British trade unions to boycott Israeli goods

UK Trades Union Congress

Britain's 6.5-million member labor federation, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), has adopted a policy calling for a consumer-led boycott and sanctions campaign against Israel at their annual conference in Liverpool on Thursday. The TUC policy calls on the British Government to condemn the "Israeli military aggression and the continuing blockade of Gaza" and end arms sales to Israel, which it said reached a value of £18.8 million in 2008. It also calls for a ban on goods originated from the settlements and an end to the European Union's preferential trading terms with Israel. "The TUC calls on the British Government to seek EU agreement to impose a ban on the importing of goods produced in the illegal settlements and support moves to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement which provides preferential trade facilities to Israel," read the policy statement. It came as the TUC's General Council (GC) introduced a "compromise" after the conference passed a motion calling for a complete boycott of Israeli goods and for the TUC to "carry out a review" of its relationship with the Histadrut for not condemning Operation Cast Lead, introduced by the Fire Brigade Union (FBU). Announcing the compromise, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "The GC has worked hard to come up with a statement which the congress can unite around. That has involved compromise on all sides and I'm grateful to all the colleagues who have contributed. What you have before you sets out principles we can all share, conclusions I hope we can all agree on and actions we can all take." The compromise included "targeted action" aimed at Israel goods and "consumer-led" sanctions against Israeli businesses. "The GC has considered what can be done by us to apply pressure to the Israeli government to end the occupation, dismantle the separation wall and removal illegal settlements," Barber said. "We believe that targeted action - aimed at goods from the illegal settlements and at companies involved in the occupation and the wall - is the right way forward." Maintaining that it was not a boycott call, Barber added: "This is not a call for a general boycott of Israeli goods and services which would hit ordinary Palestinian and Israeli workers, but targeted, consumer-led sanctions directed at businesses based in, and sustaining, the illegal settlements." This was reiterated in the text of the compromise: "To increase the pressure for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories and removal of the separation wall and illegal settlements, we will support a boycott (where trade union members should not put their own jobs at risk by refusing to deal with such products) of those goods and agricultural products that originate in illegal settlements - through developing an effective, targeted consumer-led boycott campaign working closely with [radical fringe group] Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) - and campaign for disinvestment by companies associated with the occupation as well as engaged in building the separation wall." The GC said that each union would interpret how to implement the boycott and encouraged affiliation to a radical anti-Israel group. "In undertaking these actions each affiliate will operate within its own aims and objectives and within the law. We reiterate our encouragement to unions to affiliate to the PSC and to raise greater awareness of the issues," it said. The Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) issued a joint statement condemning the move: "The fact that within moments of this statement being released, conference delegates voted for another extreme hard-line pro-boycott motion proposed by the FBU is evidence that our concerns are well placed and that TUC leaders must act against the harmful influence of the PSC within their unions. We insist that TUC leaders immediately clarify that this motion does not stand as TUC policy." The compromise also reiterated condemnation of Operation Cast Lead and welcomed the controversial Goldstone Report. "Earlier this year, the TUC condemned the Israeli offensive in Gaza. And we reiterate that condemnation in the statement today. It led to many, many deaths and intolerable suffering," Barber said. "We also reiterate our condemnation of the rocket attacks from inside Gaza against Israeli civilians. We welcome the findings of the UN investigation which highlighted possible war crimes on both sides. The TUC remains concerned about the situation in Gaza and reiterates its opposition to the Israeli blockade, which is in contravention of international law and prevents vital supplies from reaching the people of Gaza." Barber also attacked the Histadrut: "We have for the last year been trying to persuade the Histadrut to be more vocal in criticizing the Israeli Government. We think that the statement issued by the Histadrut in January, which failed to recognize the appalling loss of life and the suffering caused by the Gaza offensive, should be condemned. We will continue to press them over the crucial issues of the occupation, the separation wall, the roadblocks and illegal settlements." The Board of Deputies and JLC said they would respond "robustly" to the boycott call. "Our communal leaders will respond robustly to this policy, which risks driving a wedge between British Jews and trade union movement. "We will be asking the TUC leadership to act swiftly and decisively to reassert their opposition to a boycott of Israel and advise their member unions accordingly. We expect the GC's statement to be used as a license to boycott by anti-Israel activists. Secondly, we will actively expose the discriminatory politics of the PSC, in order to frustrate their hijacking of trade unions to promote their anti-Israel and anti-peace agenda. Thirdly, we will be encouraging members of our own community to fight back by getting involved in trade unions and speaking out," it said. Israel's ambassador to the UK, Ron Proser, said the TUC should hang their heads in shame. "The TUC's leaders should hang their heads in shame at this reckless call. They have betrayed their own constituency by allowing the TUC to be hijacked as a political tool for extremists. This one sided approach subjects the Israel to a despicable double standard not experienced by any other nation, including dictatorships such as Libya, which recently celebrated the return of a convicted mass murderer," he said. "The boycott statement fails to acknowledge Israel's obligation to protect its citizens from terror and issues no calls on Gaza's rulers or the Arab world to address Israel's legitimate security concerns. The statement's condemnation of rocket attacks is nothing but flimsy lip-service, and does not in any way sufficiently address the suffering of Israel's citizens, in the face of years of terror from thousands of Hamas missiles," he added. The Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) was happy with the compromise saying it would increase TUC support for Israeli and Palestinian trade unions opposed to boycotts. "Over 50,000 Palestinians working in Israel could lose their jobs as a result of a boycott, as well as many British workers producing exports to Israel. Today's statement shows that a majority of trade unions in the UK want to provide meaningful help to the people in Israel and Palestine, rather than call for divisive and counterproductive boycotts. The sensible voices of the TUC have prevailed," said Roger Lyons, former TUC president and chair of TUFl. Debate on the boycott motion had been postponed until Thursday, the last day of the conference, after heated exchanges between senior officials. On Wednesday, Britain's largest trade union, Unite, along with the largest public sector trade union, Unison, said they would back the FBU motion. However, the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (GMB) opposed it calling it "incredibly divisive." Senior GMB official Paul Kenny described the boycott call as "way beyond the logic of where we should be."