Support progressives in Israel by all means, but don’t vilify boycotts

The idea of nations and peoples cooperating instead of fixating on individual respective national interests is popular in trade union movements due to the strongly held principles of solidarity that come with trade unionism.

Gary Spedding is a freelance journalist and writer

The idea of nations and peoples cooperating instead of fixating on individual respective national interests is popular in trade union movements due to the strongly held principles of solidarity that come with trade unionism.

Unfortunately, this type of internationalism cannot succeed at campaigning for peace, nor will it achieve cooperation or engender true solidarity, within a context of inequality, ignorant of the power dynamics in play – that of a military occupier (Israel) and those occupied by it (Palestinians).

Speeches such as Emine Ibrahim’s paint a highly misleading scenario by implying boycotts are against progressive forces. This is demonstrably not the case when one reviews that in majority of cases where a boycott is implemented it is done to specifically target or highlight an action or activity that is illegal under international law, or contrary to basic human rights standards.

When defining ‘solidarity’ between Palestinian and Israeli workers one mustn’t condition such as only legitimate if explicitly supporting a ‘peace process’ that has brought no substantial progress, only strife in the last 20 years.

A combination of honesty and trust – key factors when seeking progressive solutions to protracted conflicts – is required.

There is no doubt that trade unionists mostly support cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis, but claims that “almost all trade union centres” favour a defunct peace process is unfounded. Trade union members need to listen when analysts on the ground, such as +972 Magazine’s Noam Sheizaf, discuss that “there is no peace process, nor has there been one in recent times”.

Critique of the Histadrut

In the admittedly succinct speech from Ms Ibrahim, one sees outspoken support for Histadrut intertwined with factual errors and a tendentious version of reality.

Throughout the Mandate era, Histadrut collaborated with the Jewish Agency and actively colluded with Britain to deny Palestinians their right to self-determination. Or so Tom Segev alleges in his book One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate.

In earlier years, Histadrut certainly didn’t achieve free democratic trade unionism, rather it actively organised boycotts of Arab produce and until 1959 did not even permit Palestinian Arabs membership rights.

Indeed, where Palestinian Arabs are concerned the Histadrut fails to represent, especially in the occupied Territories, where [Palestinians] have been employed in appalling conditions with no security of tenure, a lack of health and safety protection and no minimum wage.

A recent report from Kav LaOved highlights this reality in great detail, demonstrating the obstacles and forms of exploitation faced by Palestinians who have to participate in a system currently defended by Histadrut and those feigning sentiments of ‘cooperation’.

Quite simply, Histadrut is not a progressive force inside Israel today. Through boycotting, the international community sends a critical message: workers everywhere reject complicity in human rights abuses, belligerent occupation and illegal unilateral actions.

Histadrut’s conformity is what brings damage not only to the prospect of peace but justice, revealing an unwillingness to challenge right-wing anti-Palestinian policies held by Israel’s government.

Support for the labour movement in Israel in its current form is effectively propping up the status quo. Palestinians cannot accept a permanent situation whereby Israeli settlements thrive while Palestinian rights continue being thrashed.

Legally speaking

When assessing Israeli conduct, UN Treaty Bodies have concluded that Israel’s practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories violate not only the provisions of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), but further violate Palestinians’ economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights enshrined in several bodies of international human rights law (IHRL).

Trade Unions have an obligation to ensure that in any undertaking they do not have an adverse impact upon or act in conformity with abuses of Palestinian human rights.

Justice is a basic pre-requisite for a peace in protracted conflict. The Israel/Palestine situation, whilst complex in its own right with its own unique nuances, is no different to any other conflict in this particular respect.

Supporting genuine progressives in Israel and Palestine

Boycotting without sending an appropriate message detailing clearly ‘WHY’ is as useful as full complacency in crimes in this context. Numerous progressive organisations such as Rabbis for Human Rights, Zochrot – who try to encourage Israelis to look at the Palestinian narrative and educators teaching the Palestinian Nakba in spite of political persecution by the Israeli government – deserve our support rather than non-engagement.

We should respect that two national people groups live in Israel-Palestine – each possessing rights of self-determination – and are fully capable of finding ways to co-exist. For some this means a two state solution. For others it means a common bi-national or democratic state encompassing both peoples, a regional confederation, or any another arrangement that respects human, national and democratic rights to determine a future.

