The following are the remarks delivered this week by Günther Jikeli (Ver.di) to the Trade Union Friends of Israel fringe meeting at the UNISON conference.
Dear friends of Israel,
I’m from the German union Ver.di, the largest union in Germany in the service sector. Within my union, luckily, calls for a boycott against Israel are not an issue and would not be successful right now. That doesn’t mean that all is good in my union but the general discourse on the issue seems to be much better than in most British trade unions. The deputy general secretary of my union would not sing “viva Palestine” on a pro-Palestinian rally - without showing any kind of distance to Hamas.
Calls for a boycott against Israel are regarded by many in my union as what they are: expressions of antisemitism.
Of course, this has a lot to do with German history: a boycott against the Jewish state or Israeli companies is quickly associated with the Nazi boycott of Jewish shops in the 1930s.
Calls for a boycott against Israel in Germany today come from the extreme right and the extreme left and also from some Muslim groups.
I want to give you two examples.
The Neo-Nazi party NPD with committed Neo-Nazis as its members and leaders, has some seats in the parliament of Saxony, one of the states of the Federal Republic Germany. Upon their request the parliament of Saxony will have a debate tomorrow on, I quote, “no cooperation with ‘rogue states’ - stop the Israeli-Saxony partnership”.
Neo-Nazis in Germany call Israel the Zionist entity and want to end all relations with Israel. I think that shows the spirit of it and the alliances you get if you call for a boycott against Israel. It is part of a fascist and antisemitic strategy and ideology.
However, some calls for a boycott also come from the extreme left. Leading members of the party “Die Linke” - “The Left”, partly the successor party of the regime of the so-called communists of former East-Germany, leaders of that party went to show their support for Palestinians by cooperating with Islamists on the ship „Mavi Marmara“ as part of the flotilla - without a word of distance regarding the Jihadists, the Turkish fascists the Grey Wolves or the violent members of the Islamist group Insani Yardim Vakfi, the IHH an openly pro-Hamas group - all on board of the same ship.
The activists cooperated with people who told the Israeli soldiers via radio transmission “go back to Auschwitz”.
From the extreme left and from Neo-Nazis in Germany, calls for solidarity with Palestine include Israel-bashing and direct or indirect support for Hamas. Both does not help the Palestinian people at all - except Hamas, of course.
The picture is much more complicated. Hamas is the first oppressor of Palestinians in Gaza. Freedom for Gaza and for the people in Gaza will be, first of all, freedom from Hamas.
Ideologues and antisemites, of course, don’t want to see that.
They don’t want to see that the biggest problem for Palestinian trade unions in Gaza is Hamas - not Israel. Members of the Palestinian trade union PGFTU have to fear for their lives in Gaza.
I think, Leon de Winter, a famous author, is right: those who bash Israel are not interested in the fate of the oppressed people, but they are driven by sentiments against Jews and Israel who they want to see as the most evil oppressors.
What is the role of trade unions?
Trade unions are there to improve the living and working conditions of workers. The fight for individual rights and prosperity are the core values of trade unions around the globe, not battles of ideology. Therefore, I believe that this debate is one of the very understanding of what trade unions should do.
Do they act upon resentments and look out for scapegoats or -do they fight for the improvement of workers’ living and working conditions, including international solidarity!?
The latter is much more hard work and requires a look on the ground and on facts and an evaluation of what serves best the individuals and what improves their situation.
But this is why I am member of a union, this is what I want my union to stand for: the improvement of living conditions of all workers.
And this is why my solidarity is with Israeli and Palestinian trade unions.
And this is also why I condemn any boycott against Israel.
For the sake of - not only Jews in Israel but for the sake of the people living in the Middle East and for the sake of a human world:
Long live Israel!