A challenge to Germany's labor unions

Why not follow the lead of the US labor movement and come out strongly against the UK boycott campaign?

boycott israel 88 (photo credit: )
boycott israel 88
(photo credit: )
When Saddam Hussein declared that he would incinerate half of Israel with poison gas during the Gulf War in 1991, the vocal German Jewish journalist Henryk M. Broder proposed, in a op-ed, an Israel solidarity test for Germans who never cease to affirm their support for Israel's right to exist. Broder urged Germans to book flights to Tel Aviv, thereby matching their rhetoric with action. Needless to say, German commercial planes at Frankfurt airport remained empty of travelers to Israel. More recently, Green Party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele reportedly justified rocket attacks on the Jewish population as a "logical, almost compelling consequence of Israel's politics." Ströbele has not - yet - aligned himself with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's plan to annihilate Israel. He's anyway too consumed with defeating a plan to build a McDonalds in his Berlin electoral district of Kreuzberg, an area with a large Turkish and Arab constituency. Ströbele's anti-Americanism is the flip side of prevailing left-liberal German anti-Israelism. Simply put, there's an interplay between judeophobia and anti-Americanism. THE WAVE of British trade union boycotts against Israeli products and academic institutions presents a new solidarity test for both German labor unions and - if you believe Norman Finkelstein - Germany's purportedly philo-Semitic population in general. My own view is that Germany is forced to remain image-conscious in light of the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses, beginning in 1933 ("Germans Defend Yourselves! Don't Shop at Jewish Stores!"). That helps to explain why today's German unions are not initiating, or in their wildest anti-Israel fantasies would ever propose, any boycott-Israel resolutions. But run-of-the-mill anti-Israelism was manifested in an open letter that circulated within the dominant metalworkers' union in Germany, IG Metall, demanding a "nationwide solidarity campaign with the victims of Israeli aggression." Following the pattern of many on the German Left infatuated with refuting the charge of anti-Semitism, the signatories of the letter argued that their protest was "legitimate" and ought not to be "misused for anti-Semitic propaganda." The protest letter, predictably, failed to mention the Israeli victims of Palestinian terror attacks, mirroring some deeply anchored prejudices: Israel is be blamed for every transgression; Israel is always the guilty party. Sound familiar? MEANWHILE, in the United States the Jewish Labor Committee in New York jump-started a remarkable campaign to block the British boycott of Israel. Over 30 major unions (including those representing teachers, the United Auto Workers, AFL-CIO, the Change to Win coalition of American labor unions, and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists) have all aligned themselves with the JLC campaign. In sharp contrast to their American union counterparts, German unions have neither signed a resolution condemning the British anti-Israel boycott measures, nor issued statements demanding that their sister unions in England discontinue the modern version of "Don't shop at Jewish stores." An active boycott measure against Israel surfaced in the German chapter of the popular European anti-globalization network called Attac. This local Attac group published, in 2003, an online boycott appeal urging that Israeli products from the Territories be banned in the European Union. A MORE encouraging sign is the department store chain Kaufhof, which between August 14 and 28 participated in a nationwide Israel Food Week held in 28 of its massive stores. (The Nazis "Aryanized" the businesses of the German Jewish founder of Kaufhof, Leonhard Tietz.) Most stores selling Israeli merchandise have tended to play down the Israeli origin of their products, and Kaufhof was not immune to this syndrome. Columnist Michael Miersch, who writes for the big Die Welt daily, noted on his blog that in Munich's Kaufhof store, the Israel Week display was tucked away and paled in comparison to "French Week," in which the store was "decorated like a children's birthday party." Miersch interpreted the concealed "Israel Week" as a preemptive measure so as not to stoke the possible anti-Israelism of the shoppers. Incidentally, Jewish cafes and stores in Germany require a police presence and CCTV cameras to prevent social and political violence. Are German labor union leaders, like the watered-down Kaufhof Israel display in Munich, running scared from endorsing a statement or resolution condemning the hard-core anti-Israelism of the British unions - because that would signal a confrontation with anti-Israeli attitudes and perhaps latent anti-Semitism within their memberships? Or is the indifference simply an outgrowth of failing to understand that there's a new strain of anti-Semitism in the world, often camouflaged as anti-Israelism? FOLLOWING Henryk M. Broder's lead, I propose an Israel solidarity test for the eight major labor organizations in Germany: If German trade unionists are prepared to put substance into the word "solidarity," then the following action plan ought to be embraced: a crystal-clear condemnation of the British union anti-Israel boycott measures, coupled with a series of solidarity missions that will fill one commercial plane after another with German union members on their way to Tel Aviv. Now that would be an opening German union salvo in the struggle against British - and German - anti-Israelism. Solidarity Forever! The writer is a freelance journalist living in Berlin. He has written for The Forward and contributes to Jüdische Allgemeine Zeitung, the paper for Central Council of Jews in Germany.