Last weekend Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) and We Believe in Israel organised a very productive seminar for activists concerned about the impact of BDS and the singling out of Israel within the trade union movement.
Those attending held a wide range of views on Israel’s current policies and government, but were in broad agreement over the way Israel is targeted for disproportionate scrutiny, a scrutiny which, as we heard from grassroots activists, may manifest itself as open antisemitism.
There was a good discussion of the (contested) boundary between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism. A poster with the slogan ‘End the siege in Gaza’, it was suggested, is a legitimate intervention even if you don’t agree with all its implied premises. However ‘Well done Israel, Hitler would be proud’, accompanied by a swastika, clearly crosses the line.
Whereas many unions are happy to affiliate with groups such as PSC or Stop the War, TUFI has been proscribed in various ways by unions such as GMB, Unite and Unison. Rather than trying to encourage supportive links between Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists, in a spirit of both solidarity and conflict resolution, hard left activists try to sow division between them. With this aim in mind, some pro-Palestinian activists in the West have accused Palestinian workers of selling out, even (ironically) of undoing their (i.e. the Western activists’) work.
Avital Shapira of Histadrut joined the seminar by Skype. She described both the general successes of Israeli trade unions (negotiating an increase in the minimum wage, improving the rights of contract workers, unionising workers in less traditional sectors such as high tech industries) and achievements specifically relating to Palestinian workers. Many Palestinian (as opposed to Arab Israeli) workers are employed in construction, and Histadrut, as well as working on their behalf, remits half their dues to the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in a very concrete gesture of solidarity.
One theme which emerged in discussion was the importance of continuing to speak out even when the cards seem stacked against you. Being able to identify sympathetic reps, or people willing to offer an alternative perspective on these issues, is heartening for those who don’t find their own views reflected in their union’s policies, or the voices of their most vocal activists.