Fact Checker on the Toolkit for Teaching Palestine

Fact Checker on the Toolkit for Teaching Palestine

You might have seen that we have been in some really awful and distorted news this week. There have been some abhorrent claims about CUPE 3903 as a local and the activism of our members, this type of backlash is unfortunately common to organizations and activists who speak out in support of Palestine. We understand how reading these articles may have contributed to anxiety or confusion for some members. We want to offer some clarity and support.

What is the Toolkit for Teaching Palestine?

The toolkit is a resource developed by the Palestinian Solidarity Working Group, a group of rank-and-file members whose mandate was overwhelmingly approved by the membership. The Palestinian Solidarity Working Group is a group of members from diverse identities, including both Palestinian and Jewish backgrounds. The toolkit was developed as a resource for members who wanted to participate in a teach-in action in response to a call for global solidarity with Palestine from January 21st – 28th.

Members felt the need to produce such a resource as a result of the reprisals students, faculty and student organizations have faced for simply speaking about Palestine in the workplace. The member-to-member document talked about collective, moral and professional responsibility to speak, write and teach on Palestine in spite of the culture of fear that has dominated much of Western academic institutions. It provided a list of readily-available educational resources, outlined potential risks, and, if members chose to participate, highlighted supports that exist as union members. 

Why solidarity with Palestine?

As a part of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, Gaza, home to more than 2.3 million people, has been under an unrelenting land, sea, and air blockade since 2007. Since the Israeli bombardments started in early October there have been over 25,000 Palestinians deaths and, according to the Human Rights Watch Organization, the displacement of nearly 1.9 million people – more than 85 percent of the population in Gaza. This is a catastrophic level of human suffering, destruction and ethnic cleansing. Recently, the International Court of Justice’s preliminary ruling indicated that it is plausible that there is a genocide underway in Gaza and all actions must be taken to prevent further genocide. 

CUPE 3903 has a long-standing member-driven history of Palestinian solidarity. We were proudly one of the first unions to support the peaceful Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign, called by Palestinian Civil Society in 2005, to pressure Israel to comply with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights. Since then, our members have called on the York University administration numerous times to divest from on-going investments in weapons manufacturers that profit from Palestinian suffering. It’s not just us either, CUPE Ontario has supported BDS and campaigns against Israeli apartheid since 2006. Unifor, PSAC, CUPW and many other Canadian unions all now have BDS policies at the national level too. This is a part of the proud and important internationalist tradition of the labour movement. We stand together and practice solidarity. As workers united, we oppose all forms of oppression and champion freedom, justice and equality for all

Did the toolkit target Jewish students or blame students for Israeli state-violence?

No. That is truly an abhorrent claim and fundamentally against the values of CUPE 3903 and our members. The toolkit brought to question York University’s institutional economic and academic connections to the Israeli state, following many state-led actions being recognized as war crimes by the international communityThe toolkit was explicit in rejecting the dangerous and extremely harmful conflation of Jewish communities with the actions of the Israeli state. 

The toolkit stated: “to equate anti-semitism with anti-Zionism would deeply disrespect Jewish activists demonstrating unyielding solidarity with Palestine; homogenise the diversity of beliefs and practices within Jewish communities across contexts, thus dangerously positing the Zionist Israeli state as the legitimate global representative of all Jewish people; and serve to erase the historical origins of the Zionist colonial project” 

Please follow the link to learn more on anti-semitism and anti-zionism:

Did the toolkit give a directive from CUPE 3903 for members to “hijack” classes? 

No. The toolkit does not contain a directive from the CUPE 3903 Executive for members to participate in any action, but the document does inform members of their rights, responsibilities, and resources in the event that they should choose to take up a call to action. This is consistent with CUPE 3903’s past communications when members have wanted to participate in similar circumstances, such as the Scholar Strikes of 2020 and 2023.

Did the toolkit provide a list of CUPE 3903 resources for members who face reprisals for speaking about Palestine?

Yes. Our position on this is clear, CUPE 3903 supports the rights of all academics, students, unionists, and activists to speak out against all forms of violence and oppression without fear of intimidation or reprisal.

As stated through the Executive Committee endorsement of the Academic Alliance Against Antisemitism, Racism, Colonialism & Censorship in Canada (ARC) Call To Action, we are committed to supporting and fully representing members who are targeted because of their scholarship, political work and community organizing, as well as holding the employer accountable to its duty to provide a safe and inclusive workplace.

Click here to see a list of possible supports.

Why is this only coming out now?

Some members have asked why we did not engage more quickly with the media, especially with such misinformation at play. The reality of the situation is that we could not, in good conscience, risk redirecting vitriol or backlash onto any members at such a moment. 

As mentioned at the beginning of this page, unfortunately backlash of this nature is a common tactic used to detract from the ongoing genocide in Gaza and the longstanding occupation of Palestinian lands, as well as discredit and discourage pro-Palestinian voices. On campuses across the country we are experiencing and documenting a pattern of what could be perceived as excessive scrutiny, coercion, intimidation and repression around any discourse on Palestine that is not in alignment with the University’s position.

For months now we have witnessed members and allies experience first hand and in real time the material and political consequences of the repression of pro-Palestinian activism, both on and off campus. Unionists across the education sector are aware of the policing and surveillance of what is being taught in classrooms. This situation was no different.

If you are facing reprisals, harassment, or discrimination, or believe you might be, get in touch with us as soon as you can