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.

Dutch union dumps G4S because of links to Israel

According to this report on the Electronic Intifada website, the 350,000 member Dutch trade union Abvakabo has cancelled a contract with the security company G4S due to its connections with Israel.  According to the report, G4S stands accused of having “equipped Israel’s prisons in the occupied West Bank“.

G4S is actually accused of something rather different by pro-BDS campaigners.

According to the website of the pro-Hamas Palestine Solidarity Campaign, G4S “services Israeli prisons to which Palestinian prisoners are illegally transferred in serious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention”. In other words, it is not so much G4S’s involvement with prisons in the West Bank that is the problem, but prisons inside Israel.

PSC makes this abundantly clear when it writes “G4S has announced the ending of its contract to one Israeli prison in the occupied West Bank – Ofer – but not its contracts for servicing other prisons or detention facilities in the West Bank and Israel, including Ketziot and Megiddo prisons … Holding Palestinians from the West Bank in detention facilities inside Israel, is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of these prisoners from the territory that is being occupied.”

The pro-BDS campaigners don’t want companies doing business with Israeli institutions in the occupied West Bank and they don’t want to do business with Israel proper.

Palestinian employees with Israeli bosses now covered by Israeli labour law

According to a report on YNet over the weekend, Israel’s Labor Court has ruled that Palestinians employed by Israelis in the occupied territories have the same rights as Israeli workers.  The case revolved around a Palestinian who worked on a Jewish farm the Jordan valley.  After being sacked by his boss, he took the case to court and has now won a complete victory.  YNet reports: “Israeli employers must pay Palestinian employees for vacation, holidays, sick leave, transportation expenses, and contribute to their retirement funds.

Israeli labour law can be quite progressive — as the Histadrut’s recent organizing victories have show — so this is a step forward for Palestinian workers.

UK: Country’s largest unions to protest together with Israel-haters

Friends of Al Aqsa UK (FOA) supports the destruction of the Jewish state, supports Hamas (a terrorist organisation) and quotes Holocaust deniers.  Its website is full of nonsensical fake-history trying to prove that Jews have no right to their own country and general Israel-bashing.  (There’s more about them here.)

Next month, it will protest together with the “Palestinian Forum in Britain” and the “British Muslim Initiative” at the Israeli embassy in London.  The event has been called to commemorate “Israel’s 2008/9 massacre in Gaza”.

Among the other sponsors of the event are two of Britain’s largest trade unions — PCS and Unite the Union — unions which ostensibly still support the TUC position calling for peace and two-state solution.

What will they be doing there?  When the demonstrators chant “From the river to the sea!” (as they usually do on these occasions), will the British trade unionists challenge them?

Israel’s Histadrut wins big victories as unions elsewhere struggle to grow

This article appears in Jungle World (in German) and Talking Union (DSA Labor Network - USA).

In early November, Ofer Eini announced the end of his 8-year stint as the head of Israel’s national trade union center, the Histadrut.

The end of the “Eini era” is a good moment to reflect upon some of the extraordinary successes the Histadrut has had in the last couple of years, particularly in organizing workers previously thought of as “unorganizable”.

That these successes are largely unknown outside of Israel is due to the blind hostility shown by some trade unionists to the Jewish state – a hostility that extends to the Israeli trade union movement.

The Histadrut has made extraordinary progress in its organizing campaigns recently by using audacious tactics in the workplace, getting labour laws changed, and using new technology effectively.

The result has been that unlike unions in many other industrialized countries, the Israeli labour movement is growing.

They began the year with union recognition at the mobile phone carrier Pelephone. This victory followed four months of struggle that culminated in a historic decision by Israel’s national labour court which ruled that an employer cannot intervene in the right of its employees to form a union.

They repeated this success in April with Cellcom, another large mobile phone carrier. Hundreds of new members were signed up, initially in a secret campaign and then openly.

