Global trade union rejects call to boycott Israel

World trade union movement stands by Histadrut, promotes cooperation.

June 30, 2010 06:32
Medical professionals and MKs dicsuss the looming

health conference 311. (photo credit: Judy Siegel)


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LONDON – A global trade union movement has rejected the campaign call to boycott, divest and introduce sanctions against Israel at its world conference in Vancouver this week, rebuffing campaigns to isolate and demonize Israel in the trade union movement.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) – which includes 312 affiliated organizations in 156 countries representing 176 million workers – not only rejected the call but also vowed to support cooperation between the Histadrut labor federation and Palestinian trade union federation.

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“Congress welcomes the landmark agreement between Histadrut and the PGFTU [Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions] on the rights of Palestinian workers, which was finalized with the assistance of the ITUC in 2008, and initiatives by Global Union Federations in their sectors to support cooperation in defense of workers’ rights,” the ITUC decision read.

The ITUC said the agreement is “crucial” for economic development in the region, and that it is committed to supporting cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian trade union movements.

“This agreement, and other actions to promote decent work and end discrimination, is crucial to building the basis for just and equitable economic development."

“Congress commits the ITUC to continue to support the strengthening of cooperation between the Palestinian and Israeli trade union movements and calls upon the international community to support Palestinian economic reconstruction and development, including through the ILO [International Labor Federation] Palestinian Fund for Employment and Social Protection,” it said.

The ITUC has also elevated Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini to the ITUC’s Executive Board and General Council. In addition, Eini was elected as one of the global organization’s vice presidents.

The Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), a movement working to unite trade unions to counter boycott calls of Israel, said that the resolution adopted was critical of many Israeli policies – including a call for an end to illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories, rejecting the blockade of Gaza and building of a security fence – but it showed that the vast majority of the world’s trade unions support cooperation over the isolation and demonization of Israel.

“This is welcome news for Israelis and Palestinians and a blow to the supporters of Hamas who have tried hard to isolate and demonize Israel within the trade union movement,” said Eric Lee from TULIP.

“Part of the success achieved by marginal groups in the trade union movement seeking to delegitimize Israel emanates from their ability to harness critics of Israeli policy into supporting positions that in practice delegitimize the state itself by blurring the line between delegitimization and criticism,” said Eran Shayshon from the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based think tank that advises Israeli leaders and decision-makers.

Reut has recently completed a comprehensive report on the demonization of Israel and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

The ITUC resolution said it supports a two-state solution, the 2002 road map for peace and that it supports a “universal recognition of Israel’s right to exist, next to an independent viable Palestinian state.” It also rejected “the extremist policies of Hamas,” condemned Egypt’s decision “to impose heavy restrictions on its border with Gaza,” and acknowledged that the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead was justified as it came “in response to rocket attacks.”

“The ITUC decision in Vancouver is very critical of Israeli policies and is not a reason for celebration in Jerusalem. However, it is a very constructive decision as it provides a positive example of how dialogue over the Israeli- Palestinian conflict should be handled,” Shayshon said.

“The motion promotes the two-state solution, recognizes Israel’s right to exist and rejects Hamas as a partner for peace.

Most importantly, it emphasizes the importance of cooperation between the two sides rather than isolation and boycott.”

Last September, Britain’s trade union federation, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) launched a campaign, working with the radical fringe group Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), to implement a boycott of Israel’s products and services, a first step toward a more comprehensive boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.

“Considering the sensitivities around this issue it is hugely encouraging that the ITUC was able to reach a consensus position,” TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, who was at the conference, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“This included strong support and encouragement for action by [the] Histadrut and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions to press their governments to resume negotiations to achieve a just and fair resolution to the conflict, and a call for further cooperation between the Histadrut and the PGFTU.

“After congress closes this week the ITUC will give a very high priority to working with affiliates to do everything possible to move forward the search for peace and prosperity for the people of Palestine and Israel,” Barber added.

Since the ITUC decision, a host of unions and federations have followed suit and voted to support the BDS campaign. In April, both the Scottish Trade Union Congress and Irish Congress of Trade Unions reaffirmed their commitment to the campaign.

Earlier this month Britain’s largest academic trade union, the University College Union, voted at its annual conference to support the BDS campaign, sever ties with the Histadrut and boycott the Ariel University Center in the West Bank.

In a debate at its annual conference, in which Israel was referred to as a “rogue” and “terror state worse than apartheid South Africa,” the largest trade union in the UK, UNITE also voted to support a boycott of Israeli goods and services.

Last week, Britain’s largest public sector trade union, UNISON, passed a motion at its annual conference to boycott Israel and sever links with the Histadrut. It also said Israel “brazenly lied” about the flotilla incident and called on the British government to expel the Israeli ambassador in London.

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