Australian unions and the boycott Israel campaign

Issue 

A 200-strong public meeting that claimed to support the Palestine-Israel peace process was organised by right-wing union leader Paul Howes at the ALP conference in Sydney on July 30.

But the event was a whitewash of Israel's six-decade-long war on Palestine. It was also an attempt by the ALP right to contain the growing support from within Labor's ranks for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel's apartheid regime.

Howes, the Australian Workers Union national secretary, had crafted the "fringe event" to appear to be promoting solidarity between Australian unions and their Palestinian and Israeli counterparts.

It was anything but.

Rather, in the long tradition of ALP support for Zionism, it promoted a new pro-Zionist organisation, Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP). Howes is one of its founding members.

Curiously, the TULIP logo featured prominently behind the speakers, but neither Howes nor any panelist spoke directly about the organisation.

Paddy Crumlin, national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, only mentioned TULIP in passing, noting that his union had not joined it. However, he showed a short propaganda film by the International Transport Workers' Federation, which featured the General Confederation of Palestinian Workers and Histadrut officials arranging to try to fast-track Palestinian workers through checkpoints in the West Bank.

Histadrut is a racist union. It was set up on a Jewish-only basis in 1920 and was a key organisation responsible for the formation the Israel and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Unionists in the room were entitled to ask why they were being treated to the idea that fast-tracking of workers through the apartheid-like checkpoints is a good thing. Surely the solution is to remove these checkpoints altogether.

Other speakers included Janelle Saffin, ALP MP and a member of Parliamentary Friends of Palestine; Michael Danby, ALP MP and a member of Parliamentary Friends of Israel; Robert Groot, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry; and the head of the Palestinian delegation to Australia, Izzat Abdul Hadi.

With the exception of Abdul Hadi, all congratulated Howes on "his important initiative" — referring to the setting up of TULIP, again without actually mentioning it by name.
A number of Palestinians and their supporters, including activists from the Gaza Defence Committee (GDC), circulated a flyer with background on TULIP.

"[While] TULIP claims to want to 'link workers' in Israel and Palestine ... the main link it is promoting with workers in Israel is through the Histadrut, the Israeli 'union' organisation which is also an employer", the leaflet said.

TULIP has been silent about Histadrut's support for Israel's 2008-09 brutal assault on Gaza, and the continuing blockade. Further, the leaflet pointed out TULIP has said nothing about the Israeli public railway company's recent sacking of 150 Arab workers.
"Israel Railways was following dozens of other major Israeli firms and thousands of small businesses that keep jobs off limits to Arab workers by defining the roles as 'security related'.

"TULIP is similarly silent on the cases of the many Arab workers who were sacked after attending demonstrations in January against the Israeli army's attack on Palestinians in Gaza."

TULIP was launched on May 21. Its founders said it aims to prevent the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign on Israel from succeeding.

Howes was upfront about TULIP's purpose in a May 21 article in the Australian. "[T]he opponents of a two-state solution are on the offensive, working hard to promote their destructive agenda of boycotts and sanctions targeting Israel.

"It's time for trade unionists in all countries to go on the offensive, to challenge the apologists for Hamas and Hezbollah in the labour movement ... We cannot abandon the field to those whose goal is the destruction of any chance for a real Israeli-Palestinian peace."

Towards the end of the meeting an audience member called out that lies were being spoken. Howes responded aggressively and said that certain people were not welcome, that he had "no intention" of running the meeting democratically, and that neither he nor the ALP were democratic.

This wasn't news to many, but it highlighted his defensiveness over the forum topic and panel.

In the global campaign to dismantle the apartheid regime in South Africa a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign played an important role. The movement had its critics: conservatives like former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and former US president Ronald Reagan, for instance, insisted on "constructive engagement" with the racist South African regime.

But these apologists for racism eventually lost. Unions across the globe backed the sanctions campaign against the racist apartheid regime. So too, with the support of unions and progressives all over the world, will Israel's apartheid-like rule over Palestine come to an end.

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