Pro-Israel unionists seek to undermine Palestinian solidarity

Issue 

In recent weeks, there have been a number of articles in the corporate media globally, including the Rupert Murdoch-owned Australian, on the creation of a new international union organisation — Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine.

TULIP's stated goal is promoting Middle Eastern peace by bringing Israeli and Palestinian unions together. To this end, it has gone on the offensive against "apologists" for Hamas and Hezbollah in the international labour movement and seeks to end union support for the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign directed at Israel.

What sort of "peace" does TULIP support?

Looking at the arguments of those supporting the new body, it is clear TULIP means a "peace" based on the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.

TULIP has been founded by Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (USA) president Stuart Appelbaum; and Community (Britain) general secretary Michael J. Leahy.

The site includes links to other organisations in Canada, the US and Britain, including Union Members for Israel (UMI, Canada); Trade Union Friends of Israel (Britain); Engage (a British organisation established to oppose the BDS campaign in the Association of University Teachers); US Jewish Labor Committee (JLC, of which Appelbaum is president.)

Both UMI and Engage were established by union members opposed to their unions supporting the BDS campaign. Both the JLC and TUFI actively seek to build support in the labour movement for the Israeli state and its occupation of Palestine.

Peace?

The JLC is also a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — which refers to itself as "America's pro-Israel lobby". Both TUFI and the JLC issued statements during Israel's recent war on Gaza that portrayed Israel as the innocent victim and said little or nothing on its slaughter of more than 1300 civilians.

In its founding statement, TULIP said the "solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is clear ... Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side, within secure and recognised borders, is the only workable solution ...

"Israel has already taken a number of steps towards this goal, most notably by agreeing to the Oslo Accords in 1993 and later by the unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Lebanon and Gaza. Palestinian moderates lead by Mahmoud Abbas support this process."

In fact, since Oslo, Israel's illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank have been massively expanded — an expansion continuing right now.

Also, when Israel withdrew its military and settlements from the Gaza Strip, it replaced occupation with a crippling medieval-style siege attempting to starve the 1.5 million Palestinians into submission.

Israel also launched a devastating war on Lebanon in 2006 — ended by a humiliating military defeat at the hands of Hezbollah

TULIP said improving links between Israeli and Palestinian unions is its central gaol. To be serious about this, it is important to recognise the nature of the existing relationship.

The main Israeli trade union organisation is the General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel (Histadrut) This is the main body TULIP relates to.

There are other Israeli workers' rights groups, however, such as Kav LaOved (an NGO that works with disadvantaged Israeli and Palestinian workers) and the Workers' Advice Centre, which supports the goal of an independent labour association bringing together Israeli and Palestinian workers.

While Histadrut has existed since 1920, it is only since 1994 that it has taken on what is normally considered the characteristics of a trade union. Prior to this, Histadrut was a corporatist organisation. It not only organised workers, but was also one of Israel's largest employers, owning 25% of the Israeli economy.

In 1995, the leadership of Histadrut sold off the organisation's assets as part of Israel's neoliberal drive, renaming itself New Histadrut.

Histadrut played a crucial role in creating Israel's economy in its early days. This role stamped Histadrut with one of its defining features since its foundation — racism.

Histadrut and Palestinian workers

During initial process of colonisation in Palestine to create the conditions for a "Jewish state" at the expense of other inhabitants of the land, Histadrut actively participated in excluding Palestinians from employment in Jewish-owned companies. Palestinians, including those living inside Israel, were barred from becoming full members of Histadrut until 1959.

In 1979, all Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza who worked in Israel were forced to join Histadrut, with 1% of their wages being paid in dues. However, these workers were not entitled to receive any support from Histadrut.

In 1995, Histadrut made an agreement with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions to allow it to continue to collect dues from Palestinians working inside Israel as before, but to give half of the funds to the PGFTU.

