FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UW-Madison Union of Graduate Student Workers (TAA) Endorses BDS Movement
Madison, WI (May 19, 2016): Members of the Teaching Assistants’ Association at the University of Wisconsin-Madison vote overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution to divest from the State of Israel and corporations that profit from the illegal occupation of Palestine. During a two-week vote distributed to all union members, the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA/AFT Local 3220) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the oldest graduate student labor union in the United States representing over 9,000 graduate workers and students, voted overwhelmingly (81% of voting members) in favor of adopting a resolution to divest from Israeli state institutions and international corporations complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the ongoing violations of Palestinians’ human rights.
In doing so, the TAA joins other graduate student unions UAW 2322 at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, UAW 2865 at the University of California System, and UAW 2110 at New York University, who have stood in solidarity with Palestinian Civil Society’s call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as a non-violent tactic to put political and economic pressure on Israel until it ends the occupation and its violation of human rights and international law. The resolution also calls on the TAA’s employer, the University of Wisconsin System, and parent international, the AFLCIO, to divest from the state of Israel and companies that contribute to and profit from the military occupation and oppression of Palestinians.
The TAA Palestine Solidarity Caucus (TAA-PSC) began an open process in September 2015, holding roundtables, discussions, and encouraging a platform where all opinions about Israel/Palestine were welcomed. Through countless conversations with fellow union members over the course of this year, TAA-PSC discovered the following realities:
- Palestinian labor and trade unions have sought solidarity from graduate worker unions for ten years
- The AFL-CIO is complicit in financing the occupation of Palestine in holding approximately $5 billion in Israeli Government Bonds
- The U.S., by sending over $3 billion a year in military aid to Israel, is complicit in financing the occupation and oppression of Palestinians;
- The day-to-day working conditions and the realities of the students graduate assistants teach, study, and work with are directly related to the rise of spending on militarism and the consequential disinvestment from public universities and the public sector as a whole.
From these realities emerged the responsibility to join global movements against racism, colonialism, and other systems of exploitation, and to democratically ask union members to join the BDS movement to put pressure on Israel to end the military occupation of Palestine.
At a time when Israel is limiting free speech and the principles of democracy by policing and limiting the movement of BDS supporters within the West Bank and Israel and criminalizing advocacy for BDS, U.S. states are introducing resolutions that make engaging in the non-violent strategy of BDS illegal, and parent unions are voiding democratic votes that called for BDS, the TAA still strongly believes in the difficult practice of democracy. It is only by valuing and creating platforms for all ideas and opinions that the labor movement will be strong.
The TAA is the oldest graduate student labor union in the United States and advocates for a university that is fair to all—including students, workers, and their families. Graduate student workers perform nearly half of all the instruction that takes place at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, while also taking classes and conducting research. The University works because we do.
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The resolution, as passed by the TAA, can be read in its entirety below:
Resolution: Standing in Solidarity with the Palestinian Civil Society and Joining the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.
