Nearly 800 Minneapolis Public Schools stakeholders – including parents, teachers, and taxpayers – have signed an open letter condemning the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59 resolution on the Israel-Hamas War. The letter was sent to Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox and the school board on Monday.
“They should be teaching the kids,” said Mark Glotter, a Minneapolis resident and one of the signatories on the letter. “It’s not something that the teacher’s federation should be involved with.”
The resolution the MFT passed said: “MFT mourns the loss of innocent life in Israel and occupied Palestine. We categorically reject violence against all civilians whether Israeli or Palestinian. We therefore call for an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza and to de-escalate the conflict. As Americans, we also condemn the role our government plays in supporting the system of Israeli occupation and apartheid, which lies at the root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Finally, we call on the Minnesota State Legislature to repeal anti-BDS (boycott, divest, sanctions) legislation as it stifles free speech and discriminates against Palestinian refugees, their families and their supporters. The BDS movement is a peaceful and powerful way to affect lasting, positive change in the region.”
The comments on social media reflect a mix of support and anger at the MFT for their statement. One Jewish teacher who’s a member of the union said in a message to TC Jewfolk: “There are many Jewish MFT teachers/educators supportive of a ceasefire and the statement.”
The stakeholders’ letter, which was circulated by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said the MFT resolution, among other things, did not acknowledge the role Hamas played in the current war, which started when it came into Israel on Oct. 7 and killed 1,200 people and took more than 240 hostages, and “Demonizes Jews by placing sole blame for the conflict on Israel and uses highly inaccurate language to denigrate Israel, a multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy.”
“MFT’s resolution is antisemitic and hostile to our children, MPS staff, and puts our larger community at further risk because of their Jewish identity,” the letter read.
MFT Acting President Marcia Howard said that the Oct. 25 meeting when the resolution was offered came from one of the teachers in attendance, which was reportedly between 85 and 100 of the union’s 3,700 members; Howard did not confirm the attendance. Howard said that parliamentary procedure was followed in its passage.
“That resolution was part of a normal process, in accordance with our constitution and bylaws,” she said. “A member can bring a resolution. And we’re a democratic organization: It was spoken to, debated on, voted on, and passed. It’s not as if, as a union leader, I get to decide when someone’s going to bring forth the resolution.”
Howard said that a handful of people in attendance voted no, and “a couple of handfuls” voted to abstain. “No one spoke against it during the meeting,” she said. “We invite robust debate about anything.
“The membership is not a monolith, and not even the affinity groups within the membership. There are very active members that are that are Jewish, that are proponents of this resolution and defenders of this resolution. And so the conversations that they have intra-culturally,” Howard said she was staying out of the middle of.
Ethan Roberts, the deputy executive director of the JCRC, said the agency has been dealing with daily calls from parents and teachers about antisemitism in the schools.
“Statements from the union should be centered on their students,” he said. “Something like ‘We know this is a such a hard time for our Jewish students, our Palestinian students, our Muslim students. And as teachers, we’ve got your back, we are here to support you,’ would have been so welcomed by Jews who are facing rabid antisemitism in society, and particularly in schools.
“Teachers are supposed to be the people that kids can turn to when they’re being bullied by other kids who they can turn to process hard emotions. Imagine that you’re a student who’s being bullied because you’re Jewish or Israel is central to your identity. Can you trust your teacher?”
Krista Margolis, a parent of two high school students and one recent MPS graduate, said she was surprised the union would put a statement like this out.
“I thought their job and their goal was to support and advocate for teachers. We’ve got friends who are teachers in the district. My mom was a high school teacher. We are super supportive of teachers. And when I read it, it felt like someone kicked me in the gut.”
Said Jeff Margolis, Krista’s husband: “[The statement] was completely uncalled for. It’s disrespectful, it’s scary, and the rhetoric really blew me away.”
It wasn’t only members of the Jewish community that signed the letter. One of the signatories was the Rev. Angela Denker, a Lutheran pastor and author on religious extremism and violence.
“I stand with my Jewish siblings against antisemitism and the ways that the MFT statement promotes division and lack of nuance or compassion for Jewish students, teachers and families,” she commented when signing the letter.
Shalva Gale, a mother of three whose oldest is in kindergarten, said that she had a visceral reaction to the statement.
“I’m not as surprised now that I know about the union and its leadership,” she said. “Why did [the union] feel like it needed to make a political statement of this nature? It doesn’t make sense why they thought they needed to take a stand. It was one-sided and biased.”
Glotter said that the mention of BDS as a peaceful way to bring change to the region shows a lack of knowledge of the situation. The BDS movement aims to end international support for Israel by forcing companies, institutions and governments to change their policies. But the movement’s founder has said “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
“They have no idea what comes from Israel,” he said. “Do they really want to not buy anything Israeli? Or do they just think that this is the thing to say? Because what BDS is really leading to is the destruction of the State of Israel.”
In a statement, Minneapolis Public Schools pointed out that the MFT is a separate entity from the district.
“We respect their right to express their views on any topic,” the statement read. “As a diverse community, we work to create a safe and welcoming learning environment for all of our students and families and in light of what we are all witnessing at the moment, we are thinking deeply about supporting both our Jewish and Palestinian families and staff during this difficult time.”
Roberts said that several parents have said the resolution gives license for students to hate.
“It’s not just social media influencers [being antisemitic]; it’s teachers. That’s devastating and dangerous,” he said. “Nothing that the union does has any impact on what’s happening in Israel and Gaza, but it has everything to do with how safe and welcoming and what the environment is in Minneapolis Public Schools. They lost sight of what their job is when they issued a resolution that didn’t mention the word student once.”