TUC for targetted boycott
IN a week that has seen Justice Goldstone's UN report confirm that Israeli forces carried out war crimes in Gaza, and with thousands of Palestinians having to queue at an Israeli checkpoint in the faint hope they can get to pray in al-Aksa mosque for the last Friday in Ramadan, Britain's Trade Union Congress had before it a motion proposing a boycott of Israeli goods, to press Israel to end its occupation.
Amid the howls of outrage from the Israeli embassy and right-wing newspapers, what emerged from the debate is a policy of targetted boycott, aimed at goods coming from the illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, and companies which invest in the settlements or Israel's annexation wall..
Hugh Lanning, chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said the TUC move was a "landmark" decision which followed a wave of motions passed at individual union conferences this year in reaction to Israel's onslaught on Gaza.
The Israeli embassy claimed the "reckless" boycott commitment would " inflict harm and hardship on workers throughout Israel, both Jew and Arab alike" - though of course none of the settlements being targetted is in Israel - and described it as " a slap in the face to all those who sincerely campaign for peace."
The Israeli government sends its navy to seize Palestinian fishermen off Gaza, confiscating their boats, and its army prevents medicines and building materials being taken into the devastated Gaza area. Its planes have bombed water treatment and sewage plants, even before dropping white phosphorua on civilians. But its ambassador says the TUC should "hang its head in shame" at the possible hardship caused to workers if someone does not buy some herbs exported from the West Bank settlements. What will it say if the boycott is extended to all Israeli goods and - something not yet discussed - made into a proper trade union industrial boycott?
Peace campaigners in Israel and outside will gasp in amazement at the embassy's chutzpah, before laughing out loud at the idea of Israel's ambassador in London being worried about "those who sincerely campaign for peace".
In fact the Israeli peace bloc Gush Shalom has been maintaining its own boycott of items from the settlements and and can provide a list. It has been difficult to draw a distinction here because Israel labelled settlement goods as its own produce in order they could enjoy European Union privilege. European Jews for Just Peace (EJJP) have tried to get something done about this by lobbying the Brussels parliament.
As for firms involved in construction of the Wall or the segregated roads and settler light railway, EJJP have added their voice to that of Palestinians and NGO's like War on Want in campaignong for disinvestment.
Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, says unions "have a part to play" in seeing an end to the occupation, a dismantling of the separation wall and the removal of the illegal settlements. "We believe that targeted action – aimed at goods from the illegal settlements and at companies involved in the occupation and the wall – is the right way forward.
"This is not a call for a general boycott of Israeli goods and services, which would hit ordinary Palestinian and Israeli workers but targeted, consumer-led sanctions directed at businesses based in, and sustaining, the illegal settlements."
Delegates had backed a motion from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) calling for a general boycott, and the revised position agreed by the general council, which takes precedence in forming TUC policy. The TUC statement, successfully limited the boycott by restricting it to goods from the illegal settlement.
The TUC is also committed now to reviewing its relations with Israel's Histadrut union federation, which endorsed the Gaza war, and to demanding that the British government curtial arms sales to Israel..
Mick Shaw, the FBU president, said the general council statement did not go far enough. "It's not just an issue of a boycott of goods produced in illegal settlements. Firstly, we think that impractical. These goods do not come with a label which says 'these goods are produced on an illegal settlement'. We feel we need to have discussions with Palestinian trade unions, discussions with the PLC [Palestinian Legislative Council], where we can put most pressure on the Israeli government and to target a consumer boycott better."
Speaking after the debate, Shaw said the TUC policy now in place "was an important shift" in reaction to the military action earlier this year. "We will now try to identify goods and products where the most pressure can be put on the Israeli government to persuade them to change their policies."
Hugh Lanning, chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said it was a "landmark" decision which followed a wave of motions passed at union conferences this year because of "outrage" at Israel's "brutal war" on Gaza.
The University and College Union, one of the first to consider a boycott campaign, albeit confusedly, backed down from even inviting Palestinian academics to promote discussion, after threats of legal action by American Zionists. It has obtained a clause in the new policy which says that "in undertaking these actions each affiliate will operate within its own aims and objectives within the law".