TUFI Update - March 2009

International Trade Union News: Union leader refuses to support Israel boycott

International Trade Union News: CUPE National opposes local union resolution

Trade Union News: ICTU re-launch year-old delegation report

British Trade Union News: Scottish trade union delegation to Israel and Palestine

Israeli Industrial News: Redundancies hit record high as 20,000 Israelis lose jobs in January

Israeli Industrial News: Factory protests threaten to escalate

Israeli Affairs: Netanyahu chosen by Israeli President to form the next Government

Israeli Affairs: Eighteenth Knesset is sworn in with a record number of women

Palestinian Affairs: Hamas reject recognising Israel as part of reconciliation with Fatah

MEPP: UK pledge £30 million for Gaza reconstruction

International Trade Union News: Union leader refuses to support Israel boycott
The National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union (AWU), Australia’s largest union, has condemned moves by other Australian trade unions to boycott the Histadrut (Israeli TUC) and Israeli goods, calling them counter-productive and a “knee-jerk reaction”.

At the AWU’s National Conference on 5 February, Mr Paul Howes said: “We don’t believe a union campaign to boycott Israel helps advance the peace process, especially because unions in Israel and Palestine have made important, if tentative, steps to build co-operative, working alliances under the auspices of global union federations such as the International Transport Workers Federation… these projects point the way to a better life for working people in the region.”

In a video speech to the conference, the Chairman of the Histadrut (Israeli TUC), Ofer Eini, said: “A boycott of any kind is totally unacceptable as it counters the solidarity of trade unions around the world”.
International Trade Union News: CUPE National opposes resolution on Israel by local union
The National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Paul Moist, has said that the CUPE national union does not support the boycott resolution passed by the Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC) of CUPE Ontario on 22 February 2009. He said in a statement, released on 24 February, that the views expressed in the resolution were only those of a small number of local CUPE Ontario members and did not represent CUPE national policy.

The CUPE Ontario resolution calls for members at Ontario universities to boycott Israeli institutions, which would mean that researchers and professors would not be able to collaborate with their Israeli colleagues. Aido DiCarlo, the president of a local union branch, which represents technicians and maintenance workers at the University of Windsor, said the action was unacceptable and that any boycott would hamper research and counter the long tradition of collaboration by universities around the world. He said his members were contemplating disaffiliating.
Trade Union News: ICTU re-launch year-old delegation report
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) re-launched its delegation report, which proposes a boycott of Israel, at Stormont on 10 February 2009, more than a year after the trip actually took place. ICTU President Patricia McKeown led the delegation in November 2007 that included eleven members: seven from Northern Ireland, two former ICTU lay-members and two from Trade Union Friends of Palestine.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams hosted the event and commended the report; however others dismissed it as unbalanced and urged unions to concentrate more on important local issues during the economic downturn. Robin Newton, a Member of the Legislative Assembly, complained that the report took no cognisance of the difficulties of Israelis and also warned that sanctions would hurt both innocent Israelis and Palestinians.

To counter the growing anti-Israel activism emanating from Northern Ireland, a Northern Ireland Friends of Israel (NIFI) group is being set up and is due to be launched on 12 March 2009 by trade unionists, politicians and community leaders.
British Trade Union News: Scottish Trades Union Congress delegation to Israel and Palestine
A delegation of trade unionists from the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), departed on 28 February for a week-long delegation to Israel and Palestine. The delegation is due to meet with trade unionists in Israel and the Palestinian territories, to “investigate the merits of supporting a boycott”.

The delegation is mostly made up of lay-members and entirely of public sector union representatives. Speaking before departing, STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith said: “This is a very important mission for the STUC. In 2007 our Congress asked us to explore the merits of a boycott…and it is absolutely vital that we speak directly to trade unionists in Israel and Palestine about this, and see for ourselves what is happening in the region”. The delegation will report back to its Congress in April 2009.

