Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine

by Stuart Appelbaum

Last month, the Scottish Trade Unions Congress became the most recent in a series of unions that has called for a boycott of Israeli products.  Support for boycotting, divesting from and sanctions against the Jewish state appears to be gaining momentum.  It has already won considerable support from trade unions in South Africa, Ireland, the U.K., and Norway.  It seems unstoppable.  But we intend to stop it.

TULIP – Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine – is a new global movement that believes in engaging with workers and their unions in Israel and Palestine, promoting cooperation and reconciliation.  We do not believe in boycotts, divestment and sanctions.  We believe in peace and in a two-state solution to the conflict.

Our new global movement seeks allies in unions and NGOs everywhere who want to work together to demand respect for all Palestinians, Israelis and guest workers living in this region. We believe we can take significant strides towards peace and reconciliation if we support those working to improve the living standards of all working people in the region.

There are outstanding examples of cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian unions that need to be encouraged.  For example, there’s a remarkable initiative being launched by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) to make life much easier for Palestinian drivers.

This has been a small but groundbreaking union agreement encouraging dialogue between the Palestinian and Israeli national trade union centers, as well as individual unions and their members on both sides of the Green Line. This agreement will help improve the livelihoods of hardworking union truckers and their families.

This innovative model upholds the traditional role of trade unions when faced with disputes of this kind – bridging the gap between nations at war, encouraging peace, justice and reconciliation. It is a trade union tradition and role that we are particularly proud to uphold.

We also applaud the role of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which has helped broker cooperation agreements between Israel’s national trade union center, the Histadrut, and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).

It is unfortunate that in recent years, a number of national unions and trade union centers have changed course and abandoned that role.  Instead, they have rallied behind those Palestinians who are opposed to the peace process.  Some have gone so far as to deny Israel’s right to exist.

In backing the Hamas terrorists who deny Israel’s right to exist, they have thrown their support behind Iran’s power play in the region.  And the Iranian regime is no friend of the trade union movement.  Iran – and its Hamas puppets – has a long record of suppressing trade unions and human rights.

Those who support the boycott of Israel do nothing to promote peace, justice and reconciliation – in actual fact they harm those who want to end the political hegemony of the extremists on both sides.

The boycott stance provides succor to the extremists in Israel and Palestine who refuse to accept the humanity of the other, who refuse to respect the rights of all workers in the region to be able to build decent lives for themselves and their families in a peaceful, just and democratic climate.

We believe the time has come for trade unionists around the world to join forces in support of genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace with justice, based on a two-state solution with secure and recognized borders.

There are already unions and associated NGOs in a number of countries that support this goal.  But they are fighting this battle alone, each in their own country.  It is time we united our forces.

It is time for TULIP–Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine.

At a time when the opponents of a two-state solution are stepping up their destructive agenda of boycotts and sanctions targeting Israel, it is time for trade unionists in all countries to go on the offensive to challenge the apologists for Hamas and Hezbollah in the labor movement.

We have no illusions that this will be anything other than a long and difficult process.  But there is no acceptable alternative.  We cannot abandon the field to those whose goal is to destroy any chance for a real Israeli-Palestinian peace.

We welcome trade unionists from all countries to join us.

Stuart Appelbaum is president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).  Paul Howes is national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, and Michael J. Leahy, OBE, is General Secretary of Community (United Kingdom).

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