Friday, June 18, 2010

Trade unionists fight British Israel Boycott movement

Here are three transcripts of remarks at the TUFI (Trade Union Friends of Israel)  "fringe meeting" of UNISON (UNISON boycotts TUFI). They are all resounding anti-boycott statements by real unionists (not politrukim of the Palestine groupies). TUFI and Tulip, its online support voice, have been fighting the good fight against the British boycott movement and for real peace in the Middle East. They deserve the support of every decent person. 

Ami Isseroff   

German unionist tells UNISON: Don't boycott Israel

By ericlee

The following are the remarks delivered this week by Günther Jikeli to the Trade Union Friends of Israel fringe meeting at the UNISON conference.  Günther was born in Cologne and became a union member in 1992 when he  helped to established a representation of waiters within "Kaufhof". He then moved to Berlin for his studies and was engaged in anti-racist work, supporting and working together with refugees. He later co-founded the Kreuzberg Initiative Against Antisemitism, a neighbourhood project working mainly on education. He currently working on a PhD on contemporary antisemitism (TU Berlin) and is one of the directors of the International Institute for Education and Research on Antisemitism.

Dear friends of Israel,

I'm from the German union Ver.di, the largest union in Germany in the service sector. Within my union, luckily, calls for a boycott against Israel are not an issue and would not be successful right now. That doesn't mean that all is good in my union but the general discourse on the issue seems to be much better than in most British trade unions. The deputy general secretary of my union would not sing "viva Palestine" on a pro-Palestinian rally – without showing any kind of distance to Hamas.

Calls for a boycott against Israel are regarded by many in my union as what they are: expressions of antisemitism.

Of course, this has a lot to do with German history: a boycott against the Jewish state or Israeli companies is quickly associated with the Nazi boycott of Jewish shops in the 1930s.
Calls for a boycott against Israel in Germany today come from the extreme right and the extreme left and also from some Muslim groups.

I want to give you two examples.

The Neo-Nazi party NPD with committed Neo-Nazis as its members and leaders, has some seats in the parliament of Saxony, one of the states of the Federal Republic Germany. Upon their request the parliament of Saxony will have a debate tomorrow on, I quote, "no cooperation with 'rogue states' – stop the Israeli-Saxony partnership".
Neo-Nazis in Germany call Israel the Zionist entity and want to end all relations with Israel. I think that shows the spirit of it and the alliances you get if you call for a boycott against Israel. It is part of a fascist and antisemitic strategy and ideology.

However, some calls for a boycott also come from the extreme left. Leading members of the party "Die Linke" – "The Left", partly the successor party of the regime of the so-called communists of former East-Germany, leaders of that party went to show their support for Palestinians by cooperating with Islamists on the ship „Mavi Marmara" as part of the flotilla – without  a word of distance regarding the Jihadists, the Turkish fascists the Grey Wolves or the violent members of the Islamist group Insani Yardim Vakfi, the IHH an openly pro-Hamas group – all on board of the same ship. The activists cooperated with people who told the Israeli soldiers via radio transmission "go back to Auschwitz".

From the extreme left and from Neo-Nazis in Germany, calls for solidarity with Palestine include Israel-bashing and direct or indirect support for Hamas. Both does not help the Palestinian people at all – except Hamas, of course.
The picture is much more complicated. Hamas is the first oppressor of Palestinians in Gaza. Freedom for Gaza and for the people in Gaza will be, first of all, freedom from Hamas.

Ideologues and antisemites, of course, don't want to see that.

They don't want to see that the biggest problem for Palestinian trade unions in Gaza is Hamas – not Israel. Members of the Palestinian trade union PGFTU have to fear for their lives in Gaza.

I think, Leon de Winter, a famous author, is right: those who bash Israel are not interested in the fate of the oppressed people, but they are driven by sentiments against Jews and Israel who they want to see as the most evil oppressors.

What is the role of trade unions?

Trade unions are there to improve the living and working conditions of workers. The fight for individual rights and prosperity are the core values of trade unions around the globe, not battles of ideology. Therefore, I believe that this debate is one of the very understanding of what trade unions should do.

Do they act upon resentments and look out for scapegoats or -
do they fight for the improvement of workers' living and working conditions, including international solidarity!?

The latter is much more hard work and requires a look on the ground and on facts and an evaluation of what serves best the individuals and what improves their situation.

But this is why I am member of a union, this is what I want my union to stand for: the improvement of living conditions of all workers.

And this is why my solidarity is with Israeli and Palestinian trade unions.

And this is also why I condemn any boycott against Israel.

For the sake of  – not only Jews in Israel but for the sake of the people living in the Middle East and for the sake of a human world:
Long live Israel!
Thank you.


TUFI: Build solidarity between Israeli, Palestinian trade unionists

By ericlee

The following are the remarks delivered by Stephen Scott from Trade Union Friends of Israel to TUFI's fringe meeting at the UNISON conference.
Brothers, sisters, guests, welcome to the Trade Union Friends of Israel Unison fringe event.

