Calls for settlement boycott in UK

Trade Union campaign: “Would you buy stolen goods?”

April 12, 2010 04:19
BetEl Factory

BetEl Factory 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post)


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LONDON – Britain’s Federation of Trade Unions has launched a campaign calling for a ban of settlement goods and produce with an anti-Israel group that is leading a complete boycott, sanctions and divestment campaign against Israel.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has teamed up with the one-state solution advocates Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), launching a campaign titled “Would you buy stolen goods?”

The campaign leads with the accusation that Israeli produce comes from “stolen land” and accuses Israel of using child labor and encouraging conflict.

“Israeli settlements are built on stolen Palestinian land and are illegal under international law,” said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber. “By confiscating land and resources, and encouraging conflict, they make life a misery for ordinary Palestinian workers and their families.”

Calling for people to boycott goods labeled from Israeli settlements, Barber said, “It’s easy for us to feel powerless about this situation, but as consumers we can make a difference by not supporting the businesses that sustain these settlements.”

Last December the government issued advisory guidelines calling for the clear labeling of produce originating from the West Bank. The decision was lauded by groups advocating a comprehensive boycott of Israel, as part of a wider campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

The government maintained that the advisory was a response to consumer demand for information about the origin of produce.

The guidelines are voluntary but most of the major supermarkets followed the advice and label produce accordingly – stating whether it comes from settlements or Palestinian areas.

The decision was criticized by Israel saying it singles out Israel and empowers anti-Israel groups.

“This measure is clearly politicized, because it singles out Israel and yields to demands by anti-Israel groups,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor at the time. “It will send a message of encouragement to those who want to promote a boycott and it will only radicalize the positions of the Palestinians at a time when we are all engaged in efforts to resume negotiations as soon as possible.”

In addition to the child labor accusation, the campaign material accuses Israel of preventing the export of “nearly all” Palestinian goods; confiscating “scarce water resources” and using them to irrigate settlement produce for export to the UK.

The TUC told The Jerusalem Post on Friday that it stood by all the accusations in the material.

“The statements contained in the TUC’s joint leaflet and briefing are from credible sources including several UN agencies,” a spokesman told the Post.

Barber claimed it is not a call for a complete boycott.

“This is not a call for a general boycott of Israeli goods and services, which would hit ordinary Palestinian and Israeli workers. Nor should workers in Britain put their own jobs at risk by refusing to deal with goods from the settlements. Instead, we’re calling for targeted, consumer-led sanctions to send a clear message against the settlements.”

Steven Scott from Trade Union Friends of Israel said: “Our position on boycotts is opposition in general in relation to the conflict, as they seek to divide rather than seek dialogue.

“While we acknowledge that there is concern about settlements’ existence and their future status, they do provide employment to many thousands of Palestinians either directly or indirectly in supply and distribution,” Scott said.

“This is not a black-and-white issue and simply boycotting settlements might make many feel good but [it] could have a detrimental effect on Palestinian workers.”

In response the TUC spokesman said: “The decision about whether to take action that would hurt Palestinian workers is ultimately up to the Palestinians themselves and we have consulted widely.

“Trade unions are used to the fact that action we take, for example strikes, cause problems for both our members and for others. We therefore never take such decisions lightly,” the spokesman added.

The campaign calls to suspend the trade agreement between Israel and the EU. This would impact upon many Palestinian workers, whose livelihoods are inextricably linked with their Israeli counterparts.

“Suspending the trade agreement would only result in the suspension of preferential trade arrangements,” the spokesman told the Post.

Asked about the TUC’s association with a radical group that wants a complete boycott of Israel, the TUC spokesman said,“The TUC is campaigning with the PSC on the shared strategy of a targeted consumer-led boycott of goods from the Israeli settlements.

“The TUC does not support a complete boycott, sanction and divestment campaign against Israel. It supports a two-state solution and the Road Map. The TUC reiterates its belief that only when a sovereign, independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state is created, living side by side with a secure Israel will there be a chance for peace and stability in the Middle East.”

The Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), a movement working to unite trade unions and non-governmental organizations to counter boycott calls of Israel, questioned the TUC and PSC link up.

“What the PSC doesn’t say is almost as important as what it does,” said Eric Lee from TULIP.

“It calls for ‘for the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people’ but mentions nothing about similar rights for Israelis. It calls for ‘the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli state from the occupied territories’ – not a negotiated withdrawal, not in exchange for anything but an immediate one.

“It calls for ‘the right of return of the Palestinian people,’ which would result in a state with a small Jewish minority, something which is understandably unacceptable to Israelis.”

Lee said that PSC’s aims were incompatible with the aims of the TUC, and he wondered why it was partnering with the radical group.

“These core aims, supporting a single state like Hamas, are incompatible with the TUC’s commitment to a negotiated two-state solution,” he said. “TUC’s support for genuine peace and reconciliation in the Middle East is not in doubt but why partner with and support a group like the PSC?”

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