Stephen Scott, Director of Trade Union Friends of Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that any boycott would be damaging to both Israelis and Palestinians. “The STUC delegation needs to develop links with their Israeli and Palestinian trade union brothers and sisters,” he said. “There are many positive initiatives between the Histadrut and Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) member unions that the STUC unions should be supporting. While we understand the STUC’s concerns and solidarity with the Palestinian people, boycotting Israel in any form would only damage relationships and dialogue between workers from both sides.” Instead, Mr Scott said, efforts should be made to promote peace through economic empowerment: “Efforts should be concentrated on concrete measures for creating an enduring peace that includes economic and social development through the trade union movement.”
Israeli Industrial News: Redundancies hit record high as 20,000 Israelis lose jobs in January
January 2009 marked the highest number of redundancies in Israel’s history, according to an Employment Service report released on 18 February. Nearly 20,000 workers lost their jobs (equivalent to 180,000 British workers), and the number of registered job seekers reached 275,000. Israel’s economy has been hit hard by the global financial crisis with unemployment rising since April 2008. Ofer Eini, the Chairman of the Histadrut has predicted that more than 100,000 Israelis will lose their jobs in 2009.
Israeli Industrial News: Factory protests threaten to escalate

Over 700 employees of Pri Galil, a processes-food company in the North of Israel, went on strike on 23 February to demonstrate against the possible closure of their factory. Protesters burned tires and blocked the entrance to the factory by welding the gates shut. The local court is due to determine if a receiver will be appointed for Pri Galil’s parent company, which has debts of over £27 million. The company’s bank has rejected all proposals for dealing with the debts.

On the 24 February, farmers and students, including members of Hanoar Haoved ve Halomed, a socialist youth movement, joined the protesting workers on a march along the town’s main road. Several heads of nearby regional councils came to show their support, and residents of the town also launched a general strike in solidarity.

The Chairman of the Histadrut, Ofer Eini, in a speech on 24 February called the events at Pri Galil “the spark that would ignite social struggle throughout the country” and that the “government must heed it”. Mr Eini criticised the bank’s actions over the company’s debts, calling on them to show humanity and not to evaluate the plant’s future solely in terms of “cold, hard numbers”. He said that “banks have to realise that workers earn very low wages and all in all they have been swept into this crisis because of a few speculators who make deals.”
Israeli Affairs: Netanyahu chosen by Israeli President to form the next Government
Israeli President Shimon Peres assigned Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu with the task of forming the next Israeli Government on Friday 20 February. Netanyahu has until 20 March to form a coalition that would control a majority of seats in the 120 seat Knesset. This deadline, however, can be delayed by two weeks at Peres’ discretion, if Netanyahu does not succeed.

The right-wing Likud party won one less seat (27) than the centrist Kadima party (28) in the recent general election, but was deemed by Peres to have a better chance of forming a governing coalition than Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, due to the size of the right-wing Knesset bloc compared to the centre or left blocs.

Livni and Netanyahu met on Sunday 22 February to discuss the possibility of Kadima joining Likud in government, which would reduce Likud’s reliance on the various small right-wing and religious parties. Netanyhu described his attempts to form a coalition with Kadima as “the will of the people”, but Livni said that their meetings had failed to bridge their “deep differences on diplomatic issues.” A source close to Netanyahu said that the main point of difference was whether the coalition guidelines called for “two states for two peoples,” as Livni wants, or something vaguer, as Netanyahu wants.

Israeli Affairs: Eighteenth Knesset is sworn in with a record number of women
Israel’s eighteenth Knesset (Parliament) was sworn in on 24 February after the recent general election, with a record twenty-one women, four more than previously. Thirty-one new Knesset members were amongst the parliamentary veterans, including Balad party MK, Haneen Zuabi, the first female Arab MK to enter the Knesset for an Arab party.

Palestinian Affairs: Hamas reject recognising Israel as part of reconciliation with Fatah
Reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah, mediated by Egypt, began on 25 February in Cairo. The Palestinian factions have agreed to set up committees to discuss the formation of a new unity government, the scheduling of elections and the release of each other’s detainees. Other committees for reforming the Palestinian security services and the merging of Hamas into the Palestinian Liberation Organisation have also been established and all committees are scheduled to finish their work by the end of March.

