June 24, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

KU graduate teaching assistant union calls Israel ‘settler colonial project’

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As Israel responds to the vicious terror attacks by radical Islamist group Hamas, a graduate student group based at the University of Kansas has issued a statement in “solidarity, not with Israel but with the Palestinians.

The Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition — a labor union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers — on Oct. 18, posted a “Palestine Solidarity Letter” calling for a “free Palestine,” and effectively calling for an end to Israel.

“As a labor union concerned with the dignity of life for workers everywhere, GTAC’s leadership unequivocally supports a free Palestine and demands an end to the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory,” the letter, posted by Katie Hinders, who in 2022 was the “grievance chair” for GTAC and is a doctoral student in film and media studies. “We condemn the ongoing settler colonial project, known as the nation-state of Israel, which does not represent all Jewish people and is not synonymous with biblical Israel.”

It is unclear what position Hinders currently has with the union, as its website nowhere lists its officers and the official KU “Rock Chalk Central website requires a student or employee login in order to view the list of officers.

The letter makes clear GTAC doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist, let alone defend itself, and calls the violence “necessary.”

“We condemn the ethnic genocide and sexual violence against and the expulsion and maiming of the Palestinian people which began with the 1948 Nakba and has continued since. We refuse to stay silent in the face of deadly and inhuman injustices,” Hinders wrote. “Violence will necessarily continue as long as apartheid and settler colonialism exist.”

The “free Palestine” statement is similar to a chant often heard at pro-Palestenian rallies: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

According to the Anti Defamation League, that chant is an explicit call for the destruction of Israel, meaning all land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea — the entirety of the State of Israel and the current Palestinian territories.

The statement goes on to decry “apartheid,” and “racist violence” before quoting an explicitly Marxist philosopher whose work is widely used in teacher education, in order to blame Israel for the attacks.

“We encourage our members to educate themselves on and teach about the apartheid of Palestine, which is a direct result of racist violence, including both the forced displacement of Palestinians from their land and the forced displacement of Jewish people from Europe,” the statement reads. “We must remember Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed where he explains, ‘With the establishment of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiator, if they themselves are the result of violence?'”

Kansas Speaker of the House Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita), strongly condemned the letter.

“It’s disturbing and heartbreaking to see this sort of radicalism and antisemitism at one of our Kansas universities,” he said in an emailed statement. “Support of terrorism should have no place at our public universities. In light of the recent terror attacks on Israel, it’s increasingly important that we stand strong in support of our democratic allies in Israel and reject all forms of terrorism and antisemitism.”

The same sort of letter about a week ago by several Harvard University student organizations prompted a severe backlash, with CEOs of several companies promising not to hire members of those organizations and even rescinding job offers.

Opposition to Israel not the first controversial statement by GTAC

This is not the first time GTAC has issued such inflammatory statements on its website.

In September of 2021, just days after the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, then-KU Student Body President Niya McAdoo retweeted a post stating “happy Friday everybody. Death to America,” from the official student body president Twitter (now “X”) account.

Predictably, McAdoo faced backlash for such a statement, both locally, and at the national level.

GTAC jumped in to support of McAdoo — and with their own anti-American statements — and support for the Taliban.

“This statement expresses GTAC’s solidarity with KU Student Body President Niya McAdoo who has faced racist and misogynistic abuse as a result of a retweet containing the message ‘Death to America,'” the statement reads, and unlike the most recent statement, it does not list an author. “GTAC unequivocally supports both McAdoo’s right to free speech and the statement itself. We want to acknowledge the broad historical context of this statement and consider the KU administration’s pattern of communication and priorities over the past few weeks that serve the same violent project.”

The statement goes on to liken the war in Afghanistan to the Trail of Tears, and explicitly calls the U.S. mission in the war-torn nation “imperialism.”

“We mourn both the murders and injuries of all those subjected to imperialism, including U.S. veterans, Afghan veterans, and the hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians,” the statement reads. “While the KU administration defines this conjuncture as an “unsatisfying end,” GTAC and the labor movement always look favorably upon the conclusion of illegal warfare. We express solidarity with the Afghan labor movement, and we support their struggle to again establish self-determined politics.”

What “Afghan labor movement” the post refers to is not clear, as there have been and are no active trade unions in Afghanistan.

KU Chancellor Douglas Girod called McAdoo’s post “disappointing and concerning” while acknowledging her First Amendment right to her opinion.

This, however, was not good enough for GTAC which goes on to explain the “ambiguity” of language and accuse Girod of being “complicit” with the “widespread misogynistic and anti-Black violence  President McAdoo has faced in response to the post,” and continues on to say “GTAC is outraged by the collusion of university administration with fascist rhetoric and media. Alongside countless KU student and worker organizations, GTAC demands accountability for the legacies of colonialism and slavery here on campus.”  The Sentinel has not found any evidence of actual violence against McAdoo, though many of the responses to her tweet were arguably racist or misogynistic.

What legacy of slavery there is in Lawrence, which was sacked by Quantril’s Raiders, during the civil war — who were fighting for the Confederacy, or in Kansas in general which was at the forefront of abolition, with fighting starting years before the Civil War officially started, is as unclear as what fascist rhetoric the university may have employed.


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