United Teachers Los Angeles just says ‘no’ to Israel divestment push by union commitee

Under a tidal wave of pressure from the local Jewish community, the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has decided to deny use of its headquarters to a UTLA committee planning to host a meeting to discuss the launch of a local boycott of sanctions against and divestment from Israel.

In an release issued late on Oct. 5, UTLA President A.J. Duffy said he favored canceling the planned Oct. 14 pro-Palestinian gathering because it will “only polarize our union members and members of our community.”

However, the UTLA’s Human Rights Committee might still choose to hold the gathering elsewhere, even though Duffy has lobbied several committee members to scrap it, UTLA communications director Marla Eby said.

“It’s still up in the air,” she said.

The planned gathering would be sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of a group called Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS), a new outfit that, according to its Website, includes author Noam Chomsky, who has been sharply critical of Israel, as well as revisionist historian Howard Zinn as board members and which has tight links with Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, a student-activist movement that peaked in the 1960s. The gathering is officially endorsed by the Los Angeles Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee and by Cafe Intifada.

Still, some Jewish leaders seemed to appreciate UTLA President Duffy’s efforts to put distance between the union and the Human Rights Committee.

“I’m proud of what the UTLA has done,” said Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the western region of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress).

Earlier, Rowen Taylor had said that allowing such a meeting to take place on union property would give the appearance that that UTLA endorsed divestment and a boycott, which it does not.

A draft letter to Duffy from several Jewish groups, including the Zionist Organization of America, AJCongress, the Jewish Community Relations Committee and the Progressive Jewish Alliance, among others, thanks him for sending “a clear message that UTLA does not endorse the [Human Rights] Committee’s action.”

Leaders from several major local Jewish organizations met at the L.A. Federation on Oct. 4 to discuss how to respond to the planned event. Duffy also attended the two-hour gathering. Duffy, several participants said, told the group he is Jewish, supports Israel and sympathizes with their concerns. He told participants that UTLA’s 30-plus committees enjoy much autonomy and that their positions don’t necessarily reflect the union as a whole.

Duffy said, in the release, that he had removed UTLA’s Web link to the Human Rights Committee and that UTLA would review its procedures for granting use of its facilities to union committees. In an interview Oct. 5, Duffy added that he found the brouhaha a distraction.

“Let me put it this way, I’d rather be focusing 100 percent of my time to the contract negotiations going on, rather than this [meeting],” he said.

Duffy said he had received far more pro-Israel calls and e-mails than pro-Palestinian communication.

Representatives from UTLA’s Human Rights Committee declined to comment. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) said he believes the group is “made up of a fringe of anti-Semites.” The congressman added that perhaps UTLA should create a new committee for teachers supporting Israel.

The Human Rights Committee’s mission statement calls for “social justice and the peaceful resolution of conflict for its members and other staff, students, parents, the community, the nation, and the global economy.”

After learning about the planned anti-Israel meeting, local Jewish groups united in their condemnation, characterizing the event as anti-Semitic and criticizing the UTLA for initially allowing its headquarters to be used.

“This is worse than a black eye. This goes to the heart of [UTLA’s] credibility,” said Stephen Saltzman, western regional director of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), before the UTLA announced the gathering could not take place on its property. “This is the largest teachers’ union west of the Mississippi allowing itself to be used by extremist radicals who want to launch a campaign to attack the state of Israel and do so with the implied endorsement of the people teaching our children.”

Paul Kujawsky, vice president of the Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles, and a fifth-grade teacher at Germain Street Elementary Street in Chatsworth, said he thought UTLA could make better use of its time grappling with such important local issues as high-school drop-out rates.

“As a union member, I’m furious that we are attempting to have our own foreign policy when there are so many important educational issues to be addressed,” Kujawsky said before Duffy’s announcement.

A release put out by the Los Angeles Chapter of the Movement for a Democratic Society said the meeting’s purpose is to support the Palestinian people and call for a boycott, divestment and sanctions.

“When Israel was created in 1948, 75 percent of the Palestinians were forcibly dispossessed of their lands and forced into exile,” the release says, adding that “Israel’s apartheid and racist system of oppression closely resembles that which South Africa once had…” An MDS spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said the strategy for boycott, divestment and sanctions is really a “campaign for the elimination of the state of Israel, spearheaded by extremist groups who use the same hateful rhetoric as states like Iran and terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.”


Will Truth Prevail?