The new US Envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell, indicated on 19 February that America was in favour of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, saying that it would be “a step forward” for peace in the region. This is in sharp contrast to the Bush administration, which opposed a national unity government. However, Mitchell added that Hamas would still need to adhere to the Quartet’s principles of engagement and renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas echoed this on 28 February making clear that any new National Unity Government would have to be based on support for a two-state solution. Hamas’ spokesman in Gaza, Ayman Taha, rejected this, saying that “Hamas would never agree to sit in a government that recognises Israel.”
Gaza: Ashkelon schools closed in response to continued rockets fire from the Gaza Strip
Palestinians militants in Gaza have continued to fire missiles into Southern Israel, launching more than 110 since the conflict in Gaza ended on 17 January 2009.

The Ashkelon Parents’ Committee called for the city’s pupils to stay at home on 2 March to protest against the government’s failure to protect 130 schools, attended by 26,000 children, from the barrage of rocket attacks. Despite calling the decision premature, the city’s deputy mayor, Shlomo Cohen, said: “When there is a warning siren, there is nowhere to go.”

MEPP: UK pledge £30 million for Gaza reconstruction
The UK has pledged £30 million for reconstructing Gazan homes, schools, hospitals and essential infrastructure, damaged during the recent conflict. The pledge includes £20 million of newly announced funds as well as an allocation of £10 million from the support for Gaza announced in January. This brings the total UK response to the humanitarian situation in Gaza to nearly £47 million since the conflict began. Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander, made the pledge while visiting Gaza on 1 March ahead of the one-day reconstruction conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. In her address to the conference, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton told delegates that: “Our response to today’s crisis in Gaza cannot be separated from our broader efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace.”

In total £3.2 billion was pledged at the conference, with Gulf Arab states pledging £1.2 billion and the US and EU pledging £640 and £400 million respectively, both for Gazan reconstruction and to support the Palestinian Authority’s annual budget.

US trade unionists to Irish counterparts: Don’t boycott Israel

This extraordinary letter was published in The Independent today.

We, members of the American Trade Union movement, have heard and read with disappointment and sadness that some of our Irish colleagues continue to  lead a campaign in Ireland for a boycott of Israeli goods and services. It would  seem that the appeal we made to them, during our visit to Ireland last November, to reconsider their boycott call has fallen on deaf ears.

Israel, Gaza and the Unions: The Need for a Global Fight-Back Against Anti-Semitism

Fifteen years after the historic Oslo accords, Israel finds itself isolated as never before in the international labour movement.

The erosion of support for the Jewish state has not been affected in the slightest by Israeli concessions over the years. The withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, the closing of all Jewish settlements in Gaza and the withdrawal of troops, the acceptance of the right of Palestinians to their own state, the ongoing attempts to reach agreement with the PLO – none of these has slowed down the growing hostility toward Israel on the Left and in the trade unions.

By the end of 2008, Israel had in its Kadima-Labour coalition the most dovish government it had ever known. First Ariel Sharon and later Ehud Olmert spoke in a way that was unheard of except on the far Left only fifteen years earlier.

None of this affected the growing calls for boycotts and divestment targetted at the ‘apartheid regime’ in Israel. It was as if the anti-Israel left were frozen in time, with events taking place in the real world having no influence at all.

Most of that Left was increasingly pro-Hamas and unfriendly not only towards Israel, but also towards the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. The Left was choosing a sexist and homophobic clerical-fascist movement above the more secular (albeit corrupt) Fatah.

During the period leading up to the Gaza war, the focus of attention for many in the labour movement who care about Israel has been the academic boycott. In focussing primarily on that, in a sense we’ve taken our eyes off the ball.

The real battle is taking place in the giant industrial unions – not inside academia. The threat to Israel comes not from far Left academics with time on their hands to write long anti-Zionist manifestos. It comes from dock workers in Durban.

