Why unions should support Palestine

April 23, 2008

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian al Nakba (the Catastrophe) — the razing of up to 418 Palestinian villages and the driving of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes by Zionist forces to create the State of Israel.

The anniversary of the creation of Israel has been greeted with a frenzy of celebration by Australian politicians, in particular Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who led a bi-partisan motion congratulating Israel on it's "Independence Day" and who has attended a variety of events organised by extremist Zionist organisations. At a fundraiser for the United Israel Appeal Refugee Fund Ltd (which finances Jewish-only migration to Israel), Rudd even took credit for the creation of Israel as "Australian Labor government handiwork".

Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes opportunistically jumped on the bandwagon, attacking the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) for signing an advertisement publish in the Australian last month that stated: "We, as informed and concerned Australians, choose to dissociate ourselves from the celebration of the triumph of racism and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since the al Nakba of 1948."

Howes praised the Israeli state as "a beacon for democracy" in interviews and accused the CFMEU of endorsing an advertisement that was "juvenile" and "offensive", and of supporting a "sexy" cause.

While the CFMEU has stood solidly by its endorsement of the statement, MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin distanced himself, claiming that Sydney MUA branch secretary Warren Smith does not represent his views or those of the union. "I would be the last person to equate the establishment of Israel with racism and ethnic cleansing… That was an appalling choice of words", Crumlin was quoted as saying by the April 7 Australian.

But what words can you use to describe a state that was founded on the driving out of 700,000 people out of their country? And how else can you describe a state whose current strategy, in the words of Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, is to " "maximise the number of Jews; to minimize the number of Palestinians"? Or whose "defence" minister, Matan Vilnai, recently threatened that the population of the Gaza Strip "will bring a bigger holocaust upon themselves" than Israel's siege is already imposing?

And how is the Palestinian struggle for national survival and liberation a "sexy" cause, when every mainstream politician and union careerist is falling over themselves to support Israel, no matter how much it violates international law or abuses Palestinians' human rights?

Each year, Washington gives US$3 billion in aid to Israel, as well as military and political support. Australia supports Israel in international bodies such as the UN. Australian companies, NGOs and government bodies have links with Zionist organisations such as the Jewish National Fund (which buys up land in historic Palestine that can only be sold to Jews), while the establishment media are almost universally pro-Israel and often rabidly anti-Palestinian.

Those in the CFMEU and MUA who were brave enough to go against the tide and sign the advertisement have taken an important first step in supporting justice for the Palestinian people, the achievement of which will be the only way to bring peace in the Middle East.

In many countries, unions have been at the forefront of campaigns against companies that profit from the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. For example, Irish unions have joined the international boycott of Caterpillar (which sells armoured bulldozers to Israel and which are used to demolish the homes of Palestinian civilians). Irish unions have also refused to train Israeli workers for a project contracted to Veolia (owners of Connex in Melbourne) to build light-rail lines between the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

In Canada and England, tertiary education unions have supported the academic boycott, which targets Israeli universities that contribute to Israel's apartheid regime through military research or discrimination against Palestinian students.

Without the massive support from the Western powers, Israel would not be able to maintain its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, or its system of apartheid and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Union activists in Australia need take the lead in opposing this support by joining the international campaign for divestment, sanctions and boycott.

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