Supporting progressives in Israel should, whilst the occupation endures, always be done in the context of co-resistance. We shouldn’t be vilifying legitimate, nonviolent means of resistance like boycotts.

4 Responses to “Support progressives in Israel by all means, but don’t vilify boycotts”

  1. alex_bjarnason

    An thought provoking response Gary. Some things I’d like to pick up on:

    “Unfortunately, this type of internationalism cannot succeed at campaigning for peace, nor will it achieve cooperation or engender true solidarity, within a context of inequality, ignorant of the power dynamics in play – that of a military occupier (Israel) and those occupied by it (Palestinians).”

    Are you suggesting solidarity should only go to workers in Palestine and not Israel, due
    to the actions of the latter’s government? If so, which other countries do you propose suspending solidarity with? Do you think we should break solidarity with American trade unionists because of their own government’s foreign policy? What is your position on Turkey, involved in a dispute in Cyprus? How about Iran, are we breaking solidarity because of their involvement in Syria?

    “Speeches such as Emine Ibrahim’spaint a highly misleading scenario by implying boycotts are against progressive forces. This is demonstrably not the case when one reviews that in majority of cases where a boycott is implemented it is done to specifically target or highlight an action or activity that is illegal under international law, or contrary to basic human rights standards”

    I can’t speak for Emine, but the argument I’ve made regarding progressive forces is that boycotts harm the people in Israel who share our values and want an end to the occupation and peace- by harming those people, you harm our shared desire for peace and a resolution of the conflict. I don’t think anyone is suggesting we are opposed to boycotts because we shouldn’t be highlighting violations of international law. That would be especially odd considering progressive forces within Israel have been the most tireless and effective at highlighting Israeli human rights violations (e.g. btselem).

    “When defining ‘solidarity’ between Palestinian and Israeli workers one mustn’t condition such as only legitimate if explicitly supporting a ‘peace process’ that has brought no substantial progress, only strife in the last 20 years.”

    I’m all for workers on both sides concentrating on worker rights or solidarity and leaving
    politics out of it, but I’m worried you are suggesting we should work with people who don’t support a peace process- that seems like a recipe for disaster… and more, not less, conflict.

    “A combination of honesty and trust – key factors when seeking progressive solutions to protracted conflicts – is required.”

    Well, quite. And you think boycotting the Histadrut or Israelis is going to achieve that? How exactly are you going to build honesty and trust with people you won’t talk to?

    “There is no doubt that trade unionists mostly support cooperation between Palestinians
    and Israelis, but claims that “almost all trade union centres” favour a defunct peace process is unfounded. ”

    Sorry to be a pedant, but British trade unions overwhelmingly DO support the peace process, and rightly so. They share our frustration at the relative lack of progress, and probably our pessimism that anything major will change immediately, but I think everyone recognises that there isn’t an alternative to a two-state solution formed through peaceful means. If you see an alternative, I’d like to hear what it is.

    “In earlier years, Histadrut certainly didn’t achieve free democratic trade unionism, rather it actively organised boycotts of Arab produce and until 1959 did not even permit Palestinian Arabs membership rights.”

    We could get into a long discussion about the history of the Histadrut, about the fact they wanted to encourage jews to work the land and not just pay arabs to do the work for them, we could talk about the fact you are advocating a boycott yourself and condemning others for having done so in the past, and we could talk about the fallacy that the Israelis and British conspired to stop Palestinians having a right to self determination when the British and Israelis supported partition and the Palestinians rejected it…. But faced with all the problems in the world today, you want to concentrate on international and trade union policy from over 50 years ago? We can have endless discussions about the past, about the formation of the state, about the Nakba and war of independence, or the holocaust, or jewish history from biblical times and the first and second temples. Or we can exert our energies into what’s happening now and what we want to happen in the future. What
    will it be Gary- the past or the future?

    “Indeed, where Palestinian Arabs are concerned the Histadrut fails to represent, especially in the occupied Territories, where [Palestinians] have been employed in appalling conditions with no security of tenure, a lack of health and safety protection and no minimum wage.”

    The Histadrut successfully lobbied to have Israeli labor law extended into settlements so Palestinians would have those very rights. Are there issues with worker rights there? Yes, just like there are issues with workers rights in every single country in the world- that’s why trade unions exist. The fact such issues exist, with the trade union aware of it and trying to fight it, shouldn’t be used to attack them.