Following the outbreak of the second intifada (Palestinian uprising) in 2000, Histadrut cut off all ties with the PFGTU, stopped representing Palestinian workers inside Israel and acted as the part of Israel's PR machine within the labour movement globally.

Histadrut defended the Israeli Defence Force when it bombed the PGFTU's Nablus offices in 2002.

Histadrut has never supported Arab workers' fight against racial discrimination.

It failed to oppose the mass sackings of Arab workers by Israeli bosses in 2000. It failed to support a dispute between Arab and Jewish employees with the Dead Sea Hotel Nirvana in 2003, sparked when an Arab manager was fired for refusing to ban his co-workers from speaking Arabic in front of tourists. Arabic is an official language of Israel.

It has done nothing about the 2004 policy of McDonald's Israel to ban Arabic from being spoken in its restaurants. Neither did it oppose a policy at a building site on the grounds of the Knesset (Israel's parliament) that forced the helmets of Arab workers to be marked with a red "X" to make it easier for them to be shot by snipers in case of a terrorist attack.

In 2005, Histadrut was found by in a court case to have allowed illegal discrimination against foreign workers by the Israeli Hotel Association.

In August, a new agreement was signed for greater cooperation with the PGFTU.

Unfortunately, such cooperation did not extend to defending Palestinian workers when they were attacked by the IDF in the December-January war on Gaza.

Histadrut issued a number of statements supporting and defending the IDF assault. There was no condemnation of the IDF's destruction of offices of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees.

Boycott

This is the nature of the union TULIP wishes to promote greater international collaboration with as part of promoting "peace".

It is the growing support from unions globally for the BDS campaign promoted by Palestinian solidarity activists that has prompted the formation of TULIP. This campaign has already begun inflicting economic damage on Israel.

The growing support for the BDS campaign reflects the widespread revulsion felt by ordinary people over Israel's actions. TULIP's response is to argue that a boycott of Israel will undermine collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian unions.

However, the BDS campaign is supported by Palestinian unions. For cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian unions to be anything more than a cooption of Palestinian unions by Israeli ones, it must be based on recognition of the Palestinian demands for justice.

Also, while TULIP is opposed to sanctions against Israel, it has no problems with the brutal sanctions Israel maintains on Gaza. These sanctions have been imposed as punishment for the Palestinian people electing a Hamas-led government in 2006.

Hamas

TULIP has made a number of statements arguing that Hamas is an obstacle to peace as it does not support the two-state solution agreed to as part of the Oslo Accords.

This is untrue. On May 9, Hamas leader Khaled Meeshal said the formation of a Palestinian state based on territories occupied by Israel in 1967 (the West Bank and Gaza), with East Jerusalem as its capital, would form the basis of a long-term truce.

For Hamas, this needs to be combined with the dismantling of illegal Israeli settlements, the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their land in what is now Israel, and for the Palestinian state to exercise full sovereignty over the land, air and water covered by its borders.

These are all demands that the Israeli government, whether led by Labour, Likud or Kadima, have repeatedly refused.

While blaming Hamas as block to peace, TULIP has nothing to say about the extreme racist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which was crucial to the formation of the current Israeli government. Its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, is the foreign minister and deputy PM.

Among a number of racist positions, in 1998 Lieberman called for the flooding of Egypt by bombing the Aswan Dam in retaliation for Egyptian support for then Palestinian Authority (PA) head Yasser Arafat.

In 2003, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Lieberman called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide the buses to transport them.

He has also advocated the mass expulsion of the 1.2 million Palestinian people who live in Israel.

In 2006, he called for the killing of Palestinian Knesset members who met with the Hamas-led PA.

TULIP's claims of support for peace covers an attempt to mobilise support for Israeli oppression and undermine international solidarity with Palestine.

The only basis for a lasting peace in the region is justice for the Palestinians. To help achieve this, internal labour movement should give active solidarity with the Palestinian people — including by supporting the BDS campaign.

[Abridged from Chris Latham's blog, .]