Operation Cast Lead

Israel’s attack on Gaza at the end of 2008 was a legitimate act of self-defense. That’s not just the view of the Israeli Right – that’s the broad consensus of opinion inside Israel, including the Israeli Left. On the eve of the attack, even the dovish Meretz party called on the Government to use the military in Gaza. And throughout the war, Israel’s main peace organization, Peace Now, refused to take to the streets in protest. (Smaller peace groups did, however, protest.)

The roots of the conflict go back to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Though the Israeli Left criticized the Sharon government for doing this unilaterally, they did welcome the decision to end the occupation. What they did not expect was that a few months later Hamas would violently wrest control of the strip from Fatah, and launch an ongoing rocket and mortar barrage directed against Israel.

In mid-2008 Hamas declared a unilateral cease-fire, which it used to re-arm. The day that cease-fire ended, it resumed rocket attacks. In the end, something like 6,000 rockets and mortars were fired against Israel. The firing of those rockets, which targetted civilians, was a war crime, as was Hamas’ use of human shields during the Israeli assault.

Israel’s ferocious response to those attacks can be debated – and indeed within Israel there was criticism over the conduct of the war. But what we saw on the Left outside of Israel was not criticism of this or that aspect of Israel’s attempt to defend itself.

Instead we saw the Left taking sides, openly supporting Hamas, and moving far beyond legitimate criticism of the Jewish state. We saw an unprecedented rise in anti-Semitism inside the labour movement which if not confronted head-on will lead to disaster.

The unions react

At first, unions around the world hardly reacted at all to the Israeli attack on Gaza. This is probably due to the fact that it took place over the Christmas break. Still, the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) representing all the major national trade union centres, was quick to issue a statement which called for peace – but also blamed Hamas for triggering the current wave of violence and reiterating its support for a two-state solution.

The global union federations remained silent, with only the International Federation of Journalists issuing a statement condemning the attack on a television station in Gaza and warning journalists of the risks of reporting in a war zone.

The only ITUC affiliate to respond quickly to Israel’s attack was the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) which demanded that its government break off all ties with Israel, which it saw as the aggressor.

The Histadrut, Israel’s national trade union centre, said nothing at all to the world during the first few weeks of the fighting, nor could anyone tell what the union was thinking as its website remained ‘under construction’ the entire time. Had the war ended after a week, we could have described the trade union response as muted. But the war did not end after a week.

Hostility mounts

As the war dragged on, and even after the announcements of separate cease-fires by Israel and Hamas, hostility towards the Jewish state mounted. In a couple of cases, that hostility led unions to cross the line from legitimate criticism of Israeli policies over to outright anti-Semitism. The first example came from Italy and received considerable press attention. A union in Rome, infuriated by Israel’s actions, called for a boycott of Jewish stores. Not Israeli stores – Jewish ones. The reaction of the Italian political leadership (including the mayor of Rome) and of most national trade unions was to condemn the union for crossing a line.

The far more serious problem arose in South Africa in early February. COSATU took the decision to intensify its campaign of solidarity with the Palestinians following the cease-fires in Gaza – but did so by virtually declaring war on the country’s Jewish community.

‘We want to convey a message to the Jews in SA that our 1.9 million workers who are affiliated to COSATU are fully behind the people of Palestine,’ said Bongani Masuku, COSATU’s International Relations Secretary.

Masuku’s reference to the Jewish community was not an isolated incident. He clarified COSATU’s position, saying that ‘any business owned by Israel supporters will be a target of workers in South Africa.’ Note the use of the term ‘Israel supporters’ which is essentially a code for ‘Jews’.

COSATU moved beyond mere words by organizing a week of action in support of Palestine – the first event of which was a protest outside the offices of the South African Zionist Federation and Jewish Board of Deputies.

To justify a demonstration at a Jewish, rather than Israeli, site, the union noted that ‘both these organisations unquestioningly supported the recent Israeli attacks against Gaza and supported the massacre of civilians and the attacks on schools, mosques, ambulances and UN refugee centres.’

