Ireland’s national trade union federation is hosting a conference in Dublin on Friday on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a majority of speakers either firm advocates or not opposed to a complete boycott of Israel.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), which last year voted to support a boycott of Israeli goods and services, described the conference as an “international conference on the Middle East which will feature contributions from Palestine, Israel, the US, Canada, South Africa and the EU.”
Titled “Palestine-Israel: The way forward for Trade Union Solidarity,” the one-day conference for trade union members and affiliates has been accused of aiding those who want to isolate and demonize Israel.
“This kind of one-sided Israel-bashing will do little to promote the goal of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East – but will aid those who want to isolate and demonize Israel,” said Eric Lee, spokesman for the Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), a movement working to unite trade unions and nongovernmental organizations to counter boycott calls of Israel.
There will be two pro-Israel speakers at the conference: the Histadrut’s International Department director Avital Shapira, and Arieh Lebowitz from the Jewish Labor Committee.
But the remaining speakers either do not oppose a boycott or are major players in the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) campaign against Israel.
Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin is also addressing the conference. The Irish government is opposed to any trade sanctions or boycotts against Israel.
“The conference arises from the motions passed at successive ICTU conferences in 2007 and 2009 and from the recommendations of a Congress fact-finding visit to Israel and Palestine, in November 2007,” an ICTU spokesman told The Jerusalem Post
“The primary aim is to build support for our policy, stated in the motions, and learn from other union movements that have undertaken similar campaigns. It also aims to strengthen our relationship with the labor movements in the region, in order to contribute to a peaceful resolution that respects both the UN resolutions and human and trade union rights,” the spokesman added.
“The boycott of Israeli goods was formally adopted as ICTU policy at its conference in July 2007. Only afterwards, in November 2007, did ICTU deem it appropriate to send a mission to the area to assess the situation for itself,” said a spokesman from the Israeli Embassy in Dublin.
“Not surprisingly, this ‘fact-finding’ effort supported the boycott approach and at their conference in 2009, ICTU policy was updated by a motion calling for a full campaign of BDS.
“ICTU’s policy of boycotting Israel ignores completely the myriad programs of exchange and cooperation between the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions and their Israeli counterpart, the Histadrut. Indeed BDS, if implemented, would actually undermine the ability of Palestinian workers to realize their rights and interests,” the embassy spokesman added.
Testimonies from members of the group Breaking the Silence, made during Operation Cast Lead, will also be screened to the conference participants. These testimonies, according to the group’s Web site, “demonstrate the depth of corruption which is spreading in the Israeli military.”
Palestinian representatives at the conference include Omar Barghouti, from the Palestinian National Committee for BDS; Daragh Murray from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights; Fathi Nasser, Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, and Raed Sadeq, from the Palestinian Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center.
ICTU has also invited a member of a small radical fringe group called the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and a host of other organizations vocal in the BDS campaign.
These include Dave Moxham from the Scottish Trade Union Congress. Last April, at its annual conference, the STUC voted to endorse a boycott of Israeli goods.
Other invitees and boycott supporters include Owen Tudor from Britain’s Trade Union Congress, which just joined forces with radical fringe group Palestine Solidarity Campaign to call for a boycott of settlement produce. The PSC is committed to a complete boycott of Israel.
Tyotyo Hubert James from the Congress of South African Trade Unions; Mary-Jo Nadeau, Canadian Union of Public Employees and Labour for Palestine Canada, and Mags O’Brien, Trade Union Friends of Palestine, make up the other pro-boycott activists speaking at the one-day conference.
“Could the organizers not have found representatives of, say, the trade union movement in Germany, which is outspoken in its opposition to the boycott of Israel? Or perhaps top trade union leaders in the UK, US and Australia who have lent their support to TULIP?” Lee asked.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions claimed it consulted widely on the lineup of the conference.
“We cannot comment on individual speakers and participants. Suffice to say we consulted widely on the lineup and organization of the conference. It is but one element of an ongoing campaign and we will doubtless hold other conferences and public meetings in the future which will involve other speakers and other viewpoints,” the ICTU said.
“We hope that the ICTU takes the opportunity to foster co-operation between the Israeli and Palestinian trade unions, as they have representatives from both organizations present,” said Stephen Scott from Trade Union Friends of Israel.
“What we don’t want is for an anti-Israel session that will really prove utterly unproductive in what could be a missed opportunity to build some bridges.”
The Israeli Embassy said that boycotts will only perpetuate conflict and do little to bring peace.
“In reality, the campaign to promote BDS against Israel is an exercise
which by promoting an absurdly simplistic, black and white picture of
the Middle East will only help perpetuate conflict rather than helping
to bring reconciliation and peace,” the embassy spokesman said.
“The proponents of BDS do not speak of peace, reconciliation or
coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. Their program is not one
of encouraging constructive engagement or bridge-building, but one of
demonization and zero-sum politics.”