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A Response to US Anti-Boycott of Israel Statement
Source Labour for Palestine
Date 07/08/30/19:32

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'Labour for Palestine' Responds to US Anti-Boycott Statement
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27 August 2007

IN JULY 2007, A GROUP of labour leaders from the US issued a statement
opposing the growing international campaign of boycotts, divestment and
sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The statement was signed by a number of
presidents from unions including the American Federation of Teachers, the
American Postal Workers Union, the Communication Workers of America, the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the AFL-CIO(1). It was widely
discussed in the Israeli media, where it was presented as a response to
this summer's important set of boycott resolutions from unions in the UK.
While the US statement can in no way be seen as representative of
grassroots sentiment within the North American trade union movement, as
labour activists involved in a variety of Canadian unions we feel it is
important to respond to the array of mistruths and distortions it
contains.

Singling out Israel or international solidarity?

The US statement begins by endorsing a sentiment that is repeated
adnauseum by pro-Israel activists:

"with the diverse range of oppressive regimes around the world about which
there is almost universal silence, we have to question the motives of
these resolutions that single out one country in one conflict."

The first thing to note about this argument is that it contains a
remarkable omission. Nowhere in the entire US statement is there mention
of the fact that the global campaign of BDS against Israel is a direct
response to an urgent appeal signed in July 2005 by over 170 Palestinian
worker, student, farmer, women, professional and refugee associations (2).
This appeal was endorsed by every Palestinian trade union federation and
is the broadest and most representative call for international solidarity
ever made by Palestinian society.

This point bears repeating. To portray the call for boycott as a
"simplistic and non-constructive approach" originating from outside the
region deliberately obfuscates the central point of the BDS campaign. The
global trade union support for boycott resolutions is a direct response to
an urgent appeal from Palestinian workers and their representatives.
Palestinian workers and their representatives have set up a picket line
and asked us not to cross. As North American trade unionists we have an
extra responsibility to workers and their families struggling against
unjust and oppressive regimes particularly when those regimes are fully
supported by the US and Canadian governments.

It is worth emphasizing that attempts to characterize the international
trade union movement as 'singling out' Israel appear ridiculous to anyone
with more than a passing acquaintance with the labour politics. If there
is one issue particularly in North America - that the labour movement
has simply been silent on for too many decades it is the injustice
committed against the Palestinian people. The courageous resolutions
coming from the UK, Canada and countries in Europe are a long overdue
response to a shameful blight on the history of the international trade
union movement. Our fellow trade unionists in the US should take up this
campaign with even more vigour, given the fact that the crimes committed
against the Palestinian people by the Israeli government would simply not
be possible without US diplomatic, financial and military support.

The 'why-pick-on-Israel' response to the boycott campaign is even more
shocking to hear from the leaders of the largest and most influential
union organizations in the US. What kind of trade unionists ever make the
argument that we shouldn't support a labour struggle in one city because
there are other workers also being oppressed in another? Or that a victory
in one sector won't aid our struggles as workers in another? This is an
essential ABC of international solidarity. It is an unfortunate truth that
too many in the labour movement in the US - and Canada - have largely
forgotten or deliberately buried the principle of 'an injury to one is an
injury to all'. Nevertheless, we must constantly uphold and stress this
principle as essential to rebuilding our respective labour movements
around a platform of militant, progressive solidarity and
anti-imperialism. It is indeed striking that the US statement avoids all
mention of even the word 'solidarity'.

We are absolutely certain that the trade unionists in the US that are
active around solidarity with Palestine are the same ones promoting other
solidarity issues in the labour movement: the wars against the Iraqi and
Afghan peoples, solidarity with workers in Mexico, Columbia, Egypt, the
Philippines,and many others. These activists are also on the forefront of
picket lines, organizing the unorganized, building support for
undocumented workers, and leading 'unauthorized' strikes for social
justice. The portrayal of BDS resolutions as narrowing the work of trade
union activists is simply dishonest. A victory on one of these issues will
inspire and mobilize activists across a broad range of social justice
issues. This is our experience in Canada. It is certain to be the case
elsewhere.

