[Marxism] FW: 'Labour for Palestine' Responds to US Anti-Boycott Statement

Richard Fidler rfidler_8 at sympatico.ca
Wed Aug 29 10:51:42 MDT 2007


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~(((( T h e B u l l e t ))))~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A Socialist Project e-bulletin .... No. 54... August  28, 2007
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'Labour for Palestine' Responds to US Anti-Boycott Statement

In July 2007, a group of labour leaders from the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. statement begins by endorsing a sentiment that is repeated ad
nauseum 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S.
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 USA. 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 U.S. -- 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 U.S. statement avoids all mention of even the! word
'solidarity'.

We are absolutely certain that the trade unionists in the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 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 re!
gion. 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 U.S. 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 milit! ary 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 U.S. 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 relations! hips 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 U.S. (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 U.S. 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.

For more information on Labour for Palestine, please contact
labour at caiaweb.org

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