The Palestinian hunger strike that “pro-Palestinians” ignore

The trade union-backed Palestine Solidarity Campaign (UK) is always quick to support hunger strikes — or any protest — by Palestinians jailed for terrorist offenses in Israeli prisons.

It doesn’t matter what those Palestinian prisoners may have done; they always get the full solidarity of groups like the PSC and the unions that fund and support them.

For example, earlier this year the PSC backed Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi.  According to the Wikipedia, “Samer, who was affiliated with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, allegedly manufactured and distributed pipe bombs and in several instances fired indiscriminately at Israeli civilians. He was convicted of membership in an illegal organization, possession of explosives, and attempted murder.”

The organization he belonged to was famously behind the massacre at the Israeli school in Ma’alot in 1974 which resulted in the deaths of 25 hostages.

To the PSC, Issawi is a “freedom fighter,” or whatever.

Khalil Abu Laban, on the other hand, gets no sympathy whatever, from this “pro-Palestinian” group.  They’ve almost certainly never heard of him.

Khalil works for the UN’s refugee agency, UNRWA, which has had a notorious record in recent years as an employer, failing to pay wages and so on.

Khalil works for them at the Deheisheh refugee camp just outside Bethlehem.  Together with three other workers, he’s been on hunger strike as part of a month-long strike by the rest of the staff.

Last week he collapsed and was taken to hospital.

According to a report on the Ma’an website, UNRWA workers are on strike as “a result of a conflict with the organization over salaries and positions within the organization.  The strike is also in protest of a decision to forbid anyone who was imprisoned in Israel to work for the UNRWA.”

That last sentence is significant.

It’s a demand that groups like the PSC would probably support, if they were paying attention.

But they’re not, because Khalil and his fellow strikers are simply off their radar.

This makes sense when you’re a pro-Hamas propaganda body, as the PSC is, but it makes no sense for the unions which support it.

They should be showing solidarity to the Palestinian strikers at the UNRWA. They’re not.

It’s a simple case of trade union solidarity that’s been forgotten because Khalil isn’t a convicted murderer — in which case, the PSC would certainly have sat up and noticed.

Massive gains for Israel’s unions in 2013 as number of new members nearly doubles

Unions in most developed countries face the problem of a declining and ageing membership and struggle to find ways to recruit new members.  The news from Israel this morning should therefore be of considerable interest to trade unionists everywhere.

According to a report in the Ha’aretz newspaper, the number of new union members recruited in 2013 is 90% more than the number recruited in the previous year, as over 25,000 workers joined unions for the first time this year.  The Histadrut alone held over 100 organizing drives.

According to the report, “The Histadrut set up a new unit to organize workers, in part due to growing competition from a rival labor organization, Koach L’Ovdim (Labor Power), while unions have grown more militant.”

According to Ha’aretz, “In 2013, some additional groups of workers that never unionized before joined organized labor. They included Knesset parliamentary assistants, temporary contract teachers at Tel Aviv-Yaffo Academic College, teachers at Democratic schools, kosher ritual slaughterers, kashrut inspectors, employees of Israeli embassies abroad, and after-school daycare employees in Jerusalem. Young workers were not left out of the trend, either, as employees at Burger Ranch unionized. McDonald’s workers, meanwhile, failed to form a union but reached new work agreements with management.”

Norway: Municipal workers union celebrates BDS win

The Norwegian municipal workers union Fagforbundet is delighted to report on its success, together with Norwegian People’s Aid, in forcing Staples to stop selling Sodastream products, made in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.  The boycott of Sodastream is hailed as a big win by the global BDS movement, which re-tweeted the win:

RT @norskfolkehjelp: Staples Norway to quit selling @SodaStream! victory!

Of course the anti-Sodastream campaign seems entirely focussed on the company’s presence in the occupied territories — and is therefore consistent with the view expressed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas which called for a boycott of settlement, but opposed a more general boycott of the Jewish state.

The BDS campaigners, however, make no such distinction.

