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A photograph of a mass of pro-Palestinian protesters, including one with a sign saying "Cease Fire Now."

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest outside Columbia University on Feb. 2.

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/VIEWpress/Getty Images

The American Association of University Professors has signed on to a call by multiple American labor unions for a “ceasefire in Israel and Palestine.”

It’s another example of an academic organization taking a political stand in a national debate in which university presidents, faculty members and students have been denounced for speaking up in certain ways—or speaking up at all.

“We, members of the American labor movement, mourn the loss of life in Israel and Palestine,” the statement says. “We express our solidarity with all workers and our common desire for peace in Palestine and Israel, and we call on President Joe Biden and Congress to push for an immediate ceasefire and end to the siege of Gaza. We cannot bomb our way to peace. We also condemn any hate crimes against Muslims, Jews or anyone else.”

The statement also calls for allowing electricity, water and humanitarian aid into Gaza and for allowing “foreign nationals and Palestinians requiring medical care” to leave Gaza. It further calls for Hamas to release Israeli hostages and for Israel and Hamas to adhere to Geneva Convention rules on civilian welfare.

“Union members come from diverse backgrounds, including Jews, Muslims, and Middle Eastern communities,” the statement says. “The rising escalation of war and arms sales doesn’t serve the interests of workers anywhere. In the end, we all want a place to call home and for our children to be safe. Working people around the world want and deserve to live free from the effects of violence, war and militarization.”

The AAUP, which continues to oppose academic boycotts of Israel, serves as both the central professional organization for faculty members in the U.S. and, at many universities, a union. It’s affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO.

Ernesto Longa, a professor and academic librarian at the University of New Mexico School of Law who sits on AAUP’s national council, said the body’s 10 members voted last week to join the ceasefire call.

“It was a significant majority of the council,” Longa said, though he declined to give a specific tally. He said he voted yes.

“As an association of university professors, we were called upon by the Palestinian labor movement, including the General Union of Palestinian Teachers, to issue statements of solidarity and calls for ceasefire, and we elected to answer the call,” Longa said. He said Israel has destroyed every university in Gaza since Oct. 7, and “we all have a moral obligation to speak out on this matter and to not be silent and, as a union, to demonstrate our solidarity with those who have seen their universities bombed and demolished and their colleagues murdered.”

Cary Nelson—a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor emeritus, a prominent public defender of Israel and the AAUP’s president from 2006 to 2012—said there’s plenty of “reasonableness” in the new statement, such as the call for doing better at providing humanitarian aid to Gazans.

But Nelson said the issue is “not the AAUP’s business. The AAUP should be a politically neutral organization with no foreign policy.” He said it increasingly seems to have one foreign policy: one regarding Israel and with a particular position on Israel. He said the AAUP has made a number of “anti-Zionist” moves over the last decade.

Nelson said it’s “an outrage, a considerable outrage, to simply make a verbal gesture” that Hamas should hew to international norms and humanitarian principles.

“Too bad we didn’t tell Hitler that,” Nelson said sarcastically. “He might have thought differently about his actions.” He said that “to treat Hamas as a traditional international interlocutor is just an absurdity.”

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