Northern Ireland: Trade unionists make the case against BDS campaign

This is a war crime.

Sinn Fein mural in Belfast 2010.

Last night, four trade union opponents of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign targetting Israel were given the opportunity to make their case before a standing-room only crowd in Belfast.

In an event organised by Northern Ireland Friends of Israel (NIFI), activists from unions in the UK and the Republic of Ireland spoke out against the “Israel is apartheid” slander and called for engagement rather than boycott.

The speakers included Terry McCorran (who chaired the meeting) — a Unison branch official in Northern Ireland; Lilach Head, a Unison activist from England; Chris Hudson, who spent 18 years working as a full time official for Irish trade unions; and Eric Lee from TULIP (a member of the National Union of Journalists in the UK).  McCorran chaired the meeting and all four speakers appeared in an individual capacity, not representing their unions.

Head spoke about the experience of being an Israeli-born trade unionist in Britain, of the exclusion of Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) from the Unison conference last year, and of the courage required to get up in front of thousands of conference delegates and make the case against boycotts.

McCorran spoke about examples of anti-Israel sentiment in Northern Ireland — but also about how many in the community identify closely with Israel.  He also reported on his participation in a TUFI delegation to Israel and the West Bank in November 2009.

Hudson, who has had years of experience not only as a trade union leader, but also a leading anti-apartheid campaigner, made a strong case that Israel can in no way be called an apartheid society.

Lee explained what the BDS campaign was all about, who supports it and who opposes it, why it is a bad idea — and what we can all do about it.  He made six concrete suggestions:

  1. If you support genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians, support those organizations in Israel and Palestine that campaign for this – including Peace Now, One Voice, the Parent’s Circle and many others.
  2. Here in the UK, support those organizations that campaign against BDS – including TULIP, TUFI and NIFI.
  3. Challenge BDS supporters without fear – it is their argument to lose, and they are the ones who do not want debate.
  4. Practice zero-tolerance of anti-Semitism – just as we would not tolerate any other form of racism.
  5. Buy Israeli products.
  6. Visit Israel – see for yourself what “apartheid” looks like.

Over 200 copies of the TULIP founding statement were distributed at the event.