Emerging from the Royal Courts of Justice here on the evening of March 15 was like leaving a musty 17th-century ecclesiastical battle for the fresh air of the 21st century.

The proposition presented to the court by Holocaust revisionist David Irving in his libel suit against the American Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt during two months of often mind-numbing esoterica might just as easily have been that the world is flat.

Was Auschwitz really a death camp where Jews were systematically slaughtered en masse? Did the Holocaust really happen? Did Hitler order, still less know about, the destruction of European Jewry? No, no, no, thundered Irving.

Given the wealth of historical documentation, physical evidence and eyewitness testimonies, including those of former death camp commandants, the questions might have been redundant to most reasonable people. But not, apparently, to Irving.

To Irving, Auschwitz was an awful slave labor camp where most of the 100,000 Jewish inmates — his figure — died of natural causes. To Irving, the Holocaust was the sum total of all the casualties of World War II. To Irving, Hitler was the best friend the Jews had in the Third Reich.

So who was to blame for the suffering of the Jews? Why, says Irving, the Jews themselves who, by their unspeakable behavior and insatiable greed, have invited the hatred and persecution of their hosts wherever they have lived during the past 3,000 years. By Irving’s logic, the victims become the perpetrators.

Then, again, he has a penchant for turning facts on their head. While it was Irving who instigated the libel trial, he used his closing address to argue that if he lost, the real victims would be free speech and the pursuit of knowledge. The bottom line, he contended, was that his defeat would deny his type of historian the opportunity to question the conventional narrative of the Holocaust.

In fact, the opposite is true. If Irving loses, his reputation might suffer, but it might equally be enhanced, at least among his followers. Nothing, however, will prevent him from continuing to propagate his crackpot views.

If he wins, however, mainstream historians will have to think long and hard about the consequences of taking on the flat-earth brigade that Irving represents with such felicitous ease.

But the case that Irving brought against Emory University’s imperturbable Lipstadt was not based on her contention that the earth is actually round; rather, that Lipstadt and her British publisher, Penguin Books, had accused him of deliberately ignoring the evidence that the earth is round.

Irving claims that Lipstadt’s assertion that he is a Holocaust denier, a distorter of history, a Hitler partisan and, in the words of defense lawyer Richard Rampton, “a right-wing extremist, a racist and, in particular, a rabid anti-Semite” ruined his reputation and wrecked his career.

Could Irving succeed in his libel action? And what would that mean?

A senior source deep inside the Lipstadt defense team was euphoric immediately after the closing statements last week. There was no doubt, he said, that the judgment — expected in about three weeks — would be in Lipstadt’s favor.

Then, again, Irving was equally confident: “That’s a stupid question,” he replied tersely when I asked him whether he thought he would win.

British libel law is stacked in Irving’s favor. The judge is not being asked to rule on whether the Holocaust happened, whether Hitler knew or approved of the extermination of Jews or whether Auschwitz was indeed the scene of systematic mass killing.

Instead, he must decide whether, as Lipstadt charged in her book, Irving deliberately distorted, misstated, misquoted and falsified historical evidence and manipulated historical documents in order to make them conform to his own ideological agenda. And he must decide whether Irving deliberately ignored evidence in order to exonerate Hitler for the persecution of the Jews.

The burden of proof fell on Lipstadt to show that Irving actually had evidence to support the conventional meaning of the Holocaust; he says he did not because it is a subject he finds “endlessly boring.” So, too, was the burden on Lipstadt to show that Irving had evidence to link Hitler with an order to kill Jews; Irving maintains no such definitive document exists.

It is possible, on strictly technical grounds, that the judge will find in Irving’s favor, and the effect of such a decision could be far-reaching.

To many who are not versed in British libel law, a victory for Irving — however narrow, however technical — will be perceived as a vindication of Holocaust denial and a blurring of the line between legitimate historical inquiry and partial “research” that is designed to aid right-wing extremism and fuel neo-Nazism.

Whatever the outcome, it would be entirely wrong to assume that Irving is a cardboard cut-out fascist or a raving lunatic. His public speeches might be intemperate, but his actions are carefully calculated. He is a prolific author and an articulate spokesman for his cause, and he has a presence, physical and intellectual, that commands attention.

Whether railing against the international Jewish conspiracy that he says has hounded him for 30 years, excoriating what he perceives to be the enemies of free speech — which include most major Jewish organizations and media — or lamenting the stream of countries that have deported him because they found his views too obnoxious, Irving is clearly a child who hates having his party ruined.