UW System union passes call for Israel divestment

During the Passover season, the University of Wisconsin Divestment from Israel Campaign scored another symbolic victory in its effort to get the University of Wisconsin System to divest from companies that help Israel “perpetuate human rights abuses against Palestinian civilians.”

On April 23, the delegate assembly of The Association of University of Wisconsin Professionals (TAUWP) voted 24 to two with four abstentions to approve such a resolution.

TAUWP is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. According to the organization’s Web site, the organization represents faculty and academic staff on 25 UW System campuses (all of them except UW-Madison).

While it is primarily concerned with workplace conditions issues, it is also “a group of humanitarians who believe in democracy,” according to its president, Raymond Spoto of UW-Platteville. “Justice issues concern us.”

Moreover, Spoto contended that the resolution “isn’t against Israel, but against companies that are supplying Israel with certain things.”

The resolution contends that “there is irrefutable evidence that U.S.-based companies in which the University of Wisconsin is invested provide material aid to the Israeli Army in the form of weapons, equipment, and supporting systems used to perpetuate human rights abuses against Palestinian civilians.”

It therefore calls upon the UW System’s board of regents “to divest from Boeing, Caterpillar, General Dynamics, General Electric, Lockheed Matin, Northrop-Grumman, and Raytheon based on evidence of the active role these companies play in enabling Israeli forces to engage in practices that violate international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.”

The faculty senate of UW-Platteville approved a similar resolution on Jan. 25. Other such resolutions were defeated by the UW-Whitewater faculty senate on Feb. 1 and the UW-Madison’s Teaching Assistants’ Association on April 12.

That TAUWP would take this position surprised local and national observers. Paula Simon, executive director of the Milwaukee Jewish Council for Community Relations, said she felt “completely puzzled” about why TAUWP would address the issue when the UW Board of Regents has stated that it will not take up calls for divestment from companies doing business with Israel.

Moreover, if TAUWP wants to promote Middle East peace, “it needs to commit to a two-state solution,” which is “what the Palestinian Authority is working toward,” said Simon.

Gregory Humphrey is executive assistant to the president of the AFT, based in Washington, D.C. He said TAUWP’s stance opposes that of the AFT, which has “supported Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East struggling against a sea of anti-democratic forces and forces opposing its existence.”

Moreover, “I find the timing of this really curious and noteworthy,” Hunphrey added. “For all the years when everything was a deadlock and there was no prospect for peace, things like this don’t happen.” Now that progress toward peace is being made, “these things pop up” in this union and elsewhere, he said.

Avrum Lyon, executive director of the New York City-based Jewish Labor Committee, said that by taking this stance, TAUWP has allowed itself “to be used by dissidents with the Palestinian community who are opposed to the democratically-elected leader” of the Palestinian Authority.

Lyon pointed out that the sponsors of the divestment campaign come from an organization calling itself Al-Awda: The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition.

On its Web site (www.al-awda.org), the organization states that it “unequivocally supports the rights of all Palestinian refugees to return to their original towns, villages and lands anywhere in Palestine from which they were expelled” and “supports the struggle for the liberation of Palestine and views it as a struggle against all forms of colonialism.”

Therefore, it does not believe in a two-state solution to the conflict and is engaged in a struggle with the current leaders of the P.A. “for control of the Palestinian agenda,” Lyon said. The divestment campaign, which “drives people apart,” is one of the fronts in that battle, said Lyon.

Lyon said he believes that the leaders of TAUWP and other groups caught up in the divestment campaign “will realize at some point they are being used, and will pull back.”