Reactions continue after AFT resolution in support of Palestinians

Critics say the resolution is antisemitic, while supporters argue criticism of Israeli policies is warranted

Supporters of Palestinians rally

Supporters of Palestinians rally in Balboa Park in May, in response to fighting that broke out between Israelis and Palestinians. Photo by Jakob McWhinney/City Times Media

Jakob McWhinney, Multimedia Journalist

Reactions continue after the union that represents the teachers of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca and San Diego Community College districts approved a resolution in support of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank earlier this month.

The resolution by the American Federation of Teachers Guild, Local 1931 prompted responses from local Jewish and other organizations to one local media outlet, followed by a public statement from the national AFT president and the SDCCD chancellor.

And in response to that, came dozens of comments at the latest district Board of Trustees meeting from the public, as well as faculty and students.

It all started on Sept. 5, with a resolution by the AFT chapter criticizing the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government that called on the U.S. government to hold Israel accountable and reassess military aid to the country.

“The AFT Guild condemns the forced removal of Palestinian residents in West Jerusalem, the bombing of civilian areas in the besieged Gaza Strip, and the continued human rights violations committed by the Israeli government during its 73-year occupation of this land,” the AFT, Local 1931 wrote.

The statement went on to condemn antisemitic violence and sought to draw a distinction between opposition to Israel’s policies and anti-Jewish sentiment as a whole, citing a letter cosigned by over 40 Jewish groups and released in 2018 by Jewish Voices For Peace.

The letter said, in part, that the conflation of opposition to Israel’s policies with antisemitism undermined the Palestinian struggle for freedom and the global struggle against antisemitism, helping shield the Israeli government from justified international scrutiny for its actions.

On Sept. 11, Times of San Diego wrote the first of two news stories in response to the resolution. Three days later, National President of the AFT Randi Weingarten told Times of San Diego that local chapters have broad autonomy when it comes to expressing their opinions, but she had concerns about the San Diego local’s resolution.

“I’m troubled by aspects of this resolution, which I have already conveyed to the local leadership, including its refusal to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist or to defend itself,” Weingarten told the online news site.

In a written statement released a day after the Sept. 14 news story, SDCCD Chancellor Carlos Turner-Cortez wrote that the district takes no position on whether the resolution was “warranted or appropriate.”

Cortez wrote SDCCD strove to encourage free expression within its core values of civility, respect and inclusion, but also expressed sympathy for anyone hurt by the union’s statement.

“All people and all perspectives are welcome at SDCCD, and any efforts to divide us must be resisted,” Cortez wrote. “We recognize that the opinions expressed by the American Federation of Teachers Local 1931, are not embraced by many employees and students. We offer our sincere thoughts to those who were offended by the resolution.”

Local Jewish leaders and other organizations like the San Diego chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, however, were much more critical of the union’s statement.

In an op-ed published in the Times of San Diego on Sept. 17, and cosigned by dozens of local organizations, Jewish Federation of San Diego County Board Chair Jack Maizel and Interim CEO & President Heidi Gantwerk wrote they strongly condemned the union’s statement, describing it as simplistic and misguided.

“This resolution creates an unsafe atmosphere for Jewish and Israeli students, faculty and staff, and other members of the San Diego and Grossmont community college communities,” Gantwerk and Maizel wrote.

In contrast to the 2018 Jewish Voices For Peace letter, Gantwerk and Maizel wrote that anti-Israel and anti-Jewish statements are increasingly intertwined and “simply asserting these words ‘are not antisemitic’ does not eliminate the harm and the risk incurred by publishing this irresponsible statement.”

In a conversation with City Times, Jeanine Erikat, a Palestinian-American and the general coordinator of the San Diego chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement, praised the AFT resolution and also sought to draw a distinction between criticism of Israeli governmental policies and antisemitism.

She said not all Jewish people approved of the Israeli government’s policies and many of those at the forefront of the movement to support Palestinians were themselves Jewish.

“When we talk about anti-Israel, it’s a criticism of a foreign government,” Erikat said. “We do that all the time in the U.S., so why is it that when people are speaking against Israel it’s suddenly antisemitic?” 

She called the statement released by Cortez disappointing and dismissive of the AFT resolution, saying it alienated Palestinian students who had already been routinely silenced and surveilled on campuses nationwide, and minimized the struggle of Palestinians.

Cortez sought once again to distance SDCCD from the AFT Local 1931 resolution at the SDCCD Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 23, yet discussion of the topic still dominated the meeting.


In addition to dozens of public comments, both in support of and in opposition to the resolution left on the district’s website and read aloud during the meeting, San Diego City College Academic Senate President and Chair of City’s Black Studies department Darius Spearman said the senate’s executive committee was taken aback by Cortez’s statement.

Reading from a statement prepared by the Academic Senate, Spearman said he supported the sentiments in the local’s resolution.

He said Cortez’s stated neutrality on the resolution was disingenuous and simultaneously offering sincere thoughts to those offended by it, while ignoring the plight of Palestinians living under occupation, was actually a deliberate decision to take a stance.

“If he, and the district, believe that the right to human dignity in the lives of Palestinians is beyond the scope of (SDCCD’s) mission, what other abuses would they have us ignore?” Spearman said.