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which is co-sponsoring the week of action with COSATU, claimed that the local Jewish community was ‘aiding and abetting Israel’s actions’ and was therefore a legitimate target of protest. South African Jewish leaders expressed concern but not panic at the news. Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein called COSATU’s actions a ‘disgrace and immoral’ and racism in it’s worst form.

The trade union demonstrators were met by a pro-Israel counter-demonstration and according to news reports ‘insults were traded, flags were burnt and items were thrown by both sides.’ Police turned away several bus loads of anti-Israel union demonstrators.

Meanwhile, the Histadrut protested the decision by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union to refuse to offload an Israeli ship. Avi Edri, who heads up the Israeli transport workers union, noted that the South African unions are so violently anti-Israel that they even opposed an internationally-brokered cooperation agreement signed with the Palestinian transport workers union.

Several unions in other countries have expressed their support for the Durban dock workers. The Maritime Union of Australia which waged an historic fight against the right-wing Howard government in the late 1990s, wrote on its website that Western Australian members of union ‘have announced they support sanctions and other actions against Israel.’

In the United States, some leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing west coast dock workers, issued a statement expressing their solidarity with the Durban dock workers.

Several weeks ago it was reported that Greek dock workers threatened to block a ship carrying weapons to Israel.

The decision by the Durban dock workers to block the offloading of an Israeli ship and COSATU’s deliberate targeting of the Jewish community represent a significant escalation of anti-Israel activity in the trade union movement and could spark similar actions in other countries.

Unlike the threatened academic boycott of Israel which has gotten more media attention, this would represent a genuine threat to the Israeli economy.

The need for a fightback

The response of organisations which are tasked with defending Israel inside the labour movement was slow and ineffective.

It took the Histadrut weeks to issue its first statement which was such an obvious rehash of Israeli government propaganda that it backfired – to the extent that it was seen at all.

Groups like the Jewish Labor Committee in the USA and Trade Union Friends of Israel in Britain were also very slow to issue statements, and after issuing such statements seemed to run out of ideas of anything further to do.

This is clearly not the case with the pro-Palestinian groups in the labour movement, which have taken to the streets and mounted an ever-more effective campaign to promote boycotts and divestment from Israel.

Part of the problem is that while the pro-Hamas groups are operating globally with a single line and a very clear agenda, the pro-Israel groups operate nationally, if at all. There is no global co-ordination and little exchange of ideas and information.

There is also a lack of, for a better word, a fighting spirit.

This is not the case in the Jewish community as a whole, which did mount several very large demonstrations in Britain during the war, and which did challenge COSATU demonstrators in South Africa.

But it should not be the task solely for the Jewish community to combat rising anti-Semitism.

Trade unionists themselves, Jews and non-Jews, should be spearheading a globally-coordinated effort to fight back. They should be able to mount an aggressive campaign to make the case that Israel has the right and duty to defend itself, and that its main enemy (Hamas) is a fascist terrorist organisation and a natural enemy of the unions and the Left.

Unless such an effective campaign is mounted – and soon – what happened in February in Durban will repeat itself with increasing frequency around the world.

Jewish Labor Committee statement on Gaza

The Jewish Labor Committee deeply mourns the loss of innocent life and expresses its sorrow for the suffering in the escalation of violence in Gaza and Israel.

Hamas has sent thousands of rockets of different ranges over the border into Israel, including those that can strike Israeli cities as far as Ashdod. These attacks have been launched by Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and has over two years violated the de facto cessation of hostilities with Israel.

Israel has taken great lengths to avoid this sort of escalation, including an appeal by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Arab television to stop the firing of rockets and mortar shells so that a military response could be avoided. No country can be expected to tolerate continuous and unrelenting attacks against its civilian population. With a terrorist group engaged in active warfare and an international community that failed to intervene, and with Hamas formally ending the cease fire that it regularly violated, Israel was left with no choice but to defend itself and dismantle Hamas’s ability to launch more missiles.

