We should be supporting progressive forces in Israel, not boycotting them

In a long standing tradition, internationalism has been about campaigning for peace, cooperation, economic development and education.

By Emine Ibrahim, chair of Redbridge Unison, Greater London Region

Below is Emine’s speech to the UNISON National Delegate Conference on Thursday, June 20.

In a long standing tradition, internationalism has been about campaigning for peace, cooperation, economic development and education.

I am sure that I do not need to remind any of you that this is most needed in the Middle East, where all efforts should be made toward seeking and facilitating solidarity between Palestinian and Israeli workers who support the peace process.

This is the policy supported by almost all trade union centres around the world.

I speak against this motion because it omits to mention or support unions which organise under the umbrella of the Histadrut. It is such a shame that a great union like Unison is continuing to pursue the boycott of the Israeli TUC and these non-constructive efforts which are damaging progressive forces in Israel. It is not right or fair that sister organisations are not supported in their common struggle for Labour rights. 

It is also an irony that the Histadrut is now being ignored when it has a history of achieving free democratic trade unionism and last year alone it negotiated a seven per cent pay rise for all public sector workers over two years. I repeat conference seven per cent! Not the derisory one per cent we have on the table. The Israeli trade unions have also managed to secure recognition and bargaining rights at IKEA and McDonald’s, notorious anti-trade union multinationals.

We should be learning lessons – they have something to offer us and we have something to offer them. This must include playing a constructive and facilitative role in bringing together Palestinian and Israeli workers in the spirit of workers solidarity.

You may have been told otherwise but the Histadrut unites hundreds and thousands of members regardless of religion or race. Palestinian Israelis make up 20 per cent of its membership. That’s one in five members. They have also taken high court action to win higher pay and union rights for West Bank workers. A functioning relationship exists with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions despite efforts by some in the UK to break this relationship.

The Histadrut is not part of the Israeli government nor is it an unwavering supporter; they have called for an end to settlement construction and the blockade of Gaza to be lifted.

We should be supporting progressive forces and the Labour movement in Israel by sending out messages of hope. We should not be telling Palestinians that we don’t think they have anything to gain from engaging with the majority of workers in Israel.

There is everything to gain! We are internationalists and fellow workers and our interests are the same. We need to reengage with the Israeli Labour movement and  do all we can to progress our internationalist principles.

We cannot continue to obstruct the ability of our fellow workers in the Middle East to work together toward a just and progressive peace in the region which ensures justice for Palestine and security for Israel.

Our message from Unison Conference 2013 must be a message of hope, that we want them to and are willing to help them to work together. We must also send a message of support in their struggle on both sides for fair and just labour rights and ultimately a fair and just solution.

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