Opening Statement



Sunday, 18 March 2012

Windsor AGM: Whither Palestine?


OECTA AGM 2012 saw a motion passed to try to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East. Our association will attempt to support"peace through education" together with many other teacher associations from around the world. It reads;




"That the association support the 2011 [EI] Educational International statement on Israel Palestine."


The statement referred to is an agreement between both the Israeli and General Union of Palestinian Teachers union movements. At the 2010 6th Annual EI Congress an agreement was reached committing both Isreal and Palestine to good faith negotiations. The aim would be to end the Israeli occupation of Gaza, create a viable Palestinian state and achieve a peace agreement, to provide security for both Israel and Palestine. Israel would be encouraged to end to the occupation of Gaza and the Palestinians to stop their rocket attacks on Israel towns.

The pro argument for the "peace through education" plan would be that OECTA would be working with other teacher unions to use our educational expertise in trying to create the pre-requisites for  constructive negotiations between  Israel and Palestine. We do so as teachers working with other teachers within our area of expertise. We would not try ourselves to sort out the mess in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by taking sides in a the struggle few can figure out or even agree upon whom the good guys and the bad guys really are.

The con arguments were that unlike the original Windsor AGM  motion, this doesn't provide any concrete means to achieve it's goals. It required boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The strategy was successfully used before to put  pressure on the South African government to end apartheid. The "amendment by substituion' for "peace through education"replaced the following original AGM motion which read;



"That the association endorse and support the boycott of, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law, applicable and specific United Nations resolutions and universal principals of human rights as called for by Palestinian civil society groups."

Supporters of the original motion would argue that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is disproportionate, a David and Goliath struggle between little Palestine which can just basically lob home made rockets at a Israeli military giant which is not seriously interested in negotiations with the Palestinians when they clearly have the upperhand. Will they even bother without some strong and tangible pressure being brought to bear? The original motion could provide a very direct political strategy to bring pressure on Israel to end it's occupation of the contested Palestinian-Israeli lands. As with boycotts, sanctions and disinvestment against apartheid in South Africa, we would be working in solidarity with other labour groups to help concretely implement the plan.

The con side to the motion would be that many of the AGM delegates would be hesitant to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Granted over "170 civil society organizations" including the "Palestinian trade union movement" are so far involved in the campaign against Israel. Still, who are these groups, and how credible are they? Also unlike the apartheid struggle in South Africa there isn't a clear, unambiguous, and positive figure like Nelson Mandela or Biko who can rally our confidence and support to the Palestinian cause. OECTA does not have many investments, and makes little if any direct contributions to Israel, or for that matter Palestine, so what do we significantly withhold,
should this original motion have passed?

My point of view? In either case we risk buying into a lot of glittering generalities and ambiguities albeit with perhaps the best of intentions. For example, in the case of the labour motion, who are these "170 civil society organizations including the Palestinian trade union movement"? In the case of the approved EI motion who are the "Israeli and General Palestinian teachers union." To elaborate further:

Peace through Education? In actuality the parties in question are but two of a number of teacher unions in both Israel and Palestine. The peace plan they are committed to working towards would not very likely not  have the support of the ruling Likud or Hammas parties in each respective country. Moreover, how does OECTA support the plan for "peace through education" in action rather than just with nice words and a well intended gesture in passing the motion?

Labour Sanctions, boycotts and disinvestment? Despite the stronger language here, our actual armoury of these is essentially empty of ammunition to assist in the fight. Of course a majority of the OECTA delegates would need to agree and be willing to take sides against Israel. It was not by any means certain that the motion would pass. Probably it would not.

It is noteworthy that after the "amendment for substitution" was passed, another motion for "Peace through Education" to be tabled for further study failed. I would assume that suggests the Windsor AGM delegates felt something needed to be done, and soon. Why might you ask, would our Ontario, Catholic teachers want to get involved with an international situation far from home anyway?

I don't recall ever blogging about the politics of the middle east before. It's such a bloody mess. I mean that quite literally. Both the Israelis and Palestinians are in a fight to the death for a secure homeland. The death tolls just keeping rising. Israel has nuclear weapons. Iran, which is against Israel will likely soon have a bomb as well. It's quite a powder keg over there, that could go off at any minute if tensions continue to rise, which for the last 50 years or so has pretty much been a given.

As Catholic teachers we have a moral duty to stand up and fight for social justice at home, and in the world around us, as difficult and uncomfortable as that might often be. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for many members, is a case in point. Various OECTA Israeli-Palestinian resolutions have been proposed over the years, especially here in Toronto at TSU. The first "Labour" motion on the floor was finally forwarded by our members after many arduous years of fierce debate. Perhaps you've seen our unapproved Israeli-Palestinian motions before as minority reports at the back of previous AGM Resolution handbooks? It wasn't until this year that it was finally approved at our unit Resolution meeting, and appeared as an AGM disposition towards the front under Policies Miscellaneous.

I myself have often spoke out and voted for the original motion over the years. Along with everyone else who has taken the pro side we have even had our names reported to the Canadian Jewish Congress as being anti-semetic just for doing so. Absurd!

Fortunately OECTA AGM is a great place to thoughtfully hear well considered and differing points of view. I admit, many of the arguments against our motion gave me good cause to pause and reconsider. I still believed though that in terms of scale something had to be done to try to address the great imbalance between Israel and Palestine. In terms of wealth and military might, there is no contest here, and as such there's little likelihood of meaningful negotiations. In the end, it all became a question of "whither Palestine?"

Do we stand by and ignore it's doomed plight? I voted against the amendment for substitution of the Peace through Education motion.  I winced as it lost. I also voted against having the Peace through Education motion tabled for further study. Effectively it would've stopped any decision from being made for another year at least. The issue had all ready taken years to reach assembly so why give up on the new motion now, when we might not even possibly get a shot at having a Israel-Palestinian motion reach the floor again?

A copy of the EI statement was photocopied and distributed to all the assembly members to read over. I am still uncomfortable with the process. I'm not convinced the two motions were similar enough in the actions or lack thereof to qualify for a substitution. I do not think we had enough time to read and consider the new documents at any great depth. Still, given the temperament of the assembly I believe a compromise solution was better than none at all.

OECTA has now taken the lead in having a motion on Palestine being put into our handbook. Not many other teacher unions can claim the same. That isn't a small feat and it's finally a done deal.

Still, it's pretty vague and inconclusive how OECTA will successfully educate for peace in the Middle East. The real, unaddressed question that remains is what can OECTA specifically do to actually support the plan? Is the EI motion too full of glittering generalites to effectively succeed?
Obviously there aren't any easy, nor immediate answers. We have committed ourselves to a rather vague and toothless plan, for better or worse. Good luck! Unfortunately, though we attempted to fulfil our social justice quest as Catholic educators, we may have also erred in now not having a concrete plan that can succeed. Is that better than no plan at all? Our journey has begun with but one small step.

PS:More info on the EI 6th World Congress statement can be found at:
http://www.ituc-csi.org

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