Parents group alleges antisemitism in UTLA anti-Israel resolution
Alleging “blatant anti-Semitism,” a parents group is demanding an apology after a regional chapter of the Los Angeles public school teachers union called for the United States to cease all aid to Israel.
The June 1 letter from the parents’ group, California Students United, also asks for an immediate investigation into potential civil rights violations related to racial profiling, saying union leaders have “no business singling out one country and its people, especially a people who have been victims of discrimination, persecution, and genocide for generations.”
“The position of the union you lead has thrown gasoline on the fire of what was already a volatile, unsafe, and increasingly frightening environment for Jews,” according to the letter.
Addressed to United Teachers of Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz, the four-page letter describes several incidents the group found objectionable over the last few months. In a Feb. 19 email, a union employee asked a parent quoted in the news “about your own self-identification” and notes the name “is a common Iranian name.”
A Jan. 17 Facebook post by Myart-Cruz, the group pointed out, said the union is “stalked on social media by wealthy, white and middle eastern parents, in regards to opening schools.”
“Certainly, each parent who reached out to your office did not voluntarily identify his/her race, ethnicity, and income level before leaving a message. So, how did you verify this information?” California Students United’s letter said.
The letter also identified “problematic assertions” made by panelists during a Zoom event in April about ethnic studies in which Myart-Cruz participated. The comments include a statement from a Palestinian Youth Movement activist that the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance is “attacking” ethnic studies.
“To say that your comments and selective silence vis a vis the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance are offensive and disturbing is an understatement,” according to the letter.
The union defended itself in an email to the Forward, calling the resolution regarding Israel “part of our democratic process as a union.”
Proposed resolutions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were debated at some of the union’s eight area meetings last September, but the union noted that not every one was approved. The ones that were approved are not the official word of the overall union, the union explained. The union’s House of Representatives, its highest decision-making body, will consider them in September.
“Motions brought by UTLA members at regional Area meetings are not the official expressed opinions of UTLA or its elected leaders,” according to the email from union spokeswoman Kim Turner.
The email went on to defend debate and disagreement as “essential to democracy and to our union, even when there are deep, conflicting emotions on both sides.”
“As educators, it is our job to create nurturing, safe environments for all of our students. UTLA stands against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, and oppression in all forms. We stand against both anti-Jewish hate and violence and anti-Arab hate and violence wherever they occur, and we denounce the recent attacks on Jewish people in Los Angeles,” according to the email, which said the union mourns “the loss of every innocent child that has been caught in the middle of this conflict.”
The statement was reiterated on the UTLA’s website.
Parent Mona Neman said she supports California Students United’s calls for an apology. She said the resolution is “pretty much the final straw” after other incidents as described in the group’s letter.
“Living in L.A., this is the last thing as a mother I ever thought I would be fearful of, but now I am. Because words count; words hurt,” Neman said.
It’s unclear how union chapters passed the resolution or even debated it, outside the union’s statement that “some” of the eight chapters considered it but not every one approved it.
Text of a resolution passed by the Harbor City chapter, available online, states “solidarity with the Palestinian people and call for Israel to end bombardment of Gaza and stop displacement at Sheikh Jarrah.”
It calls for the overall union to “endorse the international campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against apartheid in Israel” and says U.S. public school educators “have a special responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people because of the 3.8 billion dollars annually that the US government gives to Israel, thus directly using our tax dollars to fund apartheid and war crimes.”
Parent Danna Rosenthal said she’s bothered by the silence of the school and city leaders who received the call for an apology and investigation.
“Is it OK for her to just say and do whatever she wants and get away with it?” Rosenthal said of Myart-Cruz. Myart-Cruz was elected president of the union last year and is the first woman of color to lead the organization.
Rosenthal is a parent leader in California Students United, which is suing the Los Angeles United School District to reopen schools and has launched a change.org petition to recall Myart-Cruz. The group describes itself on its website as being founded by parents “who will no longer tolerate the district leaders giving into UTLA’s arbitrary demands.”