Boycotting settlement products: British trade unions' policies

May 16, 2012
Sarah Benton

Don’t buy settlement goods, says TUC

Press Release, TUC

The TUC and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) are today (Thursday) calling on consumers not to buy goods from illegal Israeli settlements.
Launching a leaflet – Would You Buy Stolen Goods? – and a briefing for unions to promote the campaign, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

‘Israeli settlements are built on stolen Palestinian land and are illegal under international law. By confiscating land and resources, and encouraging conflict, they make life a misery for ordinary Palestinian workers and their families. And as Israel’s recent announcement of yet more settlement building shows, they are the biggest obstacle to resuming peace talks.

‘It’s easy for us to feel powerless about this situation, but as consumers we can make a difference by not supporting the businesses that sustain these settlements. So next time you’re shopping, make sure you don’t buy goods labelled: ‘Product of the West Bank (Israeli Settlement produce)’.

‘This is not a call for a general boycott of Israeli goods and services which would hit ordinary Palestinian and Israeli workers. Nor should workers in Britain put their own jobs at risk by refusing to deal with goods from the settlement goods. Instead, we’re calling for targeted, consumer-led sanctions to send a clear message against the settlements.

‘And with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign we’re also calling on the UK Government to make sure that the EU bans the sale of these goods.’

– Would You Buy Stolen Goods? is available here  and the briefing for trade union officers is available here [excerpt below]

Israeli Settlement Goods: Ban Them, Don’t Buy Them!

Trade Union Briefing, excerpts

A campaign of boycotting goods from Israeli settlements is based on the illegality of the settlements. By ending economic support for the settlements, the aim is to increase pressure upon the Israeli government to abide by international law, dismantle its settlements and end its occupation.

‘To increase the pressure for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories, and the removal of the separation wall and the illegal settlements, we will support a boycott (where trade union members should not put their own jobs at risk by refusing to deal with such products) of those goods and agricultural products that originate in illegal settlements — through developing an effective, targeted consumer-led boycott campaign working closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.’

TUC General Council statement, September 2009

UNISON pledges support for Palestine
Press Release, Unison

UNISON delegates today agreed to support a campaign of sustained pressure to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

The union was discussing its position after a turbulent few weeks for the Palestinians, which have involved intense fighting between factions, the sacking of the Hamas prime minister and resumption of US and EC diplomatic ties.

Proposing the motion, Tracy Morgan of Wolverhampton General branch said that Palestinians were “living on tenterhooks” and that a renewed campaign would give them “a sense of hope”.

Some delegates were concerned that the move was too extreme and would penalise Israelis.

But Ms Morgan assured them that the intention was not to discriminate against the Israeli people themselves.

“The occupation needs to end so that everyone can live together. And I believe that Israelis and Palestinians do want to live together.”

The motion urges Israel to respect the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and to establish a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with its capital in Jerusalem.

Conference called on the NEC to:
continue to work with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and others, as appropriate;
continue to develop capacity building projects with the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU);
call upon the UK government to end the arms trade with Israel;
produce UNISON material on Palestine to build knowledge among members;
consider inviting a PGFTU delegation to the regions.

Palestine and Israel
Unison Briefing

UNISON has clear policy on Palestine and the Middle East peace process as set out in several National Delegate Conference (NDC) motions over the past few years. UNISON supports both a viable, independent and contiguous Palestinian state and the right of a secure Israel to exist. However, UNISON believes that this can only happen if Israel withdraws from the Occupied Territories to its 1967 borders. The Palestinian people are suffering greatly from the occupation. UNISON has, therefore, a long history of solidarity with and support for the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), including capacity building projects supported by the Unison International Development Fund – UIDF.

Relations with the Israeli labour movement
At its national delegate conference in 2010, UNISON decided to suspend normal bilateral relations with the two public service federations of the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union centre. This decision was taken in the light of the Histadrut’s support for the Israeli military attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. However, the decision was also taken given the Histadrut’s support for the military assault on Gaza, its failure to actively campaign for an end to the illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem or against the Separation Wall. This decision was reaffirmed by the 2011 conference.

In reality this means that UNISON will not invite either union to its conference or other events, will not accept invitations from either union and nor will it undertake any joint project work with either organization. We will not issue solidarity messages to either union when they undertake strike action and nor will we meet with delegations coming to the UK.

However, both UCAPSE and the Government Employees’ Union are members of Public Services International (PSI) and UCAPSE is also a member of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU). It is inevitable, therefore, that UNISON representatives will attend meetings of PSI and EPSU at which Histadrut representatives are also present. It is also very likely that UNISON will be invited to attend conferences and meetings of sister unions where the Histadrut will also have been invited. As one of the largest and most influential affiliates to PSI and EPSU UNISON will still continue to attend such meetings despite the presence of the Histadrut. However, where it may be appropriate and where it would advance the cause of the Palestinian trade union movement and people, UNISON may chose to raise the issue of Palestine and the illegal Israeli Occupation in these meetings and challenge the Histadrut representatives to make their positions clear.

