AFT-Kansas distances itself from anti-semitic statement by affiliated union at KU

(The Sentinel) — A recent story in the Sentinel exposing the rabid anti-semitism of the University of Kansas’ Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition has prompted a response from its parent union, AFT-Kansas.

On Oct. 18, GTAC — which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers — posted a “Palestine Solidarity Letter” calling for a “free Palestine,” effectively calling for an end to Israel and calling Israel a “settler colonial project.”

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,” wrote Katie Hinders, the “grievance chair” for GTAC. “Violence will necessarily continue as long as apartheid and settler colonialism exist.”

One week later, the Kansas Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers responded to GTAC’s explicit call for the end of the Jewish state, issuing a press release distancing AFT-Kansas from the statements by GTAC.

“While we believe our members should be able to express their views and make associational statements as the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition of the University of Kansas, the AFT and AFT-Kansas have positions on the Middle East conflict that differ significantly,” the release reads. “In the aftermath of the Hamas attack on Israel that left 1,400 people murdered and the increasingly brutal humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the AFT released a statement condemning the Hamas attack and decrying the Palestinian humanitarian crisis.”

The statement goes on to express a “belief in a 2-state solution,” saying, “AFT members have worked hard with Palestinians and Israelis for years.”

The release then goes on to distance AFT-Kansas from GTAC.

“All unions under AFT-Kansas jurisdiction practice independency (sic) and autonomy. Like all Americans, GTAC has the right to free speech,” the release reads. “Currently, GTAC has chosen to exercise this right and their opinions publicly on this tragedy and now ongoing conflict. The GTAC Executive Board is solely responsible for their actions, words, and deeds.”

The statement stops short, however, of explicitly condemning the antisemitic statements made by GTAC on Oct. 18.

The Sentinel reached out to AFT-Kansas asking if the union would do so, but as of publication had received no response.

Opposition to Israel not the first controversial statement by AFT-Kansas affiliate

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 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. 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 found no evidence of actual violence against McAdoo, though many of the responses to her tweet were arguably racist or misogynistic.

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