CUNY teachers’ union divides over Israeli-Palestinian conflict

When the Professional Staff Congress, the union of professors at the City University of New York, passed last month A resolution strongly criticizing Israel for the recent violence against the Palestinians, the reaction has been intense.

“While Israel’s model and practice of dispossession and settlement expansion, dating back to its creation as a colonial settlement state in 1948, has been found to be illegal under international law, international human rights organizations human rights such as Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem have called these practices of Israel “apartheid” and a legalized regime of racial discrimination perpetrated against the Palestinian people; and the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into these practices, ”one of the clauses of the resolution reads.

The resolution goes on to say that the Congress of Professional Personnel “condemns the slaughter of Palestinians by the State of Israel” and calls on individual sections of the union to “facilitate section-level discussions on the content of this resolution and to consider support. from the PSC to the 2005 Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) – a movement launched by 170 Palestinian unions, refugee networks, women’s organizations, professional associations and other Palestinian civil society organizations.

The resolution also calls on the Biden administration to “end all aid funding human rights violations and occupation that is illegal under international law.”

The resolution did not have a major impact on Israel. But he renewed debates at CUNY on whether the faculty union should take a stand on political issues that are not directly related to the City University of New York. The CUNY teachers’ union is doing this and has angered its members as a result.

A union spokesperson said “dozens” of faculty members have resigned from the union. (Under a Supreme Court ruling, they can do this, but the union must still represent them.)

Many other professors are unhappy with the resolution. Although they have not left the union, they report specific language issues.

Eugene M. Chudnovsky, professor emeritus of physics at Lehman College and the Graduate School of CUNY, said he and others took offense at calling Israel a “colonial settlement state.”

“Many CUNY professors and students – including those, Jews and non-Jews alike, who criticize both sides – see the claim that Jews are not the indigenous people of the Land of Israel as anti-Semitic, an attack against the Jewish heritage, ”he said.

Chudnovsky also criticized the union’s “unexplained fixation on a subject unrelated to its primary mission. Union’s call for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel, regardless of position, makes no sense as it negotiates new contract and post-COVID recovery “with politicians opposed to boycott , did he declare.

Ilya Bratman, executive director of Hillel at CUNY’s Baruch, City and John Jay Colleges and assistant professor of English at Baruch and John Jay, said that although the union has taken political positions in the past, it has never spoken human rights issues in China or Syria.

“These are anti-Semites pushing a program,” he said.

Bratman said the union should not say anything about Israel unless it is directly related to CUNY. The union, he said, should focus on the academic and financial issues facing CUNY employees.

Bratman participated in an effort to circulate A declaration, signed by over 2,500 people, which says: “A great university must champion diversity and cultivate a tradition of civil discourse and engagement on complex issues and conflicts. Looking at the last unnecessary suffering of Palestinians and Israelis, we suffer with them. A just and lasting peace can only emerge by building trust through mutual respect and recognizing the aspirations of two peoples, both with legitimate claims for a sovereign homeland.

A “Declaration of solidarity of the CUNY community with the Palestinian peopleOffers reasons to take a stand against Israel: “We assert that this is not a ‘conflict’ too ‘controversial and complex’ to be assessed. Since its inception, Israel has used violent force, punitive bureaucracy, and its legal system to expel Palestinians from their rightful homes and to expel Palestinians from their land. Israeli law systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Palestinians are cut off from each other by a network of checkpoints, laws, settler-only highways and a separation wall that engulfs illegally occupied Palestinian land.

James Davis, President of the Professional Staff Congress, said: “The terms and conditions of employment of CUNY faculty and staff are the top priority for PSC.

“But our union has often taken a stand on issues of national and international political importance that extend beyond our contracts,” he said. Davis added that “the members of the PSC International Committee and the Committee Against Racism strongly believe that the PSC should take a stand in favor of the Palestinian people, and the majority of the PSC Assembly of Delegates ultimately voted for a resolution. “.

He noted that the “main leaders” of the union (himself included) “opposed the resolution because they felt that any position on such a controversial issue should be brought to members for discussion before, not after,” a vote of the Assembly of Delegates ”.

Davis said the actions referenced by the resolution would be “a small part” of the union’s fall agenda. “The union’s top priority is ensuring the safety of our members and students as CUNY resumes in person.”

Regarding the reaction to the resolution, he said the union “has mainly heard from a relatively small number of members who are adamantly opposed and deeply hurt and some who are enthusiastic about it. We are engaged in active discussions with as many of these members as possible. Over time, we hope to hear from a wider range of members and make possible an inclusive set of conversations. “

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