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Editorial: The teachers union’s opinion on the Middle East is neither needed nor wanted

Smoke rises from a building in Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike.
(AFP/Getty Images)

What does a teachers bargaining unit in Los Angeles have to do with Israeli policies and actions toward Palestinians? We’re still trying to figure that one out and so, apparently, are upset members within United Teachers Los Angeles.

The union is in an uproar over a resolution to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel after the recent deadly violence between that country and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. It took the approval of only two of the union’s eight units — involving a relative handful of teachers — to place the matter before UTLA’s governing House of Representatives for a vote in September.

Meanwhile, the union’s board of directors is planning to make a recommendation on which way that vote should go.

Both it and the House should reject the measure, which can do no real good for the union or schools, and certainly could hurt both.

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That’s not a comment on the BDS movement itself or which stance individuals or companies should take on it. It’s a very complicated topic, touching on issues far beyond the rights of Israelis and Palestinians. For instance, should the United States be giving more than $3 billion a year in military aid to a relatively prosperous nation such as Israel, whose treatment of Palestinians has been likened to apartheid? Should academics and scientists be cut off from cooperation that could lead to discoveries and save lives because of one of many global disputes?

One thing is for sure. UTLA is not well-situated to answer these and a multitude of other questions raised by the movement in any expert or nuanced way, and the world is hardly waiting to hear what a California teachers union thinks of the matter.

Meanwhile, according to a report in the Jewish news site the Forward, hundreds of UTLA members — a relatively small percentage of Los Angeles Unified School District’s more than 25,000 teachers — have mounted a campaign against the BDS resolution, and many are threatening to quit the union.

Many Jewish parents and students — though not all by any means — see BDS support as inherently antisemitic, even though it‘s directed at Israel, not the Jewish people. They question why a movement targeting Israel receives support when other nations have less religious tolerance and worse human rights records. A vote to support BDS would be seen as hostile and undermine these families’ confidence in their teachers. Favoring BDS also would probably erode public support for the union in a metropolitan area with the second-biggest Jewish population in the U.S.

Teachers and their union have many social concerns on which they could legitimately take a stand. Lack of healthcare for impoverished families, food insecurity, racism in America — all of these affect students and learning. And they all are areas in which lobbying could effect change.

But support for BDS wouldn’t accomplish a thing. The union would be better off keeping its nose out of Middle Eastern affairs that don’t affect its members or the schools, and in which it has no expertise.


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