Hamas’s deliberate placement of its rocket launchers and operations facilities in and close to mosques, schools, and homes, even though Gaza is densely populated, endangered Palestinian civilians and tragically resulted in increased numbers of civilian casualties.

We are encouraged that Israel is continuing to supply humanitarian aid of food, water and medicine into Gaza, and to allow relief agencies to supply material to the suffering people of Gaza. These efforts must be expanded as much as possible under the circumstances.

The Jewish Labor Committee affirms its support for the working-men and women in Israel and Palestine and their labor unions who seek a peaceful life for themselves and their families. We note the Histadrut and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions for their cooperative programs across the Green Line and their work together toward peace. We support efforts of Palestinian and Israeli trade unionists to maintain contact in the midst of this crisis despite living under personal threat and witnessing the death and injury of their friends and family.

We urge increased engagement of trade unions with their counterparts on all sides of this conflict to improve the lives of working people in Israel and Gaza, build grassroots trust, and enhance the peace process.

After nearly eight years of disengagement, on the part of the current U.S. Administration, we urge the incoming Obama administration to actively engage in the peace process in order to help bring about a two-state solution and a lasting and just peace.

Founding statement

The solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is clear – and has been accepted in principle by both sides.  Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side, within secure and recognised borders, is the only workable solution to a conflict that has dragged on for decades.

Israel has already taken a number of steps towards this goal, most notably by agreeing to the Oslo Accords in 1993 and later by the unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Lebanon and Gaza.  Palestinian moderates lead by Mahmoud Abbas support this process.

People of goodwill everywhere want a process to succeed delivering peace, justice and reconciliation.   Trade unions can play a positive role here, and often do.

The International Transport Workers Federation, for example, has done much to bridge the gap between transport workers unions in Israel and Palestine and to reach ground-breaking agreements.  The International Trade Union Confederation has encouraged dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian national trade union centres.  And individual unions in a number of countries have invited Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists to their conferences, helping to promote discussion and agreement.

This is the traditional role of trade unions when faced with disputes of this kind – bridging the gap between nations at war, encouraging peace, justice and reconciliation.  It is a role we can be proud of.

And yet in recent years, a number of national unions and trade union centres have changed course and abandoned that role.  Instead, they have rallied behind those Palestinians who are opposed to the peace process.  Some have gone so far as to deny Israel’s right to exist.

A number of those unions have called for boycotts and sanctions directed against Israel, and only against Israel.  They are attempting to demonise the Jewish state, to deny it legitimacy, and to whip up hatred against it.  Sometimes that hatred even spills over into anti-Semitism.

Those unions are wrong – terribly wrong.

We believe that the time has come for trade unionists around the world to join forces in support of genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace with justice, based on a two-state solution with secure and recognised borders.

There are already unions and associated NGOs in a number of countries which support this goal.  But they are fighting this battle alone, each in their own country.  It is time we united our forces.

We are calling for the formation of a new global movement – TULIP, Trade Union Linking Israel and Palestine.

TULIP aims to do the following:

1. Unite those groups – unions and NGOs – which are already fighting within the labour movement against the boycott of Israel and for genuine peace, justice and reconciliation.
2. Produce a multilingual global website, print publications, and provide information and opportunities to begin the process of turning back the tide and encouraging unions to play a constructive role in the peace process.
3. Work together with Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists and associated NGOs to find ways to provide practical on-the-ground assistance — rather than empty slogans.

At the moment, the opponents of a two-state solution are on the offensive, working hard to promote their destructive agenda of boycotts and sanctions targetting Israel.

It’s time for trade unionists in all countries to go on the offensive ourselves, to challenge the apologists for Hamas and Hizbollah in the labour movement.

We have no illusions that this will be anything other than a long and difficult process.  But we also know that we have no choice.  We cannot abandon the field to those whose goal is the destruction of any chance for a real Israeli-Palestinian peace.

We welcome trade unionists from all countries to join us.