The official Palestinian BDS website says that the movement “urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by: Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”

In other words, by supporting BDS, some trade unions are aligning themselves with a call for the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel (something which Israel rejects and which in any event should be the subject of negotiation), and ending the occupation of “all Arab lands”, which again one would think should be the subject of negotiation between the parties.

There is another way.

The Geneva Initiative, for example, drafted a decade ago by Israeli and Palestinian moderates, did not foresee a return to the June 1967 borders, nor recognize the “right of return”.  Nevertheless, former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat called the Geneva Initiative a “brave initiative that opens the door to peace”.  The BDS campaigners reject that Initiative, and instead embrace Hamas’ vision of the end of the Jewish state, including its demands for an immediate withdrawal of Israel from occupied territories (without negotations) and the right of return of millions of refugees, their children and grand-children, which would mean a huge Arab majority in Israel and the end of the Jewish state.

PLO supports BDS — or does it?

The declaration a week ago by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas clearly stating his opposition to a boycott of Israel (while supporting a boycott of goods produced in the West Bank settlements) has caused deep concern and confusion in the ranks of supporters of the boycott.

The trade union-backed Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK is a strong supporter of the BDS (boycotts, divestments and sanctions) campaign.  On its website today you’ll find an article entitled “PSC welcomes PLO support of BDS”.  The article consists of just one sentence which reads as follows:

“Palestine Solidarity Campaign welcomes the joint statement from the Embassy of the state of Palestine to the Republic of South Africa and BDS South Africa.” 

This is followed by the statement.

The only problem is — the statement says nothing of the sort.

I encourage everyone to read it slowly and carefully.

It includes this key sentence: “The Palestine Liberation Organisation and the State of Palestine is not opposed to the Palestinian civil society-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.”

I guess you could interpret “is not opposed” to mean “support” — but that’s not what it actually says.

The entire statement is couched is very diplomatic language that appeases all sides.

Obviously, the PLO is keen to not undermine its relationship with organizations that see themselves as “pro-Palestinian”.  So it welcomes everything they do without necessarily endorsing each tactic.

Equally, as Abbas made clear last week, they have signed a peace agreement (the Oslo accords) where they recognized Israel — and therefore cannot be calling for a boycott of it.

The PLO and the Palestinian state are quite clear what they are calling for: “the State of Palestine is calling on all countries to fulfill their obligations under international law by immediately, as a first step, ending all trade and relations with companies from or involved in the illegal Israeli settlements“.

As Abbas himself made clear, a call for the boycott of settlement goods is not the same thing as a call for a general boycott of Israel.

In fact one might argue that they are entirely different things.

One targets a specific policy of the Israeli government with which anyone might disagree (building settlements in the occupied territories).  The other challenges the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.

Much as the pro-Hamas PSC may want it to be otherwise, ever since the PLO made its historic shift in 1988 and called for a two-state solution, its position is radically different from that of the BDS campaigners.

The PLO and the Palestinian Authority do not support a boycott of Israel.  They do support a boycott of settlement goods.  There is a difference.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: Don’t boycott Israel

Mahmoud Abbas is the closest thing the Palestinian people have to an elected leader these days.  He’s Yasser Arafat’s successor and runs the Palestinian Authority from Ramallah, in the West Bank.

Visiting South Africa last week for the Mandela memorial, at a press conference he was asked about boycotting Israel.  Here is what he said:

No we do not support the boycott of Israel … But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal. … But we don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel.

Supporters of the campaign to boycott the Jewish state swiftly came down hard on the Palestinian President, and of course it’s their right to disagree with him, but what Abbas said cannot now be un-said.  He was absolutely clear.

So when your union discusses a boycott of Israel — including an academic boycott — it may be worth pointing out to “pro-Palestinian” campaigners that your view (opposition to a boycott) is the viewpoint of the Palestinian leadership, while theirs is the viewpoint of the terrorist organization Hamas and its allies.

Dutch union dumps G4S because of links to Israel

According to this report on the Electronic Intifada website, the 350,000 member Dutch trade union Abvakabo has cancelled a contract with the security company G4S due to its connections with Israel.  According to the report, G4S stands accused of having “equipped Israel’s prisons in the occupied West Bank“.

