LAUSD Teacher Resigns from Union Over Pro-BDS Motion: “I Feel Unsafe As a Jew”

"This political battle has NOTHING to do with the education of my students.”
June 8, 2021
United Teachers of Los Angeles then president Alex Caputo-Pearl speaks to a crowd of striking teachers in Grand Park on January 22, 2019 in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

A teacher at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has resigned from the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) union as a result of the union taking up a motion supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The motion, which was passed during UTLA’s North Area (northeast Los Angeles) and Harbor Area (which includes Carson and San Pedro) meetings on May 20, expressed “our solidarity with the Palestinian people and call for Israel to end bombardment of Gaza and stop displacement at Sheikh Jarrah” and endorsed “the international campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against apartheid in Israel.” UTLA said in a statement that the motion would be taken up for a vote by the UTLA House of Representatives in September and that motions passed in Area meetings don’t reflect the opinion of UTLA leadership.

Lindsey Kohn, a sixth-grade math and science teacher at James Madison Middle School in North Hollywood, wrote in her letter of resignation that “I feel unsafe as a Jew in this UTLA” with the motion being brought to a vote. “As an educated person, I cannot understand how the union can stand by a terrorist organization and a country that bombs Israel, hurts their children and wants to kill every Jew. The Palestinians use children and civilians as human shields and then blame Israel for their death. This political battle has NOTHING to do with the education of my students.”

Additionally, Kohn chided UTLA for supporting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, accusing the union of putting “many lives in danger by taking away our school safety officers. This organization is racist, anti-semitic [sic] and clearly extremely ignorant.”

Kohn told the Journal that the union “was very nonchalant about” the motion, telling her that they were just going to wait and see what happens with the upcoming vote. Kohn felt like she needed to resign from the union because “the only way to have my voice heard is to take my money away from them”; she had been in the union for 11 years.

“I think the union at this point needs to be broken down,” Kohn said. “Every other Jewish teacher I speak to–except the Palestinian sympathizer ones, which unfortunately there are many–they’re angry too. So hopefully we will get a backlash and people will start walking out.”

A spokesperson for UTLA did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment. A spokesperson for LAUSD declined to comment to the Journal.

Various local Jewish groups have criticized the motion. Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Jeffrey I. Abrams wrote in a May 28 letter to UTLA that the motion is “extremely one-sided” and “makes problematic claims and biased assumptions, including blaming the recent outbreak of violence solely on Israel.” The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles similarly said in a June 7 statement, “In the wake of numerous attacks against the Jewish community, this motion adds fuel to the fire of antisemitism and does nothing to achieve a just resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Instead, it dehumanizes and demonizes Jews and Israelis, all while delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist. At best, it white-washes Israelis and Jews, erasing the diverse history of ‘Mizrahi’ (Eastern and Middle Eastern) Jews and the persecution, discrimination, and bigotry all Jews have faced as minorities wherever they have lived, throughout every era in history. We cannot allow any teachers or students to feel that their teachers’ union is collectively poised against them.”

On the other hand, Venice High School history teacher Soni Lloyd, a UTLA chapter chair, told The Los Angeles Times that voting on the motion is necessary because “labor unions are inherently anti-imperialist, which is why they are “speaking up for the Palestinians.” “This is not about singling out a specific demographic, it’s about opposing colonization, war crimes and injustice, which are all things that harm the cause of labor.”

A spokesperson for the Palestinian Youth Movement also told the Times, “The second-largest teachers union in the country is on the path towards making a clear, decisive moral stance against Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people…. In doing so, UTLA members add their voices to the growing tide of public support for Palestinian liberation.”

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