Eini to US Jewish leaders: Don’t underestimate BDS movement

Chairman of the Histadrut labor federation says that the boycott movement against Israel is “doing a good job all over the world.”

NEW YORK – Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, told Jewish leaders in New York on Wednesday not to underestimate the power of the BDS boycott movement, and pledged to speak as often as possible to combat its efforts to sow anti-Israel sentiment among international unions.
Eini, who is also vice president of the International Trade Unions Confederation, spoke at a briefing about the relationship between the Israeli and American labor movements, and about efforts being made to combat the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign to delegitimize Israel. The event was hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the World Jewish Congress.
Eini said that the BDS movement against Israel is “doing a good job all over the world,” citing its efforts at the International Trade Unions Confederation last June in Vancouver as illustrative of the scope of its reach.
“There was a chance that Israeli merchandise wouldn’t be able to go on the world seas,” Eini said, as a result of potential international union opposition to dealing with Israel, “and from my perspective, that would mean the destruction of the Israeli economy.”
Eini, in what may be an allusion to his own political aspirations, closed his prepared remarks by stating that “nothing – not the BDS, and not other phenomena – will stay my hand from continuing to tighten my relationship with the Palestinians for the benefit of the State of Israel.”
Eini also discussed Israeli efforts to help the Palestinian labor movement, mentioning his own work in opening classes for Palestinians to work in Israeli construction projects, creating an IDF hotline to ease transportation into the territories, and ensuring that pension agreements apply to Palestinian as well as Israeli workers.
He also said that over the past month, legal advice services have been set up for Palestinian workers in Israel.
Despite these efforts, Eini said, BDS is gaining traction internationally, but he hopes to combat it.
“The union of a democracy that wants an equal society can be the bridge” to that society, he said, adding that he hopes that work with Israelis and Palestinians in the labor context will be a small manifestation of a process toward peace.
In a question-and-answer period, Eini mentioned his meeting with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka this past week, saying that it reinforced Israel’s strong ties with the American unions, and that he had invited Trumka to make an official visit to Israel.
“The American unions support us and reinforce us,” Eini said, noting that he has met with Trumka before. “I think our relationship with the union is very important for the State of Israel.”
“The conversation with him yesterday went very well, and showed his willingness to help us... He understands the difficulties that we have to cope with, and he promised to help,” Eini said of Trumka.
Eini said his week-long visit was intended to forge a stronger relationship with the American Jewish community.
“The basis of my visit was to start a good relationship between me, the Histadrut and with the Jewish organizations in America and also overseas,” he said. “We all think together and we all have one interest – the strength of the State of Israel and peace in the Middle East. I don’t think there is one person here who thinks otherwise. I think it’s the beginning of a cooperation that we can sit together and we get to the conclusion, what do we need to do in order to cope with the problems that threaten us.”
When asked about the current social workers strike in Israel, Eini was nothing if not diplomatic in his refusal to discuss the issue.
“I’ve learned one thing – I will never attack our prime minister when I’m in another country. That’s my rule. I can only support him,” Eini said to applause.