For Immediate Release — December 10, 2014
Opponents of Israel Boycott at UC Plan Appeal, UAW Campus Union Ran Unfair, Undemocratic Election
Berkeley — Results were announced today on a referendum held by UAW 2865, the University of California (UC) Student Workers Union. A small unrepresentative minority of UC Graduate students, voted to adopt Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. In last Thursday’s referendum, 2,189 UC graduate students voted out of a total of over 52,000 potential voters.
“This was far from a fair process,” said Jonathan Kummerfeld, a member of Informed Grads, a group of rank-and-file United Auto Workers (UAW) 2865 members who formed to oppose BDS in their Union. “Over the past several months, the Union leadership invested thousands of dollars, together with the Union’s institutional and human resources to promote a ‘yes’ vote.
Opponents of BDS were denied equal opportunities to reach members. The views of opponents such as Informed Grads, their events and their written arguments were not published or publicized by the local union in anything other than a token manner, and comments by opponents were not considered in the drafting of union documents.” The Union wrote and disseminated thousands of words in favor of BDS. The Union refused to send members a single paragraph from the opposition.
“This election process did not even have the appearance of fairness,” added UCLA student Philippe Assouline. “The polls were often staffed by pro-BDS campaigners. One union member tried to have me forcibly evicted because I opposed BDS even though I was abiding by all the rules. Meanwhile pro-BDS campaigners were everywhere.”
Informed Grads has filed appeals contesting the fairness of the elections on these and other grounds.
“No one should be surprised by efforts to silence BDS opponents,” said Joshua Saidoff, a member of Informed Grads. “BDS includes a boycott of every Israeli university and academic association. It is an attempt to shut out ideas and idea-makers. It is an attempt to narrow the bounds of acceptable discourse on campus. BDS not only aims to stigmatize and marginalize Israel. It aims to stigmatize and marginalize dissenters.
Efforts to stifle academic freedom, collaboration, and exchange are particularly ironic coming on this, the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement. From 1964-1965 UC Berkeley students agitated for and won expansive academic freedoms. With this vote, the UC Student Workers Union voted to limit those freedoms.
If the union implemented this, an academic boycott could potentially harm institutional collaboration between the University of California and the entire Israeli university system. It could impact study abroad programs, jointly-funded research, and advances in science that were described by Art Ellis, Vice Chancellor for Research at UC San Diego, as “path-breaking.”
“It is not even clear that students understood that this was what they were endorsing when they voted for BDS,” noted Karra Greenberg, a member of Informed Grads who is concerned about union obfuscation and misrepresentation.
Within hours of the results being announced the union sent email supporting expansion of the effort to actions beyond those specified on the ballot.
Students worry that this activity could include potentially discriminatory actions. If they do discriminate, the union and the University of California have already been put on notice by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) that a lawsuit would follow.