The TUC boycott conflict, Carter and Obama

I haven’t been able to give due attention to recent boycott events, including Jane Fonda’s apology for signing a boycott petition, anti-Israel policy passed by Canadian Christians, and Samuel Maoz’s anti-boycott statement on the occasion of his Venice Film Festival win. Many more links slide through my fingers, but I managed to grab hold of the TUC.

Boycotting activists have forced the Trade Union Congress to dedicate mind-boggling amounts of time, energy and aggression to debating punitive sanctions against Israel. The TUC should be ashamed to even be considering abandoning Israeli workers – the ‘Global Solidarity’ section of its Final Agenda is misnamed and even more miniscule than the Green Party’s Autumn Conference international business with its perennial and hostile attention to the tiny state of Israel. Why always and only Israel? is an unavoidable question without any reassuring answer, and the weird singularity of boycott activism against Israel makes most Jews feel rightly insecure. And yet it’s the only aspect of the conference I heard about on the News today, and most of the country must now think the TUC is fiddling while Rome is burnt to a crisp.

A policy of boycotting Israel is a badge of conflict for an organisation, a flat denial of the needs of Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers, nothing to do with solidarity, nothing to do with the labour movement. The TUC should vote it down and ponder instead why the Israeli workers movement might have supported action against Gaza, why it is so important to boycotters to minimise the role of Palestinians in the conflict, and what is to be done to get Israeli and Palestinian workers to recognise their shared interests in ending it.

Walking over London Bridge today, I heard the following BBC Radio 4 6 o’Clock News analysis by North America editor Mark Mardell – which I transcribe from about 19:54 – of the vitriol directed at Barack Obama ostensibly for his incendiary proposed health care reforms. I thought that what was said about this is also true for the zombie-like boycott campaign against Israel.


“Here in South Carolina less than a decade ago the Confederate battle flag fluttered above the state capitol building, and Congressman Joe Wilson was one of a handful of politicians who voted to keep it flying. It’s perhaps why his heckling of the president with the battle cry “You lie” has echoed across the nation, allowing a usually subterranean debate to bubble to the surface. Some feel the vitriolic contempt to President Obama in many public meetings organised by his opponents is because he’s black. Former president Jimmy Carter says it’s abominable.

[Excerpt of Carter’s speech in Atlanta] “There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African American ought not be President and ought not be given the same respect as if he were white, and this has permeated politics ever since I have been involved in it back to the 1960s”.

The part of Mark Mardell’s piece which resonated with the boycott campaign and its context in the history of the world’s relationship with its Jews was this:

“But many Conservatives feel that kind of talk is a smear used to stifle legitimate debate and smother heart-felt anger. It is of course very difficult to pin down the precise reasons for the fury that President Obama evokes in his opponents, and naive to think it has only one cause, but the relationship between the white majority and the black minority has been a huge factor in American politics from Civil War to civil rights and it would be extraordinary if it played no part in perceptions of America’s first black president.”

This is right, and it’s also the responsible way to view the furious hostility directed at Israel, and its attendant antisemitism.

On Mark Mardell’s blog there are already 417 responses to his question:

“So I am describing and inviting debate, not passing comment. The relationship between black and white has been such an important driving factor in American political history that it would be strange if it now mattered not a jot. The allegation is that many of those who are calling their president “un-American” mean he is not white. Democratic propaganda, over-sensitivity or truth? Tell me…”

Definitely worth a look.

Obama is resolved to take all criticism of his incendiary health care reform proposals at face value, which is very thought-provoking, but not for this post.

Update: We should congratulate the trade unionists who succeeded in reasoning boycotters away from their moribund position of total boycott. TUC statement; Brendan Barber’s speech on the subject; Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine point to the good aspects of the statement (the fostering of PGFTU-Histadrut projects); Michael Leahy speaks at the Trade Union Friends of Israel fringe meeting; Histadrut calls for peace and cooperation.