Cellular telephone companies have been very difficult targets for unions in some other countries, as evidenced by the campaigns being waged by American unions to organize German-owned T-Mobile, or the struggle Britain’s unions have had with Virgin Media.

The Histadrut’s successes were not confined to the high-tech sector.

In June, the Histadrut’s youth arm announced that it recruited over 7,000 young workers at McDonald’s. In most countries, unions struggle to successfully organize McDonald’s workers – or workers in any other fast food chain.

In late October, the Histadrut announced a “lightning campaign” to sign up one third of the employees of Migdal Insurance on a single day. The campaign followed on the successful unionization earlier this year of Clal insurance. One reporter said the organizing drive “began to acquire the form of a full-scale military campaign.”

“There is no place where we are not active. We came organized and with the goal of winning,” a Histadrut source said. “D-Day was set for today, and all Migdal employees received an SMS and link to a website to join the Histadrut digitally … Activists from the union and employees are distributing brochures as we speak, calling on the employees to enter the special Facebook page set up for the unionization.”

At the same time, the Histadrut launched a 6.5 million shekel (1.36 million Euro) television ad campaign to promote union membership.

The Manufacturers’ Association condemned the planned ad campaign as “wretched timing” — not specifying when precisely was a good time, in their view, to promote union membership.

But Ofer Eini defended the plan: “It is precisely at this time that unionization of employees is needed, especially at a time of vilification of organized labor.”

Few unions outside of Israel will be aware of any of these successes in part because of the reluctance to engage with the Jewish state.

But another problem is that the Histadrut itself makes almost no effort to share its successes with the outside world, and instead focusses its very limited international activity at attempting to block anti-Israel resolutions at union congresses.

It’s very rare for a Histadrut representative at international trade union events to speak about anything other than the conflict with the Palestinians. But when they do – as happened at a global food workers congress in 2011 – they may find themselves facing an audience that is far less hostile.

Israel students to Irish teachers’ union: Don’t boycott us

Two 17 year old Israeli students have recently toured Northern Ireland on behalf of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel where they have highlighted the problems created by the Teachers Union of Ireland call for a boycott of the Jewish state.  According to an article in the Belfast Telegraph, “The union called for a cessation of all cultural and academic collaboration between Israel and Ireland, including student exchanges.”

Steven Jaffe of NIFI was quoted as saying that “the call was a bid to ban any cultural exchanges between the two countries, irrespective of the politics of the individuals involved.”  The two students reportedly “said they could not understand the move by the teaching union.”

According to a report in the Jewish Chronicle, one of the students said “The TUI has crossed the line by trying to boycott schools. It’s stupid of them. We need dialogue and this has been the best way to achieve it.”

A NIFI spokesman is quoted as saying: “The TUI move flies in the face of our own experience of peace-building in Northern Ireland. But the reaction to the boycott call has been a near unanimous resolve to engage with young people in the cause of peace.”

Palestinian teachers can strike, rules PA Supreme Court

The Palestinian Authority’s Supreme Court has ruled that teachers have the right to strike.

The ruling follows an attempt by the PA to stop teachers from strikes which have been called to protest non-payment of salaries.

According to the report on the Maan website, “The teacher’s union said it was ‘delighted’ with the decision, with secretary-general Ahmed Sahwil promising that teachers and workers in the education ministry will ‘achieve all our legitimate rights, and impose them on the government.’ The PA is trying to put teachers ‘in the dock,’ he added, saying that the court’s decision was a blow to those ‘who stand in the way of teachers and workers in the education field.'”

In some countries, including parts of the USA, teachers are forbidden to strike.  (According to the Wikipedia, “Some states, such as New Jersey, Michigan, Iowa, and Florida, do not allow teachers in public schools to strike.”)

Once again, Palestinian UNRWA workers protest

If this sounds like something you’ve heard before, it’s because you have.

Yesterday, Palestinians employed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) protested outside the organisation’s offices in Gaza City demanding that they receive decent pay — or any pay.

