On September 14, Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) sponsored a fringe meeting at the annual conference of Britain’s Trades Union Congress (TUC). TUFI has sponsored such events each year, but this year’s meeting came at a particularly difficult time.
Not only have several British unions intensified their anti-Israel positions in the last year, going so far as to call for severing relationships with the Histadrut, but TUFI itself was forbidden to have a stall at the annual conference of Britain’s giant public sector union, UNISON.
TUC, fortunately, remains a place where advocates of peace and a
two-state solution can still have a stall and hold a fringe meeting.
Nevertheless, the TUC resolution to extend a partial boycott of Israel –
yet again a compromise between unions which support the pro-Hamas
Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and more moderate ones – is a
disaster. It is a one-sided attack on the Jewish state with no
acknowledgement that another side might also be involved in this
As a very small example, the resolution denounces Israel for building a
security fence which it considers part of a “deliberate strategy to
undermine the viability of the West Bank” – but not a word about the
actual effect of the fence, which has been to put an end to suicide
bombings in Israel.
And the practical part of the resolution makes certain that British
unions will not be playing a constructive role in the peace process now
Here are the two paragraphs that matter – the ones that commit TUC to
actually doing something: “Congress instructs the General Council to
work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to actively
encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and
boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements,
the occupation and the construction of the wall.”
This blanket endorsement of the BDS campaign and the PSC is a major
change in TUC policy, which used to be committed to a strategy of
engagement and reconciliation. No longer.
The next paragraph is clearly the result of compromise, but read it
carefully: “Congress instructs the General Council to bring to Congress a
report on the impact of the boycott and investment withdrawal strategy,
together with the outcome of the Palestinian General Federation of
Trade Unions (PGFTU)/Histadrut discussions recently facilitated by the
International Trade Union Congress (ITUC) and TUC. Congress agrees to
join unions around the world for maximum coordination internationally
for active solidarity to end the siege of Gaza and for a free
THE RESOLUTION acknowledges – barely – Histadrut cooperation with the
Palestinian unions. But the drafters were clearly clueless about this,
as they refer to “discussions” rather than the actual cooperation on the
ground that was discussed at the TUFI event.
It also mentions a nonexistent TUC role facilitating these
“discussions,” and the reference to ITUC is disingenuous to say the
ITUC actually has played a constructive role, not least by utterly
rejecting calls for a boycott of the Jewish state.
The key bit is the final sentence, which is blatantly anti-Israel. And
the clue is the use of Hamas terminology – the call for a “free
The resolution doesn’t contain a word about Israel’s right to exist.
And it completely ignores the calls by Palestinian unions only last week
to boycott settlement goods but which do not call for a general boycott
of Israel. The views of PGFTU clearly do not matter to PSC and its
supporters in British unions.
To them, the Palestinian trade unionists are traitors to the cause, as
they collaborate with Israeli unions all the time.
At the TUFI meeting, former TUC president Roger Lyons stressed the irony
of the British unions passing a resolution which doesn’t mention even
once the historic peace talks that were taking place that very day
between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, meeting in Egypt. Those talks –
which Hamas and the global BDS movement have denounced – should have
been at the heart of a TUC position, but were ignored in favor of calls
for a “free Palestine.”
With the passage of this resolution, TUC, which once encouraged peace
and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, has chosen the
side of those who reject the peace process. And in doing so, it has
excluded itself from playing a constructive role in the region.
The writer is the founding editor of LabourStart, the news and
campaigning website of the international trade union movement.