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Jewish Journal

Strange BRU

by Mike Levy

August 8, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Who's taking a stand against Israel this week? Would you believe ... the Bus Riders Union (BRU)?

On buses and trains, BRU leaders and members are distributing a two-page flyer with an essay titled "Let the Palestinian People Go!" that likens the BRU's stance to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s campaign against the Vietnam War, and twice compares the Palestinians' situation to that of Jews in Nazi Germany.

BRU first took an official position "standing with the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation" in May, when the organization passed a resolution by BRU Director Eric Mann and the BRU planning commission decried "a racist and systematic program of mass extermination and colonial conquest by the Israeli government."

The Los Angeles-based organization, founded in 1992 and claiming 3,000 members, defines itself as a "multiracial, working class-based membership organization working at the intersection of mass transit, the environment and air quality and civil rights." The organization's primary mission is improving the quality of bus service in Los Angeles.

In 1996, BRU won a federal consent decree giving it some control over the operations of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). In March of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the MTA seeking to end the consent decree.

The essay notes: "[T]he history of the past 54 years has been a series of Israeli incursions into Arab and Palestinian land." The motion goes on to demand a "restoration of their homeland" and says, "Never again should the U.S. working class and all progressive people allow our government to use its weapons to support Israel's expansionist and colonial rule in Palestine."

Among the philanthropic donors supporting the work of the BRU, the Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF), which is "rooted in the Jewish tradition and committed to democratic values and social justice," according to its mission statement, and has contributed over $300,000 since 1996. In 2000, the foundation awarded $110,000 over three years to the BRU "to support advocacy for the purchase of replacement buses, the hiring of new MTA bus drivers and mechanics and the retirement of diesel buses," according to the NCF Web site.

Stacy Han, program assistant for the NCF's environment program, said the foundation was investigating the BRU statements and had no comment at press time.

For more information about the Bus Riders Union, visit www.busridersunion.org  or call (213) 387-2800. -- Mike Levy, Staff Writer

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