Thank you for coming.  I must start by expressing my regret that TUFI has been barred from exhibiting at Unison's conference for the second consecutive year.  We are a moderate organisation that wants to see a two-state solution and to galvanise support for both Israeli and Palestinian workers.  We aim to disperse this pro-peace message and argue against extreme groups that propagate that Israel doesn't have the right to exist.  It is unfortunate that Unison's executive has gone out of its way to try and censor this message.  

In a long standing tradition, international trade union solidarity has been about that, solidarity, campaigning for peace, co-operation, economic development and education.

This is most acute in the Middle East where all efforts should be exerted towards solidarity between Israeli and Palestinians who support the peace process.

This is the policy being supported by almost all trade union centres around the world.  Support for a boycott is diametrically opposite to this.

Unfortunately, Unison has another very negative motion on the agenda this year, calling for boycotts and criticising the Histadrut (the Israeli TUC).  It is such a shame that a great union like Unison is pursuing these non-constructive efforts to help.  This is not the right, especially when there's real progress on the ground between Israeli and Palestinian trade unions.

It is a bit bizarre that UK unions are calling to boycott Israel at the same time as co-operation is gathering pace between Israeli and Palestinian trade unions.  TUFI's recent trade union delegations have visited Nablus, Ramallah and Tel Aviv, and we see clear evidence, in spite of all the well known problems, of trade unionists co-operating together and overcoming long standing obstacles.

This co-operation is not a phantom tale, but the reality on the ground.  In August 2008, Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists signed a landmark agreement to base future relations on negotiation, dialogue and joint initiatives to advance "fraternity and co-existence".  The historic agreement was negotiated under the auspices of Guy Ryder, the General Secretary of the world-wide International Trade Union Confederation.

The Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions and the Histadrut have both said publicly that they want to continue working together.

A recent agreement invites world unions to contribute to a joint training seminar between the two transportation workers unions signed last year.  And further recent developments between Israeli and Palestinian construction unions to give apprenticeships to Palestinians alongside their Israeli counterparts will provide the vital skills needed to develop the infrastructure of a future Palestinian state.

Whilst this is not a panacea to end the conflict, they are building blocks for trust and confidence towards a long-term peace settlement and crucially have the full endorsement and approval of the Palestinian unions.   A boycott would prevent these kinds of initiatives and prevent Palestinians from attaining vital skills for the future.

It is the irony of the boycott campaign that a boycott would harm the very people it is ostensibly being carried out for.  A boycott would stop all economic and social engagement between Israelis and Palestinians – hurting many communities, workers and their families.

It's another irony that the Histadrut is now being targeted when it has an impressive history of democratic, free trade unionism and does exemplary work for its members.   Last year alone it negotiated a five percent wage rise for all public sector workers and pension cover for the entire private sector workforce; something which the majority of trade unions across the world could only dream of.

These attacks on a fellow trade union federation are nothing more than the next cynical tactic by some UK groups to further delegitimise Israel whilst also attempting to thwart the budding PGFTU-Histadrut relationship.  There is no doubt that this relationship is seen as a threat to the UK trade union boycott campaign.  It seems they are willing to go to any length to wrench the two federations apart.

Don't be fooled.  The Histadrut unites hundreds of thousands of union members, regardless of religion, race or gender.  Palestinian-Israelis make up twenty percent of its membership and the head of the International Department, Nawaf Massalha, is a Palestinian-Israeli.  The Histadrut has also taken high court action to win higher pay and union rights for West Bank workers.

The Histadrut is not an unwavering supporter of everything the Israeli government does.  It has called for an end to settlement construction and only last week it called for the blockade of Gaza to be lifted.

Rather than baseless attacks, British trade unions should be voting for solidarity with their fellow workers and the leading democratic trade unions in the region.

Where are the motions in support of the trade unionists under attack in Gaza?  Soon after seizing power in Gaza, Hamas stamped down on trade unionism, taking over the PGFTU headquarters, removing all existing slogans and flags, and raising a Hamas flag over the building.  The Deputy General Secretary of the PGFTU had to flee to the West Bank after coming under attack and when public sector unions called for a strike in Gaza at the end of last year, Hamas threatened to sack everyone that took part.

The timing of the boycott calls could not come at a more inopportune time with President Obama's careful and systematic steps to revive the peace process gaining traction.  His personal commitment is clear and the engagement of Senator Mitchell, who played such an important role during the peace process in Northern Ireland, could reap dividends in the coming months.

There have been reports in the news recently highlighting the progress in the West Bank under the prime ministership of Salam Fayyad.  This progress does not get reported much, firstly because it is a slow incremental business and secondly because Gaza, under its Hamas leadership, has produced all the spectacular news of late.  But the fact is that under a better a more peaceful security environment, the West Bank economy has grown substantially in the last three years ago and shows what is possible.

