Labor activists to UC students: End Israel now


BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY: People shelter from Palestinian rocket shelling, July 2014. A union activist told Berkeley students in November that their job was to vote Dec. 4 to isolate and weaken Israel.

By Paul Miller |

A November 12 panel discussion on the University of California’s flagship Berkeley campus was billed as an opportunity to learn about events 7,000 miles away in Israel – and about a Dec. 4 graduate student vote to join the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Instead, attendees were exhorted to bring down the Jewish State.

Hosted by UAW 2865, a union of over 13,000 student-workers across the University of California system, the union’s BDS Caucus brought in guest speakers to “discuss the role of organized labor in the Palestine solidarity movement.”

Panelist Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), dominated the conversation.

“I think you should boycott any Zionist institution, academic, organization, whether it be from 1967 occupied Palestine or 1948 occupied Palestine, because BDS really should be about shifting the cultural framework and shifting how we see Israel and isolating it and making it feel unwelcome anywhere and everywhere,” said Kiswani.

“Bringing down Israel will really benefit everyone in the world and everyone in society, particularly workers,” she said later.

Panelists also expressed solidarity with extremists who’ve advocated violence to settle their political differences with Israel.

“BDS is not the end-all. BDS is a tactic,” said Kiswani. “We Palestinians resist in all different types of ways, so there is no end-all of BDS. I think the end-all of BDS is to weaken Israel, to isolate Israel, and give the global community a role in the liberation of Palestine and support the resistance on the ground in Palestine.”

Fellow Panelist Clarence Thomas from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 added, “You know in a revolution, people play different roles. Some want to do divestment. Let them do that. Others want to do more military action, let them do that. That’s how the struggle works.”

The panel, which included Labor for Palestine’s Michael Letwin, invoked the ancient stereotype of global Jewish control.

Letwin chimed in with, “Defenders of apartheid Israel have tremendous resources at their disposal, not the least of which are the Democratic and Republican parties, labor officials, the media, campus administrations, all the forces that we see against us on a daily basis.”

“So a lot of the labor movement now is co-opted by Zionists and we shouldn’t let it be co-opted by Zionists… for Palestine itself, the United States is very far behind Europe, Latin America, and other parts in Africa. Everyone else has been taking strong positions, labor workers have been taking strong positions, and the U.S. is behind because of Zionist control,” Kiswani told the audience.

In a follow-up email, Letwin told Watchdog that “defenders of apartheid Israel have tremendous resources at their disposal not because of ‘Jewish control’ (indeed, many of Israel’s defenders are not even Jewish), but rather because Israel’s apartheid character ideal makes it a dependable watchdog for U.S. imperial interests throughout the region. As former Secretary of State Alexander Haig put it, Israel is ‘the largest American aircraft carrier in the world.’”

University of California lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the anti-Semitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative, told, “What this event made crystal clear is that the goal of BDS is not to legitimately criticize Israeli policy, but rather to bring an end to the Jewish state. And make no mistake: calling for the elimination of the world’s only Jewish state is anti-Semitic.

“This is the true face of BDS: it is the face of pure hatred. It’s not surprising the UAW 2865’s upcoming vote to boycott Israel and other campaigns to promote anti-Israel divestment resolutions in UC student senates have created a hostile, anti-Semitic environment for many Jewish students who support the Jewish State.”

The agenda – which managed to be anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and anti-capitalist – was derailed just once. A female graduate student who identified herself as “the voice of dissent in this room” and “a rank-and-file member of the union. I’m Latina. I’m Jewish, and I’m pro-Israel.”

“I’m really disturbed because I want to dialogue with people on the other side, and I really just feel a strong sense of hatred coming from the voices and the language, she said during the question and answer period in the program. “I find it incredibly difficult to engage just hearing the kind of the lack of balanced perspective, from here, from the panel, and from the discussion as a whole, especially from the union.”

She continued, “I feel extremely threatened as a Jew by what you guys are saying. You don’t have to stop saying what you’re saying, but I just want you to know that this is the type of reaction you’re causing in people like me who want to have the discussion and make peace. But the way that you are talking is so aggressive and so sort of suddenly anti-Semitic, that it’s very hard for me to kind of be open and have an open discussion.”

UAW Local 2865 will vote on a resolution concerning participation in the BDS movement on Dec. 4.

Kiswani and Thomas did not respond to email requests for comments.