23 February 2009

Resigning From CUPE

I am - or at least was - an unwilling member of CUPE local 3097 that nominally represents Graduate Assistants at OISE. I have disliked the union for some time, especially since they have repeatedly tried to obtain benefits solely for its members that would have had the effect of jeopardizing benefits for those students who are not members, that is, who do not have the privilege of holding a GA. Further, I believe that unions in the context of a privileged workplace are anachronistic, an artefact of the Industrial Age, that enables management intransigence and dysfunctional regimes of imposed controls. However, I went along, engaging in vigorous conversation with unionist colleagues from time to time, because the academic environment is the place for vigorous conversation (note that I didn't say "debate").

But not any more. Yesterday, I submitted a letter of resignation from CUPE Local 3097 after hearing about the resolution put forward by the academic wing of CUPE at its meeting in Windsor over the weekend. The resolution calls for "members at Ontario universities to boycott working with Israeli institutions doing research that benefits that nation's military," which is essentially any and all Israeli institutions. As part of its "academic investigations" into "human rights violations against Palestinians," (the quotes are from correspondence from one of the vice-presidents of the union at OISE) the CUPE local supports such activities as the so-called Israel Apartheid Week, a celebration of hate and discord that does nothing to foster meaningful conversation among all those wronged by the violent partisan stands of many Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

I identify with Israel because it is part of my heritage and my history. My identity includes the experience of walking through Yad Vashem to bear witness to the thousands upon thousands of towns and villages wiped out in the Holocaust, hearing news of relatives and friends maimed and killed by actions of both war and terrorist attacks, and actually being able to throw a stone into an Israeli field from a former Syrian sniper post on the Golan Heights that was once used to target with high-powered rifles relatives who were working in that field. I deliberately took my children to experience the pre-1967 borders on the West Bank, so that they could viscerally understand how perilous Israel's existence was during its first two decades. I also showed them the absurdity of separated Palestinian villages, and we experienced a very small taste of the harassment that Palestinian workers face when attempting to eke out a meagre living.

I do not agree with all of the Israeli government's policies; I do support and identify with Israel.

In the same way that I was not anti-American when decrying the egregious policies of the former Bush administration, I identify with and support Israel even though I am aghast at the stated policies of the incoming Netanyahu government, propped up by Avigdor Lieberman's radical, ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party. I believe that such policies actually promote hatred against Israel, and by extension, put Jews throughout the world at risk of antisemitic attacks.

Nonetheless, I must separate my identity from association with a union local that seeks to ostracize academic engagement with Israeli institutions because of the policies of a particular set of political factions. This union did not actively seek a boycott of United States academic institutions during the Bush years, although that government is responsible for orders of magnitude more deaths than those that befell the pitiable residents of Gaza. They are not seeking boycotts of many other Middle East nations that routinely engage in horrendous violations of human rights. No, it is solely Israel that is the target of their self-righteous stance nominally in support of social justice. Such action is, in my view, the logical endpoint of a discourse that began centuries ago - a way to indirectly justify that which is unacceptable in the open.

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