While Ma’an news agency reported on that protest, a different report in Middle East Online said that “The United Nations will stop paying wages to thousands of workers helping Palestinian refugees next month because of a growing cash crisis, a top UN official said Tuesday.”

The main sources of funding for the UNRWA are the United States and Europe, making it difficult to place the blame at Israel’s door — but no doubt some proponents of boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) targetting the Jewish state will find a way to blame the Zionists.

UK: Union to punish academic who accused it of anti-semitism, demanding £580,000 from him

A British academic who brought his union to court claiming that it had created (or tolerated) an anti-semitic atmosphere has now had to face union demands that he pay £580,000 in costs.  The union brought the case to the Employment Tribunal which had originally ruled that the academic’s case had no merit — despite the testimony of 34 witnesses from academia, politics and the labour movement who testified on his behalf.  At the heart of the case was the extremely hostile atmosphere in the UCU created by anti-Israel activists there.  For more details on how the University and College Union is trying to punish Ronnie Fraser, read this account on the Engage website.

“2,000 workers won’t be allowed to bring the country to its knees”

The right-wing Netanyahu government is talking tough in the face of a port workers’ strike which could begin any day now.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is telling journalists that a strike now seems likely but will not succeed in changing the government’s plan to privatize Israel’s ports — which would almost certainly result in a weakening of union power, and a lowering of wages and working conditions.  Two thousand workers, he said (referring to the unionized port workers) will not be allowed to bring Israel to its knees.

According to Avi Edri, head of Israel’s transport workers union, “workers are under attack on all fronts.”

He added that “people need to learn not to use words like ‘eradicate’ or rile up the workers with slogans on Facebook,” alluding to comments by Katz and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.  Bennett infamously compared port workers to cockroaches and spoke of the need for “extermination” in a widely-condemned gaffe.

South Africa: COSATU calls for severing of all ties with countries that violate human rights — actually, just one country …

In an extraordinary press release issued on behalf of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Bongani Masuku — convicted of hate speech for his anti-semitic outbursts — has called on the South African government to sever all ties with countries which violate human rights.

He writes: “It is our firm belief that having ties, any ties, with a country in violation of international law and abuse of human rights is unacceptable.”

He further clearly states COSATU’s opposition to anti-Semitism, writing “To be against the policies of the Israeli government is not to be anti-Jewish. To be in solidarity with the Palestinians is not to be anti-Jewish. In fact, COSATU condemns all forms of racism including anti-Semitism, xenophobia and apartheid.”

And yet the only country that COSATU seems to want to sever all ties with is the Jewish state of Israel.

Just in case anyone suspected Masuku of softening his anti-Jewish rhetoric, he actually ramps it up in the press release, raising the spectre of Jewish power and influence that must be stood up to.

He writes, “It must be made clear to everyone, particularly the Israeli Ambassador in South Africa, the South African Zionist Federation, and the South African Board of Jewish Deputies that South Africa`s Foreign Policy is not accountable to them or even worse the apartheid state of Israel.”

He writes that COSATU and the ANC should continue to bravely stand up to the Jewish state “despite coming under extreme pressure from the Israeli lobby and its supporters”.

He adds: “COSATU condemns the ways in which Israeli supporters and Israeli government officials … is making our criticism of Israel, our boycotts of that regime and our solidarity with the Palestinians as an anti-Jewish policy.”  Which of course it is not, he insists.

German union leader: “I stay on the side of Israel”

According to this report in the Times of Israel, Michael Sommer, head of the DGB — Germany’s national trade union centre — was the guest of honour at the Arno Lustiger Award at the third annual German-Israel Congress on Sunday in Berlin.

Sommer came down forcefully against those advocating a boycott of goods from the Jewish state.

“As long as I am head of this organization,” he said, “there will never be a resolution that says ‘Don’t buy from Jews.'”

Sommer’s speech coincided with the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, an anti-Jewish pogrom in 1938 that is seen by many as the beginning of the Holocaust.