FEATUREOctober 2021

Open Letter to the Leadership of AFT Guild, Local 1931

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A statement by the AFT Guild, Local 1931, (teachers’ union) was made regarding Israel on September 9th. Here is the gist of the statement and a Reply by Rabbi David Castiglione. 

Guild:

“However, let us be clear that condemning Israel for its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, occupation, apartheid and war crimes is not anti-semitism. 

Rabbi:

Open Letter to the Leadership of AFT Guild, Local 1931, September 23, 2021

Respectfully,

I stand in opposition to your recent self-designated “Statement Regarding the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” I stand in opposition as, at best, it is a well-intentioned yet naïve contrivance of conclusions based upon biased one-sided half-truths and preconceptions that are well beneath the standards of robust educational scholarship. At worst, it is reflective of the very anti-Semitism the statement claims to decry, with resulting harm to students, faculty and the community at large – Jewish communities in particular.

To begin, I am, indeed, perplexed as to why the leadership chose to make such a statement. In reading the constitution and mission statement of Local 1931 and the National Guild et al., I find no mention empowering such a stand for a non-labor, non-educational, national body outside of the United States. Further, in reading the local chapter’s by-laws, such empowerment is likewise missing. Rather, under article 9, section 3, it states, “…the jurisdiction of the chapters shall be limited to those matters that are germane to the college or site respectively.” Israel and Palestine would seem beyond your scope. While article 17, section 5 states, “COPE monies may be used for political causes, candidates, or endeavors which are consonant with the mission of the Guild…,” by extension, one would imagine Israel and Palestine are beyond the scope of the union’s mission. This leaves me to question the motivation behind your statement.

Admittedly, it is indeed courageous to take a stand on behalf of those you deem to be oppressed. It is among the defining values of the union’s proud history and legacy. Yet, representing higher education as you do, faulty due diligence in research, in this case concerning an ever-developing geopolitical dynamic spanning over 100 years and involving multitudes of multi-national participants, is hardly worthy of your institution. I am moved to ask whether, before coming to your conclusions, you directed a factfinding mission? Were papers prepared and discussed? Whom did you consult with? In short, is your statement a gut reaction to what you have gathered via headline snapshots, or is your statement based in a full evaluation of fact? Understanding that unions are almost hardwired to protect the little guy against the giants of industrial greed, has this predilection influenced your assessment?

Along these same lines, have you considered why Israel is in possession of Judea and Samaria? Have you considered how this came about? Have you considered the steps Israel took to dissuade Jordan from entering the ‘67 war or how Jordan refused the return of the territories following the end of the war? Have you considered the steps Israel has taken during the intervening years to offer self-rule to the Palestinian People, asking only the concession of peace? Have you considered that Israel, unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, at great cost and pain to its own citizens, turning over decades of infrastructure and growth to the Palestinians without condition? Have you considered that Hamas, internationally recognized as a terrorist organization, is dedicated to return “Palestine” to Islamic Sharia rule – after first annihilating the land’s Jewish presence? Perhaps, herein, you will consider:

Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement

Article 7:
“The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the links in the chain of the struggle against the Zionist invaders. It goes back to 1939, to the emergence of the martyr Izz al-Din al Kissam and his brethren the fighters, members of Moslem Brotherhood.

“…The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.”

Article Eight:

“Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.”

Article 11:

The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up…

This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement.

Article Thirteen:

“There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with.”

I emphatically and expressly state that Hamas is a fundamentalist, jihadist movement, and not representative of Islam as a whole. Still, in your deliberations, have you determined a suitable way for the State of Israel to engage with one fundamentally committed to its destruction through any means possible? For your edification, may I humbly suggest that you read the Hamas Covenant, and the charter for the Palestinian Liberation Organization? I expect that you will be surprised at what you find.

You have pointed out an imbalance between the loss of life, the destruction of property, and the type of weaponry used on both sides. Could it be that you truly believe Israel would find more favor in the eyes of the world if it simply and indiscriminately, launched, in equal number, the same rockets into civilian areas as Hamas does into Israel? Or, should Israel – its women, its children, its grandparents, its sons and daughters… grin and bear it?

Israel has repeatedly appealed to the international community, it has built a wall, it has destroyed terrorist tunnel upon terrorist tunnel, it has already imposed blockades except for items of humanitarian need and the rebuilding of infrastructure, even when knowing that those materials are appropriated for military purposes. It warns civilians before it strikes. If Mexico decides tomorrow that it wants its historical territories back, changes its constitution to define its express purpose to be the eradication of US citizens living in those territories, and begins a military campaign, launching missiles so that they fall on the very schools that you represent, would you take it in stride? Or, would you call for the application of our nation’s full military might even if they locate their military operations in densely populated civilian centers?

You have claimed that Israel has built in virtually every part of the territories. Virtually, is a rather encompassing term. It is also blatantly false, illegal under Israeli law, and thus I can only deduce that it is used to incite. You imply that all demolitions undertaken by the Israeli government are illegal. I am afraid that you prove yourselves ignorant of the facts once again and biased against those you are predisposed to consider in the wrong. You ignore that the Israeli government destroys settlements, homes and homesteads that are, themselves, illegal. Why assume that Palestinians in their totality, build in good faith? You also ignore the many, many Jewish homes, settlements and homesteads that the Israeli government has also destroyed, because they were illegal as well. You state that building permits are denied to Palestinians. Have you been to the territories? Do you know what life was like before ‘67? I must conclude that the answer to both questions is “no,” as you would understand how inaccurate your statement is.

