Oct 21, 2021

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Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), was engaged in an online Q&A session with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) when she blamed Jews for being the “ownership class” that is preventing “immigrants” from accessing public education. The AFT is the second-largest teacher’s labor union in America. Weingarten was challenged with a question about teachers’ resistance to returning to work despite massive funding.

Weingarten: Jews to blame

“I have a very pointed response here for Jews making this argument,” Weingarten responded. “American Jews are now part of the ownership class. Jews were immigrants from somewhere else. And they needed the right to have public education. And they needed power to have enough income and wealth for their families that they could put their kids through college and their kids could do better than they have done. Both economic opportunity through the labor movement and an educational opportunity through public education were key for Jews to go from the working class to the ownership class.” 

“What I hear when I hear that question is that those who are in the ownership class now want to take that ladder of opportunity away from those who do not have it. Am I saying that everything we do is right? No. Are people in Los Angeles fearful? Yes.”

Weingarten considers herself a “deeply religious Jew” and is “married” to “Rabbi” Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, a Manhattan synagogue serving the homosexual community.

Criticism: Antisemitic tropes, channeling Marx

StandWithUs criticized Weingarten for her offensive comments.

“We work with many Jewish students and parents in Los Angeles, and are extremely disappointed by Randi Weingarten’s inaccurate and dangerous generalizations about our community,” said Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs. “Her comments are shockingly out of touch with the actual experiences of countless Jewish families before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, give undue legitimacy to anti-Semitic stereotypes, and they do nothing to help bring people in Los Angeles together during this difficult time.”

Marc Stern, General Counsel of the American Jewish Committee, accused Weingarten of dealing in anti-Semitic tropes in reiterating the “unfortunate economic myth of the hovering shadow of Jewish wealth, so beloved by antisemites.”

“It is distinctly unfair to debate these issues by invoking antisemitic tropes,” Stern wrote. “It is utterly unacceptable to gratuitously inject myths about class and religious and ethnic groups in the hope that it will silence some voices.”

“I end where I began: Randi Weingarten is not herself an antisemite. But left uncorrected and unrepudiated, her remarks are a gift to the nation’s antisemites. It’s her obligation, indeed her urgent responsibility, to seek to undo the grievous harm her remarks are triggering.”

Weingarten wrote a response that was published in the Forward in which she insisted that her comments were, in fact, essentially pro-Jewish due to their pro-union message.

“I intended to point out that while there was a time in our Jewish communal history in which support for unions was assumed, this is no longer the case,” Weingarten wrote. “The point I set out to make was, simply, that historically, there was much less equivocation about whether to be pro-union in the Jewish community, because our shared history taught us to believe in justice for all, regardless of our own status. Our community has been helped by public education and by the union movement. Yet, today, it is too easy or acceptable to blame the union — ignoring the realities of the challenging circumstances imposed by the pandemic — without recognizing the positive role unions have played, and continue to play in our effort to reopen schools safely and equitably.”

“Public education was a leg up toward the American dream that earlier generations sacrificed so much to attain. Unions like these were integral to immigrant Jewish homes, especially in New York City.”

“They believed that the union could provide its members and their families with benefits including education, healthcare, housing, culture and a healthy and safe retirement. All of these values were central to the American Jewish experience.”

In a scathing response, Jonathan Tobin pointed out that the teachers’ union was the major force in preventing the opening of schools, a position that is untenable when viewed in the light of epidemiology and scientific data. 

“Given that we’ve known since last summer that younger children are unlikely to spread the virus and that the CDC has made it clear that schools can safely reopen even without all teachers having been vaccinated, the stubborn refusal of public school teachers unions to agree to go back to the classrooms is puzzling,” Tobin wrote.

Tobin said that Weingarten’s response “channels Marx” in a manner that is characteristic of the current “woke” left-wing.

“It’s interesting that Weingarten chose to inject the notion of Jews as beneficiaries of white privilege into the discussion,” Tobin wrote. “But she spoke in a manner that seems straight of the antisemitic themes in Karl Marx’s infamous essay ‘On the Jewish Question,’ in which Communism’s founding father (who was himself  Jewish) spewed angry contempt for his fellow Jews and labeled them capitalist parasites and oppressors.”’

“For Weingarten to use these stereotypes was disgraceful. But it exactly illustrates worries that toxic theories about white privilege are giving a permission slip to antisemites.”

“That she did so in order to distract the public from the damage she and her union are inflicting on the children of this country is shameful. But what makes it even worse is that it’s not Jewish families complaining about unions who are trying to ‘take away the ladder of opportunity’ from the poor. It’s Weingarten and the AFT who are doing that.”

Tobin refuted Weingarten’s claims that her actions and attitudes were based in Judaism.

“There is nothing in Jewish texts or tradition that says it’s okay to force minority kids to be stuck in dead-end public schools just to protect the power of teachers unions that might be lost if parents were allowed to choose better schools for their families that they can’t currently afford.”

“Nor is it a Jewish value to force parents to stay home watching their kids rather than go to work to help keep them out of poverty just because Weingarten’s union has discovered that the lockdowns suit them just fine.”