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US teachers union rejects resolution urging Biden to stop supporting Israel

A number of local teachers unions across the country have passed measures calling for a boycott of Israel
People demonstrate in support of Palestine in Los Angeles, California on 15 May 2021.
People demonstrate in support of Palestine in Los Angeles, California on 15 May 2021 (AFP)
By MEE staff in Washington

The largest teachers union in the United States has voted against a measure that called on the Biden administration to stop arming and supporting Israel.

The resolution, introduced ahead of the National Education Association's (NEA) annual convention last week, also condemned Israel for its "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians and sought to garner support for Palestinian rights among educators in the country.

"The Arab population of Palestine has again risen up in a heroic struggle against military repression and 'ethnic cleansing' by the Israeli state and extreme nationalist forces in Israeli society," the measure said.

"The NEA will publicize its support for the Palestinian struggle for justice and call on the United States government to stop arming and supporting Israel and Saudi Arabia."

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The resolution received 23 percent of the vote, in which 8,000 delegates participated, according to a report by the Cleveland Jewish News.

The NEA represents three million people in the field of education across the country.

Another measure, which called for educating the general public on the oppression of Palestinians, including "the detention and abuse of children in the Occupied Palestinian Territory", was deferred until next year's conference. It also called for the union to publicly advocate for Palestinian children to receive a quality education.

"The NEA must recognize the existence and sovereignty of Palestine and Palestinian children and families and their human right to access a quality education and live freely as outlined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights," the resolution read.

Despite the resolution's failure to pass, Tania Kappner, a teacher in California and NEA member, said that she believed "support for Palestinian struggles is growing" within the organisation over the past several years, and added that she and others would continue to fight for Palestinian rights in the future.

"I am sure that many of us will continue to bring motions regarding Palestinian rights and the situation Palestinian children are facing to future conventions," she said in an email to Middle East Eye.

The introduction of the resolutions came after a wave of labour movement support in the US following the 11-day Israeli bombardment of Gaza in May that killed at least 248 Palestinians, including more than 60 children, and destroyed many buildings, including schools, medical centres and media offices. Rockets fired from Gaza into Israel killed 13 people.

A number of American labour unions introduced measures, resolutions and statements of solidarity with Palestinians, with some going as far as issuing calls for boycotting Israel over its violations of international law and human rights abuses against Palestinians.

BDS movement

Despite the NEA's vote against the resolution, there have been many efforts among local teachers unions across the US to pass similar measures.

A teachers union in Seattle, Washington endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign in a statement last month, and so did a statewide union in Vermont.

The BDS campaign is a non-violent and Palestinian-led movement calling for the censure of Israel's violations of international law and human rights standards through various boycotts.

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United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is scheduled to vote on a resolution calling for an end to all US aid to Israel this September. The measure also states support for the BDS movement. Several chapters of the organisation have already expressed their support to pass the measure.

In May, the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), a union which represents 6,000 teachers in the San Francisco school system, also passed a measure in support of the BDS movement.

"Therefore, be it further resolved, that UESF endorse the international campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against apartheid in Israel," the resolution said.

The US provides $3.8bn in military aid to Israel each year, making it the largest recipient of American assistance. 

Progressives in Congress have been pushing to impose conditions on aid to Israel, and a recent poll by the Arab American Institute showed that most Americans opposed unrestricted aid to the Israeli government.

Still, despite pressure to condition this aid, the administration of US President Joe Biden said in early June that Washington was "committed" to providing aid for Israel's missile defence system and was working with Israeli officials to "fully understand their needs".

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