organization that makes sure our employers are happy?”
“When workers at Caterpillar demand a wage increase in their next contract, is the UAW (international board) going to ensure that this demand is okay with Caterpillar management as well? Because we held a democratic vote on BDS – and the (board) acknowledges that it was completely democratic – we know we are representing the views and interests of our members. I wonder if the (board) can say the same, given their deference to Caterpillar management,” he said.
Rank and file members of UAW 2865 that spoke to teleSUR likewise said they felt the International UAW was undermining local union democracy.
“I believe this decision not only calls into question the autonomy of local chapters, but it also exposes the contradictions that arise among labor unions that in theory are committed to social justice of those disenfranchised (ie: workers), but in practice are easily swayed by corporate interest and threats by oppressive powers,” said Jennifer Mogannam, UAW 2865 member and Ethnic Studies PhD candidate at University of California, San Diego.
“As stated, our efforts were transparent, honest and a two thirds vote in favor is telling of the commitment to justice that our generation of academic laborers upholds,” she said.
The dispute between UAW 2865 pro-BDS members and the International UAW leadership may not end anytime soon, with the appeals process only just beginning. Members that spoke to teleSUR said that irrelevant of the board’s decision, they will continue to push for greater support for Palestine solidarity.
“The struggle for Palestine is one symbol of struggle that we must continue to fight for and endure the repercussions of, alongside other struggles for true justice and liberation, because it is this commitment that may guide us to a new, just and better world,” Mogannam said.
Another rank and file UAW 2865 member, Beezer de Martelly, from the University of California Berkeley music department said, “The UAW 2865 BDS caucus will continue its work to educate students and union members about ongoing human rights violations, the intensifying climate of Islamophobia, and the Palestinian-led struggle for democracy.”
However, some members said the International’s decision could be a step backwards for workers’ and student rights.
“I am worried about the ramifications of this decision on the democratic spirit of Unionism, and this struggle is far from over,” said Irene Morrison, southern vice president of UAW 2865.
“It won’t end until Palestine is free,” she said.
Spain’s United Left party has adopted the call for the global boycott of Israel (BDS), with the support of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, as members of the Castrillon City Council in the Asturias province voted in favour of the campaign.
Having reviewed the reasons for adopting the BDS campaign, the general coordinator of the Unified Left, Jose Luis Garrido, called on other Spanish cities to take the same action and to boycott Israel at all levels until it withdraws from the occupied territories and respects international law and the rights of the Palestinian people to independence and freedom.
In his speech before members of the municipal council he highlighted international laws and United Nations resolutions that Israel has not implemented. He also mentioned the illegality of the settlements and the Separation Wall, in addition to the issue of refugees, Israel’s racist policies and the suffering of the residents of the Gaza Strip.
This move comes in light of similar decisions to boycott Israeli which were made by other Spanish institutions, the most recent being the University of Barcelona.