When a Teachers Union Adopts a Radical Foreign Policy

Traditionally, teachers unions have kept a laserlike focus on improving members’ pay, benefits, and working conditions.

Now, though, teachers unions are diverting their energies from fighting for the well-being of teachers to fighting over a host of unrelated issues. Teachers unions now have foreign policies.

For example, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association, decided to throw its full weight behind opposition to Israel’s effort to defeat the Hamas terrorist group and rescue its hostages in the Gaza Strip.

A measure adopted by the Massachusetts union’s board in December declared: “The MTA president and vice president will urge the president of the NEA to pressure President Biden to stop funding and sending weapons in support of the Netanyahu government’s genocidal war on the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Teachers unions can’t adopt discipline policies to prevent students from assaulting teachers or each other, but they’re convinced they can bring peace to the Middle East.

At least the unions are consistent in appeasing the instigators of violence, whether unruly students or Hamas terrorists, over their victims.

But local union chapters and individual teachers are beginning to cry foul. For example, the chapter in Bedford, Massachusetts, objected that it “rejects the presumption that it is within the scope of our state and local association’s mission to take a position on geopolitical affairs.”

The Bedford chapter continued: “The primary purpose of the union is to advocate for students and protect its members’ working conditions. MTA members need a safe workplace and need a union to protect that right.”

The chapter of the Massachusetts Teachers Association in Framingham echoed these objections, noting that “there is no precedent for the MTA signing petitions for foreign conflicts in recent years. … The MTA is charged with representing its members’ interests with regard to … working conditions for educators in Massachusetts.”

The teachers union chapter in Needham similarly observed that “it is not within our purview to weigh in on foreign policy or global conflicts.”

Such objections were repeated by the union’s chapters in Marblehead, Newton, and Sharon, Massachusetts.

It is not only inappropriate for teacher unions to adopt foreign policy positions, it’s politically counterproductive. Fewer policymakers and voters are likely to agree on a larger set of political orthodoxies, so smart advocacy organizations tend to take stances that could divide their supporters only when necessary.

When unions take controversial stances on issues unrelated to the core interests of teachers, it divides their political coalition and makes it harder to gather the majorities needed for policy victories.

If straying into foreign policy is politically dumb for the teachers unions, why are they doing it?

Unfortunately, teaching has begun to attract a critical mass of political radicals who view education as a launching pad for their revolutionary ambitions. These extremists are still a distinct minority of the teaching profession, but they have become numerous and vocal enough that they have been able to grab the reins of educational organizations and intimidate the rest.

The board of the Massachusetts Teachers Association is a good example of this kind of radical capture. Calling Israel’s response to the mass rape and slaughter of 1,200 of its civilians a “genocide” isn’t just straying from the union’s mission and taking a politically counterproductive stance, it is also shockingly radical.

Further evidence of the MTA board’s extremism can be found in the response of one member, Joe Herosy, to the suggestion that members might want to view a free Zoom webinar on antisemitism sponsored by the Lappin Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Congress.

In an email, Herosy denounced the sponsors of the event, saying “all 3 orgs are well connected to the mostly non-Jewish ruling class.”

In addition to being disqualified because they support the state of Israel, Herosy notes, these organizations are connected to “real estate magnates” and the investment bank and financial services company Morgan Stanley.

It isn’t clear whether Herosy finds capitalism more objectionable than Zionism, or if he believes there is a distinction.

But the more that teachers unions get captured by radicals and the more they stray from the core interests of regular teachers, the more we’re going to see pushback by local union affiliates and individual teachers.

In addition to the grassroots rebellion underway in Massachusetts, something similar is happening in Minnesota. As the website LaborNotes observed, “after the executive committee of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers passed a resolution condemning ‘the system of Israeli occupation and apartheid,’ backlash from teachers and the community led the union membership to vote to issue an apology.”

Hamas may be able to take over 250 Israelis hostage, but radicals can’t hijack over 3 million public school teachers.

Regular teachers and local union affiliates are going to rise up against the increasing radicalism of the state and national teacher unions, and restore some amount of moderation.

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