The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) recently adopted a statement calling on Israel to lift the “blockade” of Gaza and for Israel to remove the security barrier it constructed “to protect Israelis from acts of terrorist suicide bombers.”
The document, passed at the organization’s annual general meeting (AGM), held March 10 to 12 in Windsor, states that Israel’s “occupation of the West Bank, the existence of illegal Israeli settlements there and their impacts on the lives of Palestinians…along with the siege surrounding Gaza” imposes severe hardships “for basic provisions of education in Palestine.”
Although unduly critical of Israel, the resolution adopted by the 45,000-member union could have been worse, said Len Rudner, director of community relations and outreach for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
At one point, a resolution calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) was being advanced by one of the union’s locals, but it was sidetracked at the meeting and a less critical one was adopted, he said.
“The resolution is certainly an improvement over the one originally slated for discussion and debate,” he said. “The fact that OECTA did not consider a BDS resolution can be seen as another defeat for the folks who say BDS is the only way to bring Israel to heel.”
The document adopted by the teachers’ group is a statement passed by the sixth World Congress of Education International (EI), a global federation of teachers’ unions. The EI document in turn is based on a 2010 resolution of the International Trade Union Confederation.
OECTA president Kevin O’Dwyer said the teachers, in passing the statement, were “trying to find something balanced.”
“I’m not sure what the membership will do with this document… It will be in the hands of the members to say where it will go and what we want it to do for us,” he said.
At past AGMs, resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been up for consideration but did not reach the floor for a vote. This one was passed by a show-of-hands vote of the 650 teachers attending the meeting, he said.
“This is all part of the ongoing democratic process our organization has been engaged in since 1944,” O’Dwyer added.
Clauses included in the statement call on Israeli and Palestinian teachers to urge their governments to end violence and negotiate a settlement. It also resolves to lobby for creation of a Palestinian state, and it “rejects all curricular materials that incite racial and ethnic hatred.”
Palestinian Media Watch and the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education have reported on numerous occasions that school texts in the Palestinian territories routinely deny Jewish ties to the land, demonize Israel, reject peace, refer to Israel as occupied Palestinian territory, and urge jihad.
Asked why the resolution failed to single out Palestinian materials and blandly suggested both sides incite hatred, O’Dwyer said the union took a position on “where it wants to go.”
He said the document “stands on what it stands on.”
Rudner said the statement adopted by OECTA was based on a faulty understanding of history, and although it condemns Israel’s West Bank security barrier, “there is no reference within the resolution to the reasons for the fence – 1,200 killed and more than 8,000 wounded in terrorist attacks since 2000.”
The resolution refers to Israeli “occupation” but “occupation is not the cause of the problems, it’s the result. The hostility of Arab states to Israel predates 1967 [when Israel occupied the West Bank],” Rudner said.
Adding to CIJA’s concerns was that “this debate was going on the same time that terrorists in Gaza were pumping 200 missiles into Israel, each an attempt at murder.” Some, Rudner noted, landed in Israeli schools.
“OECTA was in Windsor, but they were in a bubble,” he said.