G4S is actually accused of something rather different by pro-BDS campaigners.

According to the website of the pro-Hamas Palestine Solidarity Campaign, G4S “services Israeli prisons to which Palestinian prisoners are illegally transferred in serious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention”. In other words, it is not so much G4S’s involvement with prisons in the West Bank that is the problem, but prisons inside Israel.

PSC makes this abundantly clear when it writes “G4S has announced the ending of its contract to one Israeli prison in the occupied West Bank – Ofer – but not its contracts for servicing other prisons or detention facilities in the West Bank and Israel, including Ketziot and Megiddo prisons … Holding Palestinians from the West Bank in detention facilities inside Israel, is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of these prisoners from the territory that is being occupied.”

The pro-BDS campaigners don’t want companies doing business with Israeli institutions in the occupied West Bank and they don’t want to do business with Israel proper.

Palestinian employees with Israeli bosses now covered by Israeli labour law

According to a report on YNet over the weekend, Israel’s Labor Court has ruled that Palestinians employed by Israelis in the occupied territories have the same rights as Israeli workers.  The case revolved around a Palestinian who worked on a Jewish farm the Jordan valley.  After being sacked by his boss, he took the case to court and has now won a complete victory.  YNet reports: “Israeli employers must pay Palestinian employees for vacation, holidays, sick leave, transportation expenses, and contribute to their retirement funds.

Israeli labour law can be quite progressive — as the Histadrut’s recent organizing victories have show — so this is a step forward for Palestinian workers.

UK: Country’s largest unions to protest together with Israel-haters

Friends of Al Aqsa UK (FOA) supports the destruction of the Jewish state, supports Hamas (a terrorist organisation) and quotes Holocaust deniers.  Its website is full of nonsensical fake-history trying to prove that Jews have no right to their own country and general Israel-bashing.  (There’s more about them here.)

Next month, it will protest together with the “Palestinian Forum in Britain” and the “British Muslim Initiative” at the Israeli embassy in London.  The event has been called to commemorate “Israel’s 2008/9 massacre in Gaza”.

Among the other sponsors of the event are two of Britain’s largest trade unions — PCS and Unite the Union — unions which ostensibly still support the TUC position calling for peace and two-state solution.

What will they be doing there?  When the demonstrators chant “From the river to the sea!” (as they usually do on these occasions), will the British trade unionists challenge them?

Israel’s Histadrut wins big victories as unions elsewhere struggle to grow

This article appears in Jungle World (in German) and Talking Union (DSA Labor Network – USA).

In early November, Ofer Eini announced the end of his 8-year stint as the head of Israel’s national trade union center, the Histadrut.

The end of the “Eini era” is a good moment to reflect upon some of the extraordinary successes the Histadrut has had in the last couple of years, particularly in organizing workers previously thought of as “unorganizable”.

That these successes are largely unknown outside of Israel is due to the blind hostility shown by some trade unionists to the Jewish state – a hostility that extends to the Israeli trade union movement.

The Histadrut has made extraordinary progress in its organizing campaigns recently by using audacious tactics in the workplace, getting labour laws changed, and using new technology effectively.

The result has been that unlike unions in many other industrialized countries, the Israeli labour movement is growing.

They began the year with union recognition at the mobile phone carrier Pelephone. This victory followed four months of struggle that culminated in a historic decision by Israel’s national labour court which ruled that an employer cannot intervene in the right of its employees to form a union.

They repeated this success in April with Cellcom, another large mobile phone carrier. Hundreds of new members were signed up, initially in a secret campaign and then openly.

Cellular telephone companies have been very difficult targets for unions in some other countries, as evidenced by the campaigns being waged by American unions to organize German-owned T-Mobile, or the struggle Britain’s unions have had with Virgin Media.

The Histadrut’s successes were not confined to the high-tech sector.