The 'both sides' argument

The US labour leaders' statement also invokes the equally oft-repeated
argument that we need to be 'balanced', look at 'all sides', avoid talking
about the 'victims and victimizer', and so forth. The statement claims:

"We note with increasing concern that virtually all of these [BDS]
resolutions focus solely on objections to actions or policies of the
Israeli government, and never on actions or policies of Palestinian or
other Arab governments, parties or movements. We notice with increasing
concern that characterization
of the Palestinians as victims and Israel as victimizer is a staple of
such resolutions. That there are victims and victimizers on all sides, and
that many if not most of the victims of violence and repression on all
sides are civilians, are essential items often not mentioned in these
resolutions."

This argument of balance is willfully blind and deliberately obfuscating
of the central political issues at hand. There is an underlying cause to
the ongoing misery and suffering that affects peoples in the area and it
affects some people more than others: The destruction of the Palestinian
homeland in 1948; the creation of an exclusivist state that closely
resembles the apartheid state of South Africa; the continued occupation,
since 1967, of Palestinian lands in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in
violation of UN resolutions; and the current encirclement, siege and
economic strangulation of Gaza; these are the root problems of the
conflict. Israel (with U.S. and British support) is the key perpetrator of
these violations and it is morally disingenuous to deploy arguments of
'all sides equally guilty'. These violations of the Palestinian peoples
and nation must be addressed if a genuine and just peace is to be achieved
in the region. Avoiding these issues and repeating vacuous calls that
serve to equate the oppressed and their oppressors really means standing
on the side of those in power.

Of course civilians on all sides suffer from the ongoing state of war.
But if you want to do something about that, then the fundamental causes of
the problem need to be addressed. The global BDS movement attempts to do
just that: by denying legitimacy to those who make a living justifying the
current state of affairs; by refusing to work with organizations that
support the oppression of an entire people; and by opposing investments
that strengthen the occupation and domination of the Palestinian people.
Peace can only be brought to the region by supporting peoples struggling
for their freedom and social justice.

The negotiations myth

The US labour leaders' statement goes on to argue that peace requires the
coming together of the parties. The calls for boycotts stand in the way
of the necessary interaction between the warring communities. Such an
argument is again similar to those used against workers engaged in
struggle in their workplaces. How often have we been told that a strike
'hurts everyone', and if we sit down and negotiate then 'all sides will
win'?

The reality is that over the last few decades the so-called 'peace'
negotiations have simply served to cement Israel's stranglehold over the
Palestinian people. Following the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel's settlement
construction in the West Bank doubled. Its system of military orders
governing every aspect of Palestinian life was expanded to include an
invidious control of Palestinian movement based on the notorious South
African pass card system. Israel guaranteed the complete dependence of the
Palestinian economy through control of all exports and imports, the
construction of industrial zones to exploit cheap Palestinian labour, and
the ultimate supply of all water, electricity, and fuel entering the
Palestinian areas. The disconnected islands of territories that
Palestinians have been made captive within have been rightly described as
Bantustans. These Bantustans are now encircled by the Apartheid Wall and
its associated network of military checkpoints, barbed wire fences and
explosive mines.

To claim that 'direct talks' are a panacea for these fundamental problems
overlooks the basic fact that negotiations are not neutral. The Israeli
government wields tremendous military, economic and political superiority
over the Palestinian people. It is supported by the most powerful states
on the planet. The Palestinian people are living under Israeli occupation.
In such a situation can it be anything more than self-evident that
negotiations will favour the more powerful? These realities of power in
the region and its implications for the achievement of rights of
self-determination and justice
for Palestinians must be acknowledged to truly demonstrate international
solidarity. It means taking sides. As unionists we know that this means
always being in the front ranks supporting those suffering against
exploitation and oppression.

There are groups of people in Israel that respect the rights of
Palestinians, maintain relations of solidarity and support for their
struggle, and also support the BDS movement against Israeli apartheid.
Much like the relations between the white South African supporters of the
ANC and the liberation
movement, the former fully supported the struggle and renounced the
privileges and the superior status given to them by the racist regime. We
are absolutely confident that the numbers and public profile of those
courageous Israelis who stand with the Palestinian people will continue
to increase alongside the growing strength of the global boycott
movement.