    “Quite simply, Histadrut is not a progressive force inside Israel today”

    They went on general strike last year to fight for the rights of contract workers- the absolute epitome of fighting for progressive values. The Histadrut are at the forefront of fighting for workers rights across the country, they are signing up tens of thousands of new members, they are unionizing in infamously anti-union companies and industries (mcdonalds, cellcom), and they are in a big fight. If international solidarity means anything, it’s seeing that and wanting to help them in their struggle.

    “Through boycotting, the international community sends a critical message: workers
    everywhere reject complicity in human rights abuses, belligerent occupation and illegal unilateral actions.”

    How do you think boycotting a left-wing Israeli institution sends that message? Again and
    again I come back to this- you strengthen the hand of the Israeli right wing who say ‘these people hate us, they don’t understand us” and we lose the opportunity to speak to people in Israel who are naturally opposed to the things you mention- they want to fight for workers rights but they want a just and lasting peace. Lets talk to them! Lets help them! Come on Gary, these people dislike Benjamin Netanyahu more than you do!

    “Histadrut’s conformity is what brings damage not only to the prospect of peace but justice,
    revealing an unwillingness to challenge right-wing anti-Palestinian policies held by Israel’s government.”

    Israel currently has a right wing government who are attempting to bring in an agenda
    of austerity, and who are anti-union. The Histadrut has a massive fight on against that government. There is a limit to how much they can do- they have legitimacy for a domestic agenda as they relate to workers rights and social justice. And this is why there is a political left wing in Israel, under the banner of Labour & Meretz. THEY have the job to hold the government to account and challenge their policies, which is exactly what Labour have done in conjunction with one voice for the 2-state caucus- something I’d like to think
    you agree is very positive?

    “Support for the labour movement in Israel in its current form is effectively propping
    up the status quo.”

    Do you think the TUC and British government are the same? Do you think the TUC props
    up the British status quo? Of course not, the labour movement and government are distinct.

    “Justice is a basic pre-requisite for a peace in protracted conflict”

    Gary, I support peace and justice. I think we get there through peace talks and
    negotiations. Don’t you?

    “We should respect that two national people groups live in Israel-Palestine – each possessing rights of self-determination – and are fully capable of finding ways to co-exist. For some this means a two state solution. For others it means a common bi-national or democratic state encompassing both peoples, a regional confederation, or any another arrangement that respects human, national and democratic rights to determine a future.”

    Cards on the table time Gary- do you support a two-state solution or not? Do you think an
    Israeli state has the right to live alongside a Palestinian state? If not, I think you need to clearly state who you think doesn’t have the right to self determination.

    “Supporting progressives in Israel should, whilst the occupation endures, always be done in the context of co-resistance. “

    It depends how you define resistance. I think the Peres Centre for Peace does extraordinary work bringing together Israelis and Palestinians in peaceful co-existence that develops bonds and friendship and breaks down barriers. I think that work is incredible and should be supported, do you? Because I think you probably do admire the work they do, but it’s not co-resistance, is it?

  2. Tzimmes

    Who the hell are you to recommend anything ? You are a total irrelevance. Grow up ,get a job and live in the real world.

  3. Ian

    The Trade Union Movement should be involved in positive work that helps build bridges between the Histadrut & the Palestine General Federation Of Trade Unions – these campaigns help assist the Peace Process by encouraging Dialogue between the Labour Movements of both Nations .
    British Trade Unionists should reject Boycotts ( orchestrated by extremist political elements whose real aim is to destroy Israel ) which can only wreck the constructive work that has been achieved to aid the PGFTU & Histadrut .

  4. abebird

    You have lack of knowledge what’s going on the West Bank….. the Arab
    workers in the West Bank (areas A+B+C)
    are paid by the law and customs of the PA. Israel has nothing to their welfare,
    salaries and social rights. But the Arabs that are working in the settlers industry
    are paid 10 times more than their Arabs workers. There are Arab managers and
    professional workers in the factories of the Jews.

    On the other hand, there are plenty of Arabs that enter Israel by daily
    basis for searching daily jobs; parts of them do it illegally. In that case, no
    law can protect them. Those who are working legally earn good salary equating
    to what they had been paid in the PA (if they had a job at all). You should
    never forget that the PA is still the enemy of Israel and not an institute that
    recognized Israel right to exist and didn’t make peace with Israel yet.

    Israel making all efforts to help the PA either

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W50WUMmfeMo

    By the way, how the US treats its Mexican workers?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo1pUjQHj_I

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