In June, the Histadrut’s youth arm announced that it recruited over 7,000 young workers at McDonald’s. In most countries, unions struggle to successfully organize McDonald’s workers – or workers in any other fast food chain.

In late October, the Histadrut announced a “lightning campaign” to sign up one third of the employees of Migdal Insurance on a single day. The campaign followed on the successful unionization earlier this year of Clal insurance. One reporter said the organizing drive “began to acquire the form of a full-scale military campaign.”

“There is no place where we are not active. We came organized and with the goal of winning,” a Histadrut source said. “D-Day was set for today, and all Migdal employees received an SMS and link to a website to join the Histadrut digitally … Activists from the union and employees are distributing brochures as we speak, calling on the employees to enter the special Facebook page set up for the unionization.”

At the same time, the Histadrut launched a 6.5 million shekel (1.36 million Euro) television ad campaign to promote union membership.

The Manufacturers’ Association condemned the planned ad campaign as “wretched timing” — not specifying when precisely was a good time, in their view, to promote union membership.

But Ofer Eini defended the plan: “It is precisely at this time that unionization of employees is needed, especially at a time of vilification of organized labor.”

Few unions outside of Israel will be aware of any of these successes in part because of the reluctance to engage with the Jewish state.

But another problem is that the Histadrut itself makes almost no effort to share its successes with the outside world, and instead focusses its very limited international activity at attempting to block anti-Israel resolutions at union congresses.

It’s very rare for a Histadrut representative at international trade union events to speak about anything other than the conflict with the Palestinians. But when they do – as happened at a global food workers congress in 2011 – they may find themselves facing an audience that is far less hostile.

Israel students to Irish teachers’ union: Don’t boycott us

Two 17 year old Israeli students have recently toured Northern Ireland on behalf of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel where they have highlighted the problems created by the Teachers Union of Ireland call for a boycott of the Jewish state.  According to an article in the Belfast Telegraph, “The union called for a cessation of all cultural and academic collaboration between Israel and Ireland, including student exchanges.”

Steven Jaffe of NIFI was quoted as saying that “the call was a bid to ban any cultural exchanges between the two countries, irrespective of the politics of the individuals involved.”  The two students reportedly “said they could not understand the move by the teaching union.”

According to a report in the Jewish Chronicle, one of the students said “The TUI has crossed the line by trying to boycott schools. It’s stupid of them. We need dialogue and this has been the best way to achieve it.”

A NIFI spokesman is quoted as saying: “The TUI move flies in the face of our own experience of peace-building in Northern Ireland. But the reaction to the boycott call has been a near unanimous resolve to engage with young people in the cause of peace.”

Palestinian teachers can strike, rules PA Supreme Court

The Palestinian Authority’s Supreme Court has ruled that teachers have the right to strike.

The ruling follows an attempt by the PA to stop teachers from strikes which have been called to protest non-payment of salaries.

According to the report on the Maan website, “The teacher’s union said it was ‘delighted’ with the decision, with secretary-general Ahmed Sahwil promising that teachers and workers in the education ministry will ‘achieve all our legitimate rights, and impose them on the government.’ The PA is trying to put teachers ‘in the dock,’ he added, saying that the court’s decision was a blow to those ‘who stand in the way of teachers and workers in the education field.'”

In some countries, including parts of the USA, teachers are forbidden to strike.  (According to the Wikipedia, “Some states, such as New Jersey, Michigan, Iowa, and Florida, do not allow teachers in public schools to strike.”)

Once again, Palestinian UNRWA workers protest

If this sounds like something you’ve heard before, it’s because you have.

Yesterday, Palestinians employed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) protested outside the organisation’s offices in Gaza City demanding that they receive decent pay — or any pay.

While Ma’an news agency reported on that protest, a different report in Middle East Online said that “The United Nations will stop paying wages to thousands of workers helping Palestinian refugees next month because of a growing cash crisis, a top UN official said Tuesday.”

The main sources of funding for the UNRWA are the United States and Europe, making it difficult to place the blame at Israel’s door — but no doubt some proponents of boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) targetting the Jewish state will find a way to blame the Zionists.