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MIT union ignored Jewish members’ objection to Israel boycott: federal complaint

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Students objected to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions support

The graduate union that represents Massachusetts Institute of Technology ignored the religious beliefs of some Jewish members, according to a federal complaint.

Five graduate students at MIT filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, which is still pending, against the Graduate Students Union.

The National Right to Work Foundation told The College Fix there are several routes the EEOC could take.

The EEOC can “either take legal action against the union itself based on the charge, or issue a ‘right to sue’ letter to any or all of the students which will permit them to file federal suit against the union for its discriminatory practices,” Vice President Patrick Semmens said via a media statement.

Semmens said based on similar cases handled by the foundation, “it’s also likely that the threat of these charges alone will force the union and university into settling and providing the legally-required religious accommodations.”

“The students, William Sussman, Joshua Fried, Akiva Gordon, Tamar Kadosh Zhitomirsky, and Adina Bechhofer, are Jewish and conduct various research activities for professors at MIT,” the foundation stated in a news release.

“The university students object to the union’s anti-Semitic advocacy, including the union’s endorsement of the anti-Israel ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) movement,” according to the foundation.

When they asked to be exempted from paying union dues, they were told by the union that “no principles, teachings or tenets of Judaism prohibit membership in or the payment of dues or fees to a labor union.”

“Jewish graduate students are a minority. We cannot remove our union, and we cannot talk them out of their antisemitic position — we’ve tried,” Sussman stated in the news release. “That is why many of us asked for a religious accommodation. But instead of respecting our rights, the union told me they understand my faith better than I do.”

MIT’s graduate union did not respond to two emailed requests for comment on the allegations, sent in the past month. The Fix emailed President Sophie Wallant and also asked if the union had consulted with rabbis or Judaic scholars before denying the exemption request.

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The United Electrical Workers, the parent union for MIT GSU, also did not respond to the same two emailed requests for comment in the same month.

MIT did not respond to two emailed requests for comment sent in the past month to its media team that asked if the school planned to look into the situation.

Unions are not supposed to “probe workers about the details or doctrine of their beliefs, or write them off completely, which GSU union officials certainly did here,” Semmens, with the National Right to Work Foundation, told The Fix.

“Title VII and subsequent case law (such as IAM v. Boeing) state that unions must accept any worker’s sincere request for a religious accommodation,” Semmens said.

The workers’ rights group said the union could settle with the students or face litigation.

“If union officials back down and wind up providing religious accommodations to these students, it could likely consist of permitting the students to pay an amount equal to union dues toward a charity instead of the union,” Semmens told The Fix.

“If the union does not provide an accommodation, further legal action will be necessary.”

Editor’s note: Reporter Jeanine Yuen contributed to this article. The name of the EEOC has also been corrected.

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IMAGE: MIT GSU/Instagram

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.