As to anti-Semitism, (please note the correct spelling and punctuation: anti-Semitism) you claim that in 2018 over 40 Jewish groups, world-wide, signed a letter decrying the “dangerous conflation of anti-Jewish racism with opposition to Israel’s policies and system of occupation and apartheid.” You then go on to state your bona fides of neutrality by stating your opposition to oppression of all varieties against any group. Setting aside that not a single one of the groups listed in the 2018 letter represent a recognized major Jewish organization, setting aside the letter’s support of BDS “tools and tactics” (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – a Palestinian-led movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel,) is it possible that all of world Jewry can be represented by forty independent groups? Plainly put, the assumption that all Jewish individuals hold one allegiance or think with one mind, feel with one heart or speak with one voice is, in itself, anti-Semitic.

You have called out the State of Israel; you have called out Israeli policies. However, once again, I am moved to ask, where is your statement on China’s treatment of the Uyghur people or China’s treatment of the Tibetan people? Where is your statement on the murder, imprisonment and exile of opposition leaders to Russia’s oligarchical system of rule? Where is your statement on the abduction of children to serve as soldiers in Sudan? Where is your statement on the use of rape, physical maiming and forced exile, as a means to genocide, in certain African nations? Where is your statement on the persecution and murder of LGBT individuals in countries around the globe? Where is your statement on the criminal treatment of women in our world? I have checked your website, aside from the current statement in question, there are none to be found.

Coming closer to home, closer to your own constituency, where is your statement on reproductive rights? Where is your statement on eviction protections? Where is your statement on the protection of migrant workers and those, undocumented, who seek higher education? Where is your statement on the importation and use of slave labor in the US? Where is your statement on institutional racism? Where is your statement on critical race theory?

Have you taken even a shallow dive into US policies and history? Where is your statement on the equitable treatment of indigenous peoples? Nations, under the banner of manifest destiny and official government policy who white men of power prosecuted with genocide, forcing the remnants to live on reservations, still to suffer the effects of our malevolence to this day? Where is your statement on slavery?

Where is your statement on any of the wars we have engaged in since the turn of the twentieth century? Despite deeply mournful losses of American military personnel, how exponentially greater has been the amount of foreign civilians killed, towns, villages, cities, entire swaths of land, completely destroyed? In our most recent endeavor, was the US any less different than what you protest – an overwhelmingly more sophisticated and more powerful military might, against rocket grenade, IEDs and suicide bombers? In truth, Israel cannot hold a candle to us or to its many neighbors who have gassed, bombed, tortured and publicly executed members of their own populations who they have felt to be “problematic.” To express this plainly, the application of a double standard as regards Israel, to call Israel out, without calling to account those nations whose actions are dramatically more injurious to human life and ethical comportment, is anti-Semitic.

Further, to suggest that liberty and peace is the right of every Palestinian, and not to simultaneously suggest that liberty and peace is also the right of every Israeli citizen, is anti-Semitic. To post a banner projecting armed resistance by Palestinians at the bottom of your statement, a banner that in the streets of Palestine signifies death to Jews, is anti-Semitic. To imply that all Palestinians want a peaceful solution, while all Israelis want an apartheid state, is anti-Semitic. And while I’m at it, have you recently checked the definition of apartheid? Does it really apply or is it an easy catch phrase to latch onto?

I join you in wanting to see a peaceful solution for all parties in the Middle East. On the other hand, I am astute enough to know that the Palestinian/Israeli situation is far more complicated and nuanced than you present, and requires much more than merely suggesting that an end to occupation would fix or even begin to fix all things. I am enough of a community leader to be able to distinguish between those statements that lead to edification and compromise and those that enflame and lead to fear, hate and long-lasting distrust. I stand in opposition to your statement.

May I suggest instead, you engage yourselves in a bit of balanced, scholarly self-edification. May I further suggest that instead of promoting one-sided bigotry, fear among students, concern among faculty and staff, and the empowerment of those inclined to hate, you consider issuing a statement applauding all movement towards a peaceful solution. There is plenty going on in this regard throughout the region. There are difficulties and difficult leaders and entrenched institutions enough to go around on both sides. There are also those, many more I believe, who are committed to the process of peace and equanimity. May I suggest you issue a statement that acknowledges the hurt both peoples have sustained, and encourages both sides to consider the narratives of the other, find their common ground, dismiss the harmful canards that have perpetuated through the generations, and get down to the business of making peace.

Faithfully,
Rabbi David Castiglione

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1 Comment

  1. I am a retired professor and a member of Teachers’ Union 1931. I was appalled, disgusted and saddened by Jim Mahler’s anti-Semitic statement. I tried to reach out to him, and he never responded. Rabbi Castiglione is on point, honest and knowledgeable. We cannot allow people to spread lies and make statements based on ignorance. In addition, this is not the Union’s place to state this, and all this statement does is spread lies, and make the college campuses divisive and unsafe. Thank you, L’CHAIM magazine, for publishing this.

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