L.A. Teachers Union Rejects Israel Boycott

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For Immediate Release: September 23, 2021

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Los Angeles, California: During a monthly meeting held by United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), a labor union representing L.A. teachers, the organization’s main policy-making body voted to reject a proposed motion to endorse a boycott of Israel in a 72 to 28% vote. Instead, the union voted to postpone the motion indefinitely.  In parliamentary procedure, the motion to postpone indefinitely is a subsidiary motion used to kill a main motion without taking a direct vote on it – the motion is not actually “postponed.”

Two advocacy organizations, the Israeli-American Civic Action Network (ICAN), representing Israelis in America, and California Students United (CSU), a grassroots parents advocacy group formed to combat corruption in education, partnered with Los Angeles teachers and were instrumental in leading direct action advocacy efforts aimed at preventing the anti-Israel motion from moving forward.

Teachers Speak Out

“It’s been an interesting journey for me. I don’t bring politics into my job, but this was thrust upon me, and I felt that I had an obligation to speak out. I think the people who brought this forward were shocked about the amount of pushback they got and the pain it caused Jewish professionals,” said Laurie Bernhard, an LAUSD school psychologist.” I do hope that people learn more about the history and Israel’s efforts at creating peace. To have this as the one international issue that union will take a stand on, is to me, antisemitic.”

“Being the granddaughter of an Auschwitz survivor, hearing the outpouring of support for a motion that segregates us has been quite disappointing,” said Jennifer Grunfeld, an LAUSD teacher. “Following tonight’s vote, I’m grateful that there are still good people in the world that see a place for all teachers and all students to learn in a safe environment.”

Engaging Students, Parents, And Staff

“The motions proposed by some within UTLA were entirely one-sided against Israel and ignored the actions of the Hamas terrorist organization which had fired thousands of rockets at innocent Israelis,” said Daniella Bloom, a parent advocate at ICAN. “As an Israeli parent with children who attend LAUSD schools, taught by teachers who are members of UTLA, I had serious concerns that if they passed this biased and factually incorrect motion, that me, my children, and family would be in danger and at risk.”

“Antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric should not be tolerated in a teachers union,” added Danna Rosenthal, Media Relations for CSU. “As parents, we trust our teachers to have a positive impact on our students, and when UTLA targeted our heritage and our home country for unfair, inaccurate, and biased criticism, it completely eroded our trust.”

Over the summer, the groups initiated an advocacy effort to educate leaders on UTLA’s Board of Directors about the antisemitic roots of the movement to boycott Israel. As a result, thousands of parents and students emailed the UTLA Board of Directors urging them to withdraw the motion – in response, on July 21st, the Board of Directors issued a statement recommending that the Israel boycott motion be postponed indefinitely.

“California Students United (CSU) is the first parent group to notice the problematic rhetoric from UTLA when they hosted a Zoom event that was unequivocally antisemitic on April 13th, long before the Hamas conflict in May,” said Naz Cohen, a CSU parent leader. “This was very concerning to us as LAUSD parents, so we were the first group to send an open letter to Ms. Myart-Cruz, and to all elected officials, on June 1st, 2021 – at CSU, we knew that we had to see this chapter through to the very end.”

A Data-Driven Digital Advocacy Effort

Leading up to today’s vote, teacher leaders, ICAN, and CSU mobilized thousands of Los Angeles families opposed to the motion to boycott Israel and encouraged them to reach out to UTLA members directly. Parents and students sent thousands of emails to teachers asking them to kill the motion to boycott Israel.

“At ICAN, grassroots mobilization is core to our organization’s operations,” said Michael Michalov, a member of ICAN California’s Executive Council. “We are leveraging cutting-edge data-driven digital organizing and advocacy to advance initiatives for a better America, a more secure Israel, and a stronger U.S. – Israel alliance.”

As part of the digital advocacy effort, thousands of parents and students were mobilized and encouraged to email hundreds of Los Angeles teachers and urge them to reject the motion to boycott Israel. This effort resulted in over 600,000 individuals messages sent, with 32% of advocates identifying as Israeli or Israeli-American, 74% identified as parents, 20% concerned residents, 3% students, and 3% teachers.

In the weeks that followed, ICAN and CSU supported new LAUSD policies on antisemitism on campus, a major concern for Los Angeles parents and students, should the UTLA motion boycott Israel pass. And, the groups also worked with the Los Angeles City Council to pass a resolution condemning antisemitism and supporting the new LAUSD policies.

“Israelis, like any immigrant community, deserve the right to connect with their culture and celebrate their heritage, free from bias and bigotry,” said Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, the primary author of L.A. City resolution.

The effort to endorse a boycott of Israel within UTLA started in the union’s local areas. At meetings held on May 20th, these local areas drafted a motion expressing “solidarity with the Palestinian people” and called “Israel to end the bombardment of Gaza and stop displacement at Sheikh Jarrah” and endorsed “the international campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against apartheid in Israel,” however UTLA leadership were quick to point out that the local area draft motions do not represent the policy views of the union and must be voted on by the 250-member House of Representatives, the organization’s policy-making body.

About Israeli-American Civic Action Network (ICAN): The Israeli-American Civic Action Network is dedicated to empowering Israeli immigrants and American allies to create change for a better America, a more secure Israel, and a stronger U.S. – Israel alliance through advocacy education and civic action. Learn more at IsraelUSA.org. 

About California Students United (CSU): A quality education is a right, not a privilege. It should not be defined by our race, religion, political affiliation, or economic status. California Students United (CSU) is fighting to ensure that parents and students are given a seat at the table when it comes to decision-making that affects educational policy. The time has come to translate “Kids First” from a sound bite to a civil right.