Israeli and Palestinian unions

What about the Palestinian and Israeli trade unions? Once again, the
silence of the US labour leaders' statement towards the call issued by all
Palestinian trade union federations in February 2007 to boycott the
existing Israeli union movement the Histadrut needs to be underlined
(3). The Histadrut represents a colonial-type union formation that
supports the ongoing domination of the Palestinian people. It has worked
hand-in-hand with the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip
for decades, and is thus an integral part of the exploitation of
Palestinian labour. The former Histadrut leader, Amir Peretz, moved
straight on to Israeli Defence Minister and in that position presided over
the horrendous bombardment of Lebanon in 2006. As part of Olmert's
government, he participated in the further extension of settlements in the
West Bank and the building of the Apartheid Wall. The relationships that
exist between the Histradrut and Palestinian labour institutions can in no
honest way be described as constituting "co-operative and mutually
supportive activities".

Why BDS?

The purpose of boycott and divestment resolutions is to force the Israeli
government to fulfill basic principles of human rights. Governments around
the world have clearly failed to do so and, in contrast, are
instrumental to supporting Israel's system of oppression. The BDS campaign
message is direct: it simply says that we should have no part in
supporting those who stand with and maintain Israeli apartheid; we refuse
to participate with and strengthen those structures and demand that basic
human rights are achieved for the Palestinian people.

The boycott campaign is working. What other international initiative over
the last few decades has so publicly expressed global dissatisfaction with
Israeli policies against the Palestinian people and been so effective in
forcing the Israeli government to respond? We know that we are having an
impact when the Israeli government decides to set up a special government
committee to combat the global boycott movement (4). We know that our
voices are being heard when the British government must publicly come out
against the UK trade union movement because of its position on Israeli
human rights violations (5). When was the last time a western government
has paid attention to a trade union resolution?

The BDS movement is also a powerful consciousness raising tool. By raising
the arguments and debates we help to educate workers around an issue that
it is simply impossible to understand on a diet of the mainstream,
corporate media. In Canada, for example, union activists in the Canadian
Union of Public
Employees (CUPE Ontario) have been conducting a year-long education
campaign throughout dozens of union locals based on material produced by
the union on BDS. Hundreds of workers have gone through these educational
sessions. Discussions and groups supportive of Palestinian solidarity have
formed in other unions. This would simply not have been possible without a
resolution passed by CUPE in March 2006.

Over the past fifty years much of the trade union movement in the US (and
many in Canada as well) have an inglorious record in supporting the
foreign policy efforts of successive pro-business governments.
Nevertheless, today a growing number of trade unionists are rejecting that
tradition and are instead looking to rebuild a truly internationalist
worker's movement. The BDS campaign is a powerful component of this
movement for progressive union solidarity.

As Canadian trade unionists, we are convinced that the global BDS campaign
represents a re-awakening of the true principles of the labour movement.
The boycott movement was an important part of solidarity with black South
Africans struggling against apartheid. We are certain that it will be an
instrumental part of achieving justice and peace in the Middle East. We
are proud to be active in this campaign in Canada. A great many
rank-and-file labour activists in the US support this work. Their voices
and solidarity will not be silenced.

Notes:

(1) See www.jewishlaborcommittee.org/2007/07/statement_of_opposition_to_div.html)
for a copy of this statement.

(2) See www.stopthewall.org/downloads/pdf/BDSEnglish.pdf

(3) See www.stopthewall.org/boycott/bds/cupe.shtml

(4) See "Government to Form Joint Task Force to counter U.K. Boycotts",
Haaretz, 8 June 2007 www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/868700.html

(5) See British Embassy Tel Aviv, "Howells Comments on Boycott of Israeli
Goods" www.britemb.org.il/news/2007/howells180407.htm
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About Labour for Palestine

Labour for Palestine is a network of activists involved in promoting and
strengthening the BDS campaign across a variety of different Canadian
unions as a sub-committee of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid
(CAIA). In March 2006, Labour for Palestine launched a 106-page reader
exploring themes such as the history of the Palestinian struggle, Zionism
and the Israeli labour movement, Canadian ties to Israeli apartheid, the
global campaign of boycott,divestment and sanctions, and commentary around
the CUPE Ontario resolution in support of BDS. The reader can be purchased
online from the Toronto Women's Bookstore for Cd$13.00 by visiting
www.womensbookstore.com For more information on Labour for
Palestine, please contact labour@caiaweb.org

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