Labor union activists opposed to the anti-Semitic BDS movement at the University of California are gearing up for a bitter political battle, following yesterday's decision by UAW 2865 – the local chapter which represents more than 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors, and other student-workers – to join the BDS campaign "until such time as Israel has complied with international law and respected the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and all Palestinians refugees and exiles."
Although BDS proponents are hailing the vote as a milestone, since it marks the first time that an American labor union chapter has declared its support for a movement that seeks the elimination of Israel as a sovereign state, their adversaries have countered that the vote was unrepresentative and stained by intimidation. Among the groups supporting the motion was the violently anti-Semitic "Students for Justice in Palestine."
Only 2,189 votes were cast in a ballot in which more than 52,000 union members were eligible to vote. Of those, 65 percent voted in favor of the BDS resolution. UAW 2865 said that in addition, "1136 members pledged to personally adhere to the academic boycott."
"This was far from a fair process," said Jonathan Kummerfeld, a member of Informed Grads, a group of rank-and-file United Auto Workers (UAW) 2865 members who formed to oppose BDS in their Union. "Over the past several months, the Union leadership invested thousands of dollars, together with the Union's institutional and human resources to promote a 'yes' vote."
Kummerfeld emphasized that BDS opponents were denied equal opportunities in making their case within the union, in flagrant violation of union rules. "The Union wrote and disseminated thousands of words in favor of BDS and refused to send members a single paragraph from the opposition," he said.
UCLA student Philippe Assouline said that BDS advocates intimidated their opponents during the vote. "The polls were often staffed by pro-BDS campaigners. One union member tried to have me forcibly evicted because I opposed BDS even though I was abiding by all the rules. Meanwhile pro-BDS campaigners were everywhere," Assouline recounted.
The union's own rules for the vote clearly stated that "no campaigning is permitted within 20 feet of any polling place" and that "harassment or intimidation in any form are unacceptable and have no place in our democratic process."
While BDS campaigners may believe that they have won a victory, the net effect of the vote will likely lead to the isolation of UAW 2865 from the rest of the labor movement. The national UAW is resolutely opposed to the boycott and the powerful Teamsters union told the UAW 2865 leadership last month that a 'yes' vote would mean that "we would find it difficult to ask our members to support your union in a labor dispute with the University of California so long as you are engaged in activities that are fundamentally hostile to their interests."
"We cannot conceive of an action more hostile to the interests of our members and more antithetical to the most basic principles of the union movement," the Teamsters said.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has also warned that the BDS vote will meanthat members of UAW 2865 and their employers "are on notice that any actions taken against Israeli individuals or institutions could result in legal action," citing "state and federal laws and policies preventing national-origin discrimination."
Informed Grads has already filed an appeal contesting the fairness of the ballot. The group also expressed concern that the vote would have negative implications for free speech on campus.
"BDS not only aims to stigmatize and marginalize Israel. It aims to stigmatize and marginalize dissenters," said Informed Grads activist Joshua Saidoff.
Jewish advocacy groups and academics opposed to the boycott have pledged to block the resolution's implementation. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz and the director of the AMCHA Initiative, expressed gratitude to UC Provost Aimee Dorr for disseminating "to all UC Chancellors the UC policies that prohibit graduate student instructors from using the university classroom to promote anti-Israel propaganda or an antisemitic boycott of Israel."
"We call on all UC administrators to ensure that these policies are strictly enforced, that UC classrooms are used for education and not political indoctrination, and that all students — including Jewish and pro-Israel students — have equal access to a safe and non-discriminatory learning environment," Rossman-Benjamin declared.