A Chat with Stuart Appelbaum

US unionist Stuart Appelbaum visited Australia to speak at the 125th anniversary national conference of the Australian Workers’ Union.

He also met with  the National Executive of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association.

The Australian Jewish News ran this interview with him.

Stuart Appelbaum is President of the Jewish Labor Committee and a co-founder of of Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine.

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You are coming to Australia for the 125th anniversary conference of the Australian Workers Union (AWU) on the Gold Coast.  What suggestions did you make to Australian unionists on how they can counter the anit-Israel Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign here?

First, Australian unionists should join AWU President Paul Howes, who is a leader of TULIP – along with Michael Leahy, current chair of the Trade Unions Congress of the United Kingdom, and myself – by supporting, TULIP, by regularly looking at its website, and by signing up on the TULIP newsletter mailing list on its website.

Next, Australian unionists should answer simply that demonising Israel and calling for boycotts of Israel, divestment from Israel and sanctioning Israel will only serve to weaken those forces within the Israeli working class, the trade union movement and Israel as a whole who believe in a two-state solution, and for a peaceful, just and fair solution to the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people – and the Israelis.

Fair-minded Australian unionists concerned about a fair solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should develop ties with their fellow trade union counterparts in both Israel and Palestine, both to learn from their Middle Eastern fellow trade unionists and to share whatever insights the Australian union movement has on the concrete issues confronting men and women in their workplaces.

What initiatives can help strengthen ties between Australia’s union movement and the Jewish Community?

There should be ongoing contacts and indeed ongoing relations between the local organised Jewish communities in Australia and the local Australian-organised union movements.  The Australian union movement, specific unions, as well as local union councils, should be encouraged to reach out to the organized Jewish community when significant union holidays, celebrations or memorials are taking place.  And the organised Jewish community should be encouraged to do the same.

A few years back, Australia held an excellent union seder, around Passover, based on the traditional Jewish seder but also incorporating

significant elements of the traditions of the Australian union movement.  Members from the local Jewish and union communities “broke” matzah” together, and discovered their common interests in a fair and just society.  We have done similar labour seders across the USA for a decade, and to a degree inspired those Jewish unionists in Australia who organised their own union seder in Sydney.

Unfortunately, some Australian Jews – and some Australian unionists – have only a dim understanding of the essence of each other’s history, culture, tradition and “button issues”.  This has to change.

How has TULIP helped combat BDS?

TULIP, through its website, has been an important source of information, news and updates for trade unionists and their allies working to combat BDS in Europe and anywhere it rears its ugly head.

What role can the Australian chapter of the UK organisation Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) play?

Australian unionists have already participated in study trips to Israel and Palestine organised by the UK’s TUFI, and we of course hope that through the Australian branch of TUFI, they will organise and go on more trips of a similar nature.

Again, the Australian chapter of the TUFI organisation can play a very helpful role in expanding visits of Australian unionists to Israel and Palestine.  The importance of such visits cannot be overemphasised.

The Australian union movement, through the TUFI organisation as well as TULIP, can and should organise reciprocal visits of unionists from Israel and Palestine as well.  Paul Howes and I, and the others active in TULIP, offer our services to help facilitate such visits.

What progress has been made in getting Histadrut and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) talking?

As far as we know, there’s been no concrete progress made yet in terms of talks between the two labour federations.  As for TULIP, we do not work on the issue of helping Histadrut-PGFTU interactions per se.

INTERVIEWED BY PETER KOHN