Opinion

Why Is Congress Probing a Union for Being Anti-Israel?

Like many progressive organizations, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, a union that represents public defenders in the New York City area, has been convulsed by battles over Israel’s war in Gaza. A recent article in the right-leaning Free Press revealed the strident and sometimes ugly language that union members used during a fight over a resolution, passed in December, condemning Israel’s actions and supporting a boycott of the country. In messages from a group chat, defenders of Israel were called “fascists” and, in one case, “mentally disturbed.”

It’s easy enough to see why some union members found the environment toxic, and why many resented the way a fight about foreign policy distracted from their mission as legal aid lawyers to serve their clients. Nevertheless, it’s disturbing that Congress is now investigating the union over the resolution, an alarming degree of government intrusion into the free speech rights of a private organization.

“Unions are granted an effective monopoly under federal law, enabling them to act as the exclusive bargaining representative for the employees they represent,” Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Work Force, wrote in a letter to the union’s president. “When union bosses act in a way that is purposefully divisive and combative toward their membership, they challenge the validity of their monopoly.”

The idea that the resolution pit “union bosses” against the rank and file is a strange one, since the resolution passed by a vote of 1,067 to 570, but the framing reflects Foxx’s broader hostility toward organized labor. On Monday, shesubpoenaed the union’s internal communications around the resolution’s passage.

The House Committee on Education and the Work Force is the same body behind the December hearing about antisemitism on college campuses that led to the resignation of the presidents of both Penn and Harvard. Foxx is now conducting inquiries into antisemitism at those schools as well as Columbia; next month, her committee will grill Columbia’s leadership.

But it’s not only universities that have been rived by protests over Israel’s war in Gaza; many unions have been as well. I worry that Foxx’s investigation into the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys will be just the beginning, and that her committee will use the genuine scourge of antisemitism as a pretext to target organizations seen as hostile to the right.

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