WHEREAS, the Constitution of the Teaching Assistant Association states that one of the objectives of the TAA is to “cooperate with other labor organizations in particular and other segments of our society in the achievement of common goals,” and
WHEREAS, the TAA has a long history of standing in solidarity with oppressed people around the world, including historically calling for divestment from Apartheid South Africa and recently standing against racism and police brutality as evident in the TAA endorsement of YGB demands and joining the nationwide movement in support of racial and economic justice following the recent incidents at the University of Missouri, and
WHEREAS, our day-to-day working conditions and the realities of the students we teach, study, and work with are directly related to the rise of spending on militarism and the consequential disinvestment from public universities and the public sector as a whole, and
WHEREAS, Article II of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all people “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”(1) are entitled to the rights enumerated therein, and
WHEREAS, The United Nations has declared in Resolution 242(2) that Israel must withdraw all armed forces from territories occupied in recent conflicts, in Resolution 446(3) that the policies and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in Palestine since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East, and in Resolution 194(4) that Palestinian refugees wishing to return to their homes should be allowed to do so, and
WHEREAS, the International Court of Justice has found that Israel has routinely conducted acts of collective punishment, including demolition of homes, land confiscation, and the construction of the wall between Palestine and Israel,(5) all which violate the Fourth Geneva Convention,(6) and
WHEREAS, Amnesty International has stated that “Israeli forces have committed unlawful killings of Palestinian civilians, including children, and detained thousands of Palestinians who protested or otherwise opposed Israel’s continuing military occupation, holding hundreds in administrative detention,” (7) and
WHEREAS, despite these calls by the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and international human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Israel continues to deny Palestinians the human rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through their policies of colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation, and
WHEREAS, examples of these continued violations include not only the fact that over 500,000 Israeli Settlers continue to live within 237 West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements(8) in violation of the Article 49 of Fourth Geneva Convention, which states the “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory that it occupies,” (9) but also Israeli businesses in these settlements contribute to continued confiscation of Palestinian water and land(10), and
WHEREAS, this confiscation of Palestinian water rights in the West Bank means that Israeli settlers use six-times the amount of water as Palestinians(11) meaning that many Palestinians who live in the 60% of the West Bank that is under complete Israeli military and domestic control (Area C) live on less than 60 liters per day,(12) well below the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 100 liters per person per day,(13) and
WHEREAS, these discriminatory water policies are coupled with the expansion of Israeli agriculture projects, the creation of a network of racially segregated roads in the West Bank,(14) and the lack of Palestinian authority over much of its land, its borders, and its water, has led numerous individuals like President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to compare Israel to an apartheid state.(15)
WHEREAS, Israel has continued to violate the Fourth Geneva Convention by conducting a campaign of housing demolitions under the pretenses of building structures without approval in Area C locations, despite the fact that 94% of all applications for building are rejected, has left more than 4,652 Palestinians homeless in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2011, and
WHEREAS, Israel operates an apartheid legal system, whereby Israeli children under 14 cannot be sentenced to jail and only 6.5% of minors over the age of 14 receive prison terms, but Palestinian children as young as 12 can be incarcerated under Israeli Military Law, and 90% of detained Palestinian children over the age of 12 will face prison, and
WHEREAS, according to official Israeli state data, the state provides three times as much funding for Jewish students as Palestinian students(16), and
WHEREAS, Palestinians living in Israel who represent 20% of the population, but only hold 6% of all civil service employment (the largest employer in Israel),(17) and Palestinian citizens face discrimination in work opportunities and pay and conditions due to inadequate implementation of equal-opportunity legislation and exclusion from military service, which is a major criterion for employment, and
WHEREAS, the United Nations estimates that there are still five million Palestinian refugees who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict,(18) and
WHEREAS, despite this ongoing tragedy, Israel remains the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II, as to date it has received 124.3 billion in bilateral assistance and which continues at the rate of 3.1 billion USD per year,(19) and
WHEREAS, in response to the failure of the world community to hold Israeli accountable for these continued human rights violations, in 2005, Palestinian civil society, consisting of over 170 Palestinian parties, organizations, trade unions, and movements called for their counterparts and people of conscience around the world to launch a campaign of broad boycotts, implement
divestment initiatives and demand sanctions against Israel, until Palestinian rights are recognized in full compliance with international law, and
WHEREAS, this campaign should continue against the state of Israel until it meets the requirements of 1) Ending Israel Occupation and Colonization of all Arab lands occupied in 1967 and dismantling the wall 2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality 3) respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194, and
WHEREAS, Universities have frequently been the sites of student activism on issues ranging from the Chicano movement,(20) to the Civil Rights Movement, and divestment from Apartheid South Africa.
