Turning the tide in the fight against BDS

The following are notes from Eric Lee’s presentation to the Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) fringe meeting at the UNISON conference in Bournemouth yesterday.  TUFI was banned this year from having a stall at the conference, but held a successful meeting across the road.

What has changed since we last met at a TUFI fringe event at Unison conference in 2009

TUC adopted for the first time ever a call for a partial boycott of Israeli goods, calls for unions to affiliate to PSC

Some unions considered this a triumph of compromise and reason, but we were sceptical

Unite, UCU vote for full boycotts and (in UCU’s case) an end to the relationship with Histadrut

Unison bans TUFI this year on political, not administrative, grounds – after promising that this would not happen

ITUC at its upcoming Vancouver congress to debate COSATU amendment declaring Israel an apartheid state, full support for BDS, etc.

Sally Hunt of UCU – who appeared at the Gaza rally wearing a Palestinian flag in her hair – will represent the TUC there

Where we stand today

Israel more isolated than ever before in the international trade union movement

Union leaders are rushing ahead of their members and their own union’s positions – e.g., Keith Sonnet at the London Gaza rally shouting ‘Viva Palestina’ – where is the commitment to a two-state solution?

British union leaders are following the lead of Guardian writers and BBC reporters – they are influenced by the political elite, not reacting to pressure from their own members

Only a tiny fraction of union members care about this issue and turn up for pro-Palestinian events (or indeed for any international issues)

There is no evidence that Muslim trade union members are driving this agenda at all; if anyone is, it’s the hard left (SWP, etc)

Polls continue to indicate widespread public hostility toward and fear of Islamic fundamentalism – and support for Israel at the union base may be stronger than at the top

In Israel, there is growing concern about these developments in the unions and a recent report by the think tank Reut, which was widely publicized, strongly underlined the importance of unions as a battleground for Israel’s survival

Make no mistake about it – Israel’s survival is at stake, as it is facing a potentially nuclear-armed Iran, which is currently funnelling sophisticated weapons to its clients (Hamas, Hezbollah) – and its aims are clearly exterminationist

What happens next – and what we need to do

On a global scale, we are lurching from crisis to crisis

Those of us who support a two-state solution negotiated by Israelis and Palestinians find ourselves putting out fires, reacting to crises rather than pushing our own views

We need to be building a global network that is resourced and funded and that aims to turn the tide

We need to be confident that we can achieve this, and there are reasons to be confident

Our opponents have several key weaknesses that we need to exploit

They are closely linked to Iran, and the international trade union movement is currently engaged in a battle with the Iranian regime which is ruthless in its repression of trade unions

We have the Palestinian trade union movement on our side – even the recent call by Palestinian unions for dock workers to refuse to load or unload Israeli cargo following the flotilla tragedy – that was not actually endorsed by the PGFTU, which is also at best lukewarm on the question of BDS

Our opponents cannot count on Palestinian union support

The vast majority of union members in this country – and elsewhere – are not interested in this subject and are ill-informed

I recently had an email exchange with one trade union activist who demanded in an email to me that Israel withdraw its forces from Gaza; when I explained that Israel had done so in 2005, he actually apologized to me – sometimes all we need to do is to get the facts out

Finally, a real advantage we have – and it’s unfortunate that we have this – is our opponents’ views are so well known, and so dominate the liberal-left media, that they are largely unaware of an alternative view

We know exactly what they will say, but they have no idea what we will say

When we debate, as I have on several occasions, we will win because we know their arguments but they do not know ours

For this reason, TUFI should challenge the PSC to a debate at this year’s TUC; if PSC refuses, we will publicize that refusal, and if they debate us, we will expose them and defeat them

We must never forget that at its core, the issue here is not geo-strategic, or even political, but fundamentally a moral one: do the Jewish people, and the Palestinians, have a right to a homeland of their own?

If you believe, as do some in the PSC, that the Israelis should be driven into the sea, or sent back to Germany and Poland, you’re an anti-Semite and you have no place in our movement

In fighting against this hatred of Jews and the Jewish state, we are fighting for the very soul of the trade union movement