We at Trade Union Friends of Israel invite all unions to co-operate with their Palestinian and Israeli counterparts.  The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union, for instance, hosted their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts at their last conference, where they pledged to work together despite their differences.

The hypocrisy is that this kind of initiative is ignored or even openly opposed by elements who profess to support Palestinians, but instead support the Hamas position of a boycott, the de-legitimisation of Israel and sectarian terrorist aims, not trade union solidarity!

This is no time for negative actions. We should be aiming for closer links being forged on the basis of support for a two-state solution.  Security and economic well-being for the region is surely the way ahead.

Simplistic negative efforts in the form of misguided resolutions is not the right approach for British trade unions to help, especially when there are positive actions that can express practical solidarity.

Turning the tide in the fight against BDS

By andrew

The following are notes from Eric Lee's presentation to the Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) fringe meeting at the UNISON conference in Bournemouth yesterday.  TUFI was banned this year from having a stall at the conference, but held a successful meeting across the road.

What has changed since we last met at a TUFI fringe event at Unison conference in 2009

TUC adopted for the first time ever a call for a partial boycott of Israeli goods, calls for unions to affiliate to PSC

Some unions considered this a triumph of compromise and reason, but we were sceptical

Unite, UCU vote for full boycotts and (in UCU's case) an end to the relationship with Histadrut

Unison bans TUFI this year on political, not administrative, grounds – after promising that this would not happen

ITUC at its upcoming Vancouver congress to debate COSATU amendment declaring Israel an apartheid state, full support for BDS, etc.

Sally Hunt of UCU – who appeared at the Gaza rally wearing a Palestinian flag in her hair – will represent the TUC there

Where we stand today

Israel more isolated than ever before in the international trade union movement

Union leaders are rushing ahead of their members and their own union's positions – e.g., Keith Sonnet at the London Gaza rally shouting 'Viva Palestina' – where is the commitment to a two-state solution?

British union leaders are following the lead of Guardian writers and BBC reporters – they are influenced by the political elite, not reacting to pressure from their own members

Only a tiny fraction of union members care about this issue and turn up for pro-Palestinian events (or indeed for any international issues)

There is no evidence that Muslim trade union members are driving this agenda at all; if anyone is, it's the hard left (SWP, etc)

Polls continue to indicate widespread public hostility toward and fear of Islamic fundamentalism – and support for Israel at the union base may be stronger than at the top

In Israel, there is growing concern about these developments in the unions and a recent report by the think tank Reut, which was widely publicized, strongly underlined the importance of unions as a battleground for Israel's survival

Make no mistake about it – Israel's survival is at stake, as it is facing a potentially nuclear-armed Iran, which is currently funnelling sophisticated weapons to its clients (Hamas, Hezbollah) – and its aims are clearly exterminationist

What happens next – and what we need to do

On a global scale, we are lurching from crisis to crisis

Those of us who support a two-state solution negotiated by Israelis and Palestinians find ourselves putting out fires, reacting to crises rather than pushing our own views

We need to be building a global network that is resourced and funded and that aims to turn the tide

We need to be confident that we can achieve this, and there are reasons to be confident

Our opponents have several key weaknesses that we need to exploit

They are closely linked to Iran, and the international trade union movement is currently engaged in a battle with the Iranian regime which is ruthless in its repression of trade unions

We have the Palestinian trade union movement on our side – even the recent call by Palestinian unions for dock workers to refuse to load or unload Israeli cargo following the flotilla tragedy – that was not actually endorsed by the PGFTU, which is also at best lukewarm on the question of BDS

Our opponents cannot count on Palestinian union support

The vast majority of union members in this country – and elsewhere – are not interested in this subject and are ill-informed

I recently had an email exchange with one trade union activist who demanded in an email to me that Israel withdraw its forces from Gaza; when I explained that Israel had done so in 2005, he actually apologized to me – sometimes all we need to do is to get the facts out

Finally, a real advantage we have – and it's unfortunate that we have this – is our opponents' views are so well known, and so dominate the liberal-left media, that they are largely unaware of an alternative view

We know exactly what they will say, but they have no idea what we will say

When we debate, as I have on several occasions, we will win because we know their arguments but they do not know ours

For this reason, TUFI should challenge the PSC to a debate at this year's TUC; if PSC refuses, we will publicize that refusal, and if they debate us, we will expose them and defeat them

We must never forget that at its core, the issue here is not geo-strategic, or even political, but fundamentally a moral one: do the Jewish people, and the Palestinians, have a right to a homeland of their own?

If you believe, as do some in the PSC, that the Israelis should be driven into the sea, or sent back to Germany and Poland, you're an anti-Semite and you have no place in our movement

In fighting against this hatred of Jews and the Jewish state, we are fighting for the very soul of the trade union movement



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