Leading US Jewish groups condemned as “extremely disturbing” and “deeply harmful” recent remarks by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Weingarten, when asked by the outlet about critics of the resistance by teachers unions to return to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, dismissed American Jews voicing those concerns as “part of the ownership class,” who are trying to take away from others opportunities for advancement that they had once used themselves.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Algemeiner it was an “incendiary attack” making use of “class warfare.”
“If it had come from someone who wasn’t Jewish, I would imagine we would be talking about classic antisemitism, about demonizing a community. I’m assuming that’s not what she had in mind,” Cooper said.
But whether intended or not, he continued, it risked fueling “more antisemitism, it will justify more separation between communities … and between economic levels. That’s not what a true leader should do, especially not in the educational realm.”
In the April 1 interview, Weingarten was asked about “skeptics” of the influence of teachers unions. “They look at, for example, the ongoing struggles in Los Angeles, where they see this big dollar figure of aid being given for school reopening and are baffled by the perceived resistance of teachers to going back to work,” asked JTA’s Laura E. Adkins.
“I have a very pointed response here for Jews making this argument,” Weingarten answered.
“American Jews are now part of the ownership class,” she said. “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,” she continued.
Weingarten did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Algemeiner.
Rabbi Cooper emphasized that many Jews of earlier generations grew up in poverty, and that “no one handed to American Jews, anything for free. They had to fight, and scrap for it,” Cooper added. “We don’t need lectures from anyone, including [Weingarten], about social responsibility and commitments to floating the boats for everyone.”