WHEREAS, the Wisconsin State Legislature recognizes the role of the universities in upholding human rights by stipulating in State Statue 36.29 in reference to the University of Wisconsin System that “No investment of the funds of such gifts, grants, or bequests shall knowingly be made in any company, corporation, subsidiary, or affiliate that practices or condones through its actions discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, creed, or sex,” and
WHEREAS, the Broad of Regents University of Wisconsin System upholds this duty through Regent Policy 31-13(21): “Social Responsibility and Investment Considerations,” which acknowledges that “all investments made in any company, corporation, subsidiary, or affiliate that practices or condones through its actions discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, creed or sex, shall be divested in as prudent but rapid a manner as possible. Furthermore, The Board of Regents, to facilitate the application of this statute, interprets the language above as follows The words “that practices or condones through its actions” shall be interpreted to mean “employing persons in nations which by their laws discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, creed or sex.”
WHEREAS, in particular the University of Wisconsin – Madison, operates on the “Wisconsin Idea” in that what happens at this school must impact people’s lives beyond the classroom; and
WHEREAS, the University of Wisconsin System has upheld these statues and the “Wisconsin Idea” through the 2006 Regent Policy document 31-16(22) that divests from “business activity that provide support to current government of Sudan,” and previously in 1978 within divestment from the apartheid regime of South Africa,(23) and that these policies have set the precedent for divesting from companies who do business with oppressive regimes as this business activity is a form of condoning those oppressive actions, and
WHEREAS, all major trade unions in Palestine have endorsed BDS and this call has been joined by UAW Local 2865 (Graduate Student Union of the University of California), UAW Local 4121 (University of Washington academic student workers), AFL-CIO Connecticut, United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, the International Long Workers Union Local 10 in Oakland, UK National Union of Teachers (Europe’s largest Teacher Union), Unite (the largest union in the UK and Ireland), the Teacher Union of Ireland, the Norwegian Trade
Union Congress, Public Services International, ITUC Africa (Africa’s largest trade union federation), the CUT (Brazil’s largest trade union), the major trade unions of Basque, major unions in Australia, FIOM-CGIL (the largest trade union in Italy), the Scottish Trade Union Congress, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, the Catalan Workers Union, the Canadian Union Postal Workers, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and other unions across Europe, Australia, and Africa to show solidarity with the people of Palestine, and
WHEREAS, we are complicit in financing the occupation of Palestine through our dues, as our parent union of the AFL-CIO owns approximately 5 Billion USD in Israeli Government bonds(24), and
WHEREAS, we believe that to create lasting peace and safety for all people of Israel, requires addressing the structural injustices facing the Palestinians that are at the root of this conflict, and
WHEREAS, the struggle for justice in Palestine has been waged in Palestine and Israel by Palestinian laborers and civil society, and Israelis who are refusing military service, joining in on non-violent struggles, and speaking up for human rights and condemning occupation, and it is our responsibility to join in struggle with those working towards a more just world, and
WHEREAS, as we struggle for labor and fair working conditions in Wisconsin we have a responsibility to honor the radical acts of global solidarity that built and nurtured the foundation that our union sits upon, to acknowledge the intersections our struggle has with global movements against racism, colonialism, and other systems of exploitation, and to explore, dialogue, and imagine what solidarity looks like, therefore be it
RESOLVED, that the Teaching Assistant Association endorses the BDS movement and urges the union at all levels to become engaged in BDS and the movement for peace, justice and equality between the Palestinians and Israelis, and
RESOLVED that Teaching Assistant Association will call on the government of the United States of America to end military aid to Israel, and
RESOLVED that the Teaching Assistant Association will call on fellow local unions and our parent union of the AFL-CIO to divest their investments including pension funds from Israeli institutions and companies complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people and companies that provide revenues to the Israeli government through business with the government, as well as decline to conduct business with said companies, until Israel complies to the precepts of international law by specifically: 1) Ending the occupation of Arab lands and dismantling the wall 2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinians citizens of Israel to full equality 3) Respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
RESOLVED that the Teaching Assistant Association will call on the University of Wisconsin System to divest their investments including pension funds from Israeli companies complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people and companies that provide revenues
to the Israeli government through business with the government, as well as to decline to conduct business with said companies, until Israel complies to the precepts of international law by specifically: 1) Ending the occupation of Arab lands and dismantling the wall 2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinians citizens of Israel to full equality 3) Respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.