Pro-peace campaigners in British unions begin the fightback

It was an extraordinary event — nearly 50 trade unionists from 15 different unions gathered in London at the end of January to discuss how to turn the tide in British trade unions.

They committed themselves to challenging the pro-Hamas narrative of the “Palestine Solidarity Campaign” which is supported by many British unions.

The full day event, organised by Trade Union Friends of Israel and We Believe In Israel, with the support of TULIP, was written up in the Jewish Chronicle — read the full story here.

TULIP’s Eric Lee was the penultimate speaker, focussing on the international trade union scene.

It was “important to distinguish between support for Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself against terror and other threats – and support for the policies of the current right-wing Israeli government,” he said.

“What would help us enormously is the election of a pro-peace government in March, and Netanyahu’s retirement from politics.”

Britain’s pro-Hamas Palestine Solidarity Campaign reports on spectacular growth in 2014

psclogoThe pro-Hamas “Palestine Solidarity Campaign” (PSC) which has the support of nearly 20 major British trade unions has just issued its annual report of activities in 2014.

The report has two very clear messages: the year was a terrible one for Palestinians, but a great one for the Campaign.

PSC chair (and former trade union leader) Hugh Lanning wrote:

“Both in the UK and internationally – not least with the Palestinians – PSC has further established its credibility, that brings with it a responsibility to be even more effective, and to organise the growing support for Palestine.”

The numbers touted by PSC make chilling reading for supporters of peace and a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

PSC claims a 20% growth in membership over the year, an email list of 180,000 addresses, nearly 20,000 followers on Twitter, and over 400,000 people liking them on Facebook.  The last two figures are publicly verifiable, and accurate.

The PSC logo (see above) continues to show the Hamas map of a single Palestinian state stretching from the Jordan River to the sea.  This presumably is their vision of the future.

The organisation supports the “right of return” for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants and the destruction of what they call “apartheid Israel”. This is the vision of the terrorist organisations including Hamas and Islamic Jihad; it is rejected by moderate Palestinians.

None of this even remotely resembles the Trades Union Congress’ traditional position in support of a negotiated two-state solution, and yet the TUC continues to encourage its affiliate unions to join (and therefore fund) the PSC.

Why Israel is losing the battle in the world’s trade unions

Text of Eric Lee’s presentation at Limmud, University of Warwick, 29 December 2014


My name is Eric Lee and I’m speaking to you tonight on behalf of TULIP – Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine.

TULIP was founded about 5 years ago and in its founding statement, signed by three very prominent trade union leaders in the UK, the USA and Australia, we said:

“At the moment, the opponents of a two-state solution are on the offensive, working hard to promote their destructive agenda of boycotts and sanctions targetting Israel. It’s time for trade unionists in all countries to go on the offensive ourselves, to challenge the apologists for Hamas and Hizbollah in the labour movement.”

To learn more about TULIP I strongly recommend you visit our website – www.tuliponline.org – and join our mailing list there.

In tonight’s talk, I want to discuss three things –

What is happening in the world’s trade unions with regard to Israel
Why I think this is happening
And finally, what we can do to reverse this trend

Read the full text of this talk here

UC’s Student Workers Union Fumbles Anti-Israel Initiative

Last week a milestone occurred affecting U.S. Labor and Israelis alike: a vote took place by the University of California’s “student-workers” union, UAW Local 2865, to approve the “Boycott, Divest from and Sanction Israel (BDS)” movement. While Local 2865 is just a local player in the large union space, a vote like this will likely encourage anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments across labor and academia.

This article by Stuart W. Davidson, a union attorney and labour activist in the USA, is worth reading in full.

London seminar for trade union supporters of Israel

We Believe in Israel, along with Trade Union Friends of Israel, is hosting a special seminar in London on Sunday 25 January 2015 from 11.15am to 5.30pm.

This is aimed at trade union members who support Israel, with the objective being to help you network with each other, to give you the latest information about Israel and particularly about the work of Histadrut, and to help you understand how you can influence your union to take a more constructive stance towards the Middle East.

TULIP co-founder Eric Lee is one of the speakers at this event.

If you are a supporter of Israel and a member of a trade union and would like to attend, please register by emailing luke@webelieveinisrael.org.uk quoting your name, phone number and which trade union you are a member of.

Going to Limmud? Meet TULIP founder Eric Lee there

To our readers in the UK:

If you plan to attend Limmud this year, you have a chance to participate in a session led by TULIP co-founder Eric Lee.

The session will take place on Monday, 29 December at 19:10 and is entitled “Why Israel is losing the battle in the world’s trade unions”.

The programme describes the session further: “Trade unions from South Africa to Scotland are taking the lead in supporting boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) targeting the Jewish state. Why is this the case? And how can we turn the tide?” We look forward to meeting you there.

California student vote on BDS – the Jewish Labor Committee responds

On the vote of University of California Graduate Students on BDS – statement of the Jewish Labor Committee

December 19th, 2014 – After reviewing the recent vote by members of UAW Local 2865 on the issue of whether or not to support the local’s Joint Council’s proposal to support a policy of BDS – i.e., boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel, the Jewish Labor Committee has some serious concerns. The statewide union represents between 12,000 and 13,000 graduate student workers – readers, tutors, teaching assistants (TAs), and others – at the nine teaching campuses of the University of California.

A number of election irregularities have been alleged. Prior to the election, members of the local opposed to the passage of the referendum raised questions about the way the election has been conducted. They felt outnumbered and intimidated at meetings of Local 2865’s Executive, and felt that they were unable to get fair access to the local’s membership to explain their opposition to the proposed resolution. They felt that there were an inadequate number of polling places, and that the distribution of the polling places was done intentionally to favor members who might be positively disposed to the resolution.

Moreover, a very small percentage of the membership actually voted. Local 2865 reported that a mere 2,168 members voted, out of 13,000 members total. This represents approximately 17 % of the membership. In addition, apparently graduate students at any UC campus were able to join the local at the polling places immediately before voting, so the potential electorate approached 52,000 individuals.

Out of 13,000 members, 1,411 voted in support of the resolution – 65 % of the total votes, but only 11 % of 13,000 members, and 2.7 % of 52,000 potential voters. This is hardly a “testament to union democracy,” as Local 2865 has claimed.

The referendum also had a second item, to which voters could only check off in the affirmative, with no way to vote “no.” On this item, 1,136 voters – 52 % of the total voters, but only 8.7 % of the local’s membership, and 2 % of the potential electorate — also pledged “not to `take part in any research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine and the settler-colonial policies of the state of Israel until such time as these universities take steps to end complicity with dispossession, occupation, and apartheid.” As with the first item voted on, there is no indication that those who checked off this “pledge” are representative of the membership of Local 2865.

As to the issue itself, in 2007, the highest leadership of the UAW – it’s International President – signed onto a Statement of Opposition to Divestment From or Boycotts of Israel along with the presidents of every other major U.S. labor union. On November 17 of this year, Gary Jones, the Director of UAW Region 5, which includes California, wrote to the leadership of Local 2865 that the UAW’s position had not changed.

The Local 2865 measure contradicts the position of the UAW, as it

1) calls on the University of California to divest from companies involved in Israeli occupation and apartheid;

2) calls on the UAW International to divest from these same entities;

3) calls on the US government to end military aid to Israel.

The Jewish Labor Committee agrees with the vast majority of the labor movement in the United States that – like most other sectors of society in the U.S. – does not support BDS, but rather favors a two-state solution brought about by an honest peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and believes that singling out Israel and Israeli academic institutions in this way in fact undermines these peace efforts.

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! http://bit.ly/1bgbuSc

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.