Before analyzing the significance of the UTLA’s success in avoiding the BDS infection, I hope you’ll indulge a quick personal observation.
Like most bloggers, I blog about an issue I’m passionate about: the fight against divest-from-Israel campaigns. And that passion is no less (possibly greater – ask my wife) than that of BDS advocates. Yet in my wildest dreams I would never, ever ask an organization in which I am a member (from my city or town, to the schools I’ve attended, to the synagogue I’ve recently joined, to the various organizations I and my family are members of) to take some official stand so that I could use their name and reputation to bludgeon my political enemies.
Every time divestment comes up, I’m always asked why our side doesn’t simply turn the tables and get the city of Somerville or the Presbyterian Church or some other civic organization to condemn the Palestinians for suicide bombing, or the Saudis for enslaving women or murdering gays. And each time I give the same answer: these institutions are not our playthings. They are living, sometimes fragile, critical parts of our civil society, not tools to be used (or mis-used) so that I or anyone else can leverage their name and reputation to punch above our actual political weight.
Having seen the misery and divisiveness that accompanies BDS when it is brought into an organization (almost always via the back door), civic institutions need a way to honestly evaluate and accept or reject whether they want to take part in divestment activity against Israel or anyone else. But it’s only in the case of Israel-related BDS that people (whether they are citizens of Somerville, members of the Methodist Church or British trade union) wake up one morning to learn that divestment (something they’ve never heard of before) is suddenly being advocated in their name. In the case of Hampshire College students and alums, or TIAA-CREF academic retirees, these communities get to discover their alleged organizational support for divestment is actually fraudulent.
So with regard to using the BDSers own tactics against them: no thank you. From my perspective, the civility and cohesiveness of my son’s tiny 4H group is a million times more important than the BDSers trying to exploit the name and reputation of much larger organizations. As I’ve said before, let BDS create its own civic space worthy of respect, not just latch parasite-like onto the reputation of someone else, by hook or by crook.
With that in mind, the UTLA story is quite simple, yet at the same time quite profound. There a couple dozen BDSers tries their usual trick of infiltrating an organization with a demonstrated concern for human rights, hoping to turn that concern into a weapon in their ongoing propaganda war against Israel. As usual, they thought they could sneak their message into the bloodstream of the organization without consulting anyone but themselves. And, again as usual, they never stopped to consider the damage they might cause by selfishly putting their personal political priorities ahead of the other 47,000+ members of the organization.
Fortunately, the leadership of this particular institution understood that the union exists to serve its member-teachers, and ultimately the students those teachers educate. Like most people familiar with BDS, these leaders understood what happens when you drag the Middle East conflict into an organization. And like most US unions (as opposed to European ones), they are not willing to sacrifice their members or their mission just to allow an insignificant minority to aggrandize their political agenda by exploiting the good name (and good will) of the organization.
So the UTLA said NO to BDS, and as a result have earned some sharp words from divestment partisans (to which I will add two words: “who cares”). For they have also earned (rightfully and righteously) the respect of those who understand that a commitment to human rights does not require an organization to dance to the divestor’s tune, simply because that tune hypocritically uses the language of human rights for its lyrics.