Israel — the case for a union boycott

January 17, 2009

The horror of what is unfolding in Gaza is forcing more people to come out to support Palestine. People are coming out onto the streets in tens or hundreds of thousands all over the world.

The anger and frustration is so deeply felt that it has even broken out into riots in many countries.

But what happens when the massacres are over?

Will the movement die down again? Will we wait, while Israel returns to slowly strangling the Palestinians in a noose of settlements, restrictions and blockades? Will we wait for the next time they decide to casually massacre one or two thousand innocent men, women and children?

Israel is not going to stop what it's doing without pressure and that pressure isn't about to come from the western governments or international bodies such as the UN.

In fact, as Naomi Klein points out in her article "Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction" in The Nation on January 9, as Israel's atrocities have increased, it has actually gained stronger support from many western governments.

"Since 2006 Israel has been steadily escalating its criminality: expanding settlements, launching an outrageous war against Lebanon and imposing collective punishment on Gaza through the brutal blockade", Klein argued.

"Despite this escalation, Israel has not faced punitive measures — quite the opposite. The weapons and $3 billion in annual aid that the US sends to Israel is only the beginning.

"Throughout this key period, Israel has enjoyed a dramatic improvement in its diplomatic, cultural and trade relations with a variety of other allies. For instance, in 2007 Israel became the first non-Latin American country to sign a free-trade deal with Mercosur.

"In the first nine months of 2008, Israeli exports to Canada went up 45 percent. A new trade deal with the European Union is set to double Israel's exports of processed food. And on December 8, European ministers 'upgraded' the EU-Israel
Association Agreement, a reward long sought by Jerusalem", Klein wrote.

The Australian government gives less direct financial aid. However it is one of Israel's strongest political backers.

We need to channel our anger into ongoing activity that can really challenge Israel; and Israel's extreme dependence on foreign aid and trade means that a boycott could succeed.

However, just refusing to buy Israeli goods individually isn't going to be enough. We need to force our governments not only to cut all aid but to impose sanctions on Israel and punish companies that trade with it.

While the churches, along with political and community organisations can make a serious public moral stand by supporting the boycott campaign, the groups that have the power to make the boycott real are the trade unions.

Unions such as the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education in Britain have put the boycott campaign into the public eye in those countries. Many other unions around the world have also joined.

If Australian unions were to support the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions campaign it would be a huge boost to the movement.

We need to use this atrocity that Israel has created as an opportunity to really push the movement forward. Israel should be treated as the racist, apartheid state that it is.

Australian unions need to step up and take a lead.

[Ema Corro is an activist with the Melbourne Palestine Solidarity Network and a member of the Melbourne West branch of the Socialist Alliance.]

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