AAUP becomes largest US faculty group to join call for ceasefire

American Association of University Professors signs statement with hundreds of other labor unions calling for end to Israel-Hamas war; one member decries ‘obsessive’ focus on Israel

Reporter at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: People walk on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, February 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Illustrative: People walk on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, February 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) became the largest national faculty group to take a political stand in the Israel-Hamas war when it signed a statement earlier this month that joined it with hundreds of other US labor unions demanding a ceasefire.

The statement comes as Israel continues to negotiate for the release of  130 people still being held hostage by the Hamas terror group in Gaza. The hostages, who include American, French, Argentinian, South African and Brazilian nationals, were kidnapped on October 7, 2023, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists attacked Israel and slaughtered 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted 253 more.

With 44,000 members, including professors, graduate students, and researchers, the AAUP continues to oppose academic boycotts of Israel. But its recent call for a ceasefire deeply troubles some members, said University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor emeritus Cary Nelson, because while the union was founded in 1915 with a mission to protect and promote academic freedom, the link between academic freedom and the Gaza war is murky at best.

“The AAUP has been slowly transforming itself into an anti-Zionist organization since 2015,” said Nelson, who was the AAUP president between 2006 and 2012. “But its call for a ceasefire in Gaza represents a new phase in that process because it is the first time the AAUP has actually abandoned its commitment to political neutrality and adopted what amounts to a foreign policy.”

Laurie Essig, professor of gender, sexuality and feminist studies at Middlebury College, and president of the college’s AAUP chapter, disagreed.

“To be clear, the mission of the AAUP is political. Protecting academic freedom and tenure from fascistic political regimes is why the AAUP began. As for the connection… the Israel-Gaza conflict is being used in the US to attack academic freedom,” Essig said.

Some AAUP chapters not only support a ceasefire, they appear to justify Hamas’s onslaught.

Prof. Emeritus Cary Nelson. (Photo by L. Brian Stauffer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

For example, in a December 6 post on X, formerly Twitter, the AAUP Advocacy chapter at Texas A&M said it stands in “solidarity with Palestinian resistance to apartheid occupation” and calls on the university to take “concrete action to stop the genocidal war on the Palestinian people and to end Israeli settler colonialism.”

To be sure, American unions have long supported progressive causes, both domestically and internationally, from opposing entry into World War I to protesting the Vietnam War.

However, it’s only in recent decades that educational and scholarly unions have taken up the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

According to the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, when the Association of Asian American Studies joined a boycott of Israeli universities in 2013, it became the first such union to do so.

That same year, the American Studies Association voted to become the second such group to endorse a boycott of Israel in a move condemned by the World Jewish Congress as “moral bankruptcy.” Current and former members sued the association for breach of contract and misappropriation of funds to defend and promote the boycott. A federal judge dismissed the case last March, saying the plaintiffs had no standing.

Nevertheless, one postdoctoral student working at the University of Southern California said he was dismayed by his union’s continued “obsessive” focus on Israel.

“The purpose of a union is to fight for fair wages and working conditions. They are now spending a disproportionate amount of their time on this,” said the postdoc, who fearing professional repercussions requested anonymity.

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