UNISON has also begun to co-operate with and support other Israeli trade unions and labour movement NGOs that do oppose the Occupation. The UIDF is currently supporting Kav la’Oved, an NGO, to provide legal advice and representation to migrant workers in the Israeli social care sector. The UIDF is also helping fund a legal department for the Workers Advice Centre (WAC/Ma’an), an NGO that has now become a trade union that organizes Israeli Jewish, Palestinian and migrant workers. This is in line with previous conference decisions and UNISON should continue to work with Kav la’Oved and the Workers Advice Centre as well as other Israeli organizations who take a clear stance against the Occupation.

Motions passed at National Delegate Conference

Palestine 2009

Palestine 2008

Palestine 2007

Palestine and Israel 2006

This TUC boycott has morphed into bigotry

Discriminating against Israelis in the name of the Palestinian cause hurts any progressive agenda for a negotiated peace

Daniel Taub, comment is free,,

An NHS conference on conflict resolution for managers and union representatives has turned into a sobering lesson in how conflicts are decidedly not resolved. The guest lecturer at the conference, organised by the Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, was to be Moty Cristal, an expert in negotiation theory and mediation. But under pressure from one of the participating unions, Unison, his invitation was unceremoniously withdrawn. The reason? He is an Israeli.

At no stage, it should be emphasised, was any concern raised about Professor Cristal himself. He is, by all accounts, an expert in his field. He has lectured around the world and in the UK, including to the Muslim Council of Britain, and has been an active participant in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and back-channel dialogue. It was his Israeli nationality alone, he was informed, which made his participation “unacceptable given Unison and TUC policy on the Middle East conflict”.

This is not the first time a supposedly political boycott has seamlessly morphed into bigotry and prejudice. When two Israeli academics were “unappointed” from the editorial boards of journals at Manchester University, – again purely on the grounds of their citizenship – one of them, Gideon Toury, observed wryly: “I was appointed as a scholar and unappointed as an Israeli.”

The surfacing of pure discrimination in the guise of a political cause is only one warning siren about boycott campaigns claiming to advance a progressive agenda. Another is the revealing selectivity with which they are applied. But the most frustrating is the troubling way in which such campaigns inevitably set out to silence the very voices that anyone truly seeking peace would want to support.

A current example is the campaign to press the Globe Theatre to withdraw an invitation to the Habima theatre company, the oldest Hebrew language theatre group in the world, from performing as part of theWorld Shakespeare Festival accompanying the London 2012 Olympics. Of the 37 participating theatre companies, Habima is the only one subject to such a call. Yet Habima, with its cast of Arab and Jewish actors, and a repertory which repeatedly challenges Israeli establishment dogmas, is precisely the kind of voice that progressives should be supporting, rather than undermining.

So, too, is the Histadrut, Israel’s trade union, which represents many thousands of Israeli Arab members. It has close relations with its Palestinian counterpart, the PGFTU, working with it to advance the rights of Palestinian workers, and on other joint initiatives to advance coexistence and workers’ rights. Yet a concerted campaign is urging the TUC to break all ties with the Histadrut, while Unison already practises such a boycott.

By their nature, boycotts target places of connection and interaction, the very arenas in which dialogue and dissent are most likely to occur. Their insistent focus on censoring academics, cultural events and professional ties target in practice the very elements of society which anyone interested in fostering understanding should be wanting to bolster.

There is, to be sure, an appealing simplicity about a boycott strategy. It requires very little effort, demands no grappling with annoying complexities, or the making of challenging distinctions between moderates and extremists. Most appealing of all, it absolves one of any need to examine possible shortcomings on one’s own side.

Yet anyone concerned about building Palestinian society, rather than simply trying to demolish Israel, realises the futility of this approach. Though a staunch opponent of Israel, Edward Said cared enough about advancing Palestinian interests to recognise this: “What have years of refusing to deal with Israel done for us?” he asked. “Nothing at all, except to weaken us and weaken our perception of our opponent.”

It is sad – and revealing – that supposed pro-Palestinian activists campaigning to prevent the Habima theatre from performing are doing nothing to support Ashtar Theatre of Ramallah, which is having difficulty selling tickets in the same festival. Those who care about building the foundations for reconciliation and peace will recognise that these are the voices they should be working to amplify, not to silence.

[British-born Daniel Taub is Israel’s ambassador to the UK]

Arts boycotts, hunger strikes and the defence of Israel
15.05.12 (online)16.05.12 (print)

Israel’s ambassador, Daniel Taub, is right to say the Unison boycott is discriminatory (From boycott to bigotry, 9 May). That is the unavoidable crudity of all boycotts, