AFT Head Says Jews Criticizing Unions Are “Part of the Ownership Class”

Weingarten’s remarks were met with criticism from Jewish groups and Twitter polemics.
April 8, 2021
Photo by Halfpoint Images/Getty Images

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten is being criticized for saying in a recent interview that American Jews who criticize teacher unions for not wanting to go back to in-person teaching are “part of the ownership class.”

Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s (JTA) Laura E. Adkins told Weingarten in an interview published on April 1 that “some people are very skeptical of the power that they perceive teachers unions to have,” pointing to how in Los Angeles people “see this big dollar figure of aid being given for school reopening and are baffled by the perceived resistance of teachers going back to work.”

Weingarten, who is Jewish and married to a rabbi, responded that American Jews making this argument “are now part of the ownership class. Jews were immigrants from somewhere else. And they needed the right to have public education. And they needed power to have enough income and wealth for their families that they could put their kids through college and their kids could do better than they have done.”

She continued, “both economic opportunity through the labor movement and an educational opportunity through public education were key for Jews to go from the working class to the ownership class.” When asked about school reopening and unions, Weingarten said he hears “that those who are in the ownership class now want to take that ladder of opportunity away from those who do not have it. Am I saying that everything we do is right? No. Are people in Los Angeles fearful? Yes.”

She added that a February poll of AFT members found that 71% were scared about bringing COVID-19 home to their families, “so we have to meet fear with facts.” Weingarten also called the argument in favor of reopening the schools a “totally privileged argument.”

Weingarten’s remarks were met with criticism from Jewish groups and Twitter polemics.

“We work with many Jewish students and parents in Los Angeles and are extremely disappointed by Randi Weingarten’s inaccurate and dangerous generalizations about our community,” StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. “Her comments are shockingly out of touch with the actual experiences of countless Jewish families before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, give undue legitimacy to antisemitic stereotypes, and do nothing to help bring people in Los Angeles together during this difficult time.”

The Stop Antisemitism.org watchdog similarly tweeted, “We are nauseated that the head of the American Federation of Teachers Union has the audacity to help spread century old antisemitic tropes of Jewish financial control! AND she makes a six figure salary. Projecting much Nancy?” 


Newsweek Deputy Opinion Editor Batya Ungar-Sargon tweeted that Weingarten’s remarks were “blatant anti-Semitism on full display,” adding that “the decision to pander to public school teachers refusing to go back to in person learning cost poor children a year of schooling. Its repercussions on inequality will reverberate for GENERATIONS. Instead of taking responsibility, Weingarten accuses Jews of pulling up the ladder.”


George Washington University student Blake Flayton, an avowed progressive Zionist, also tweeted, “My mother is a public school teacher and a member of a union. She was desperate to resume in-person classes for the sake of her students. Little did I know, this was a result of her status as a privileged Jew in the ‘ownership class.’ Open your eyes.”


Washington Examiner commentary contributor Tiana Lowe wrote in an April 8 piece for the Examiner, “Far be it from me to impute anti-Semitic motives to Weingarten, who is Jewish. But is it not bizarre to see her adopt and deploy a trope that could easily come straight off the white nationalist Stormfront website? Even worse, she is doing this to defend a full year now of malingering by millions of teachers who resist returning to school, even though all the science has been telling us since last fall that it is perfectly safe to reopen.”

Weingarten defended her comments in a couple of tweets. “Public [education] & unions are drivers of social mobility 4 Jews & others,” she wrote. “I didn’t intend to play into hateful antisemitic tropes & am disappointed some are trying to distort my intent which was to talk about our responsibility 2 enable opportunity & dignity.”

In a subsequent tweet, she added: “Calling a rebbitzin anti-Semitic…really? my entire life is dedicated to promoting Jewish values like tikkun olam (repairing a broken world).”


Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of Tr’uah, came to Weingarten’s defense, tweeting in response to Ungar-Sargon, “This is a gross distortion of what Randi said. She was talking about her disappointment when Jews don’t support unions. Randi is a proud Jew who does her work out of her deep Jewish commitments.”

Writer Matthew Yglesias similarly tweeted that Weingarten was simply addressing “her Jewish critics on the assumption that’s what the audience for the interview is.” Yglesias also highlighted a passage from the JTA interview where Weingarten talked about staying in New York City with her wife, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, so she could be there for her congregants. “Does this sound to you like Weingarten is wallowing in antisemitism?”


Jonathan Chait, a writer for New York Magazine, replied to Yglesias, “Dismissing objections because Jews collectively have a class interest that biases them is pretty bizarre. We should have public schools open for instruction.” Chait did later say that Ungar-Sargon’s characterization of Weingarten’s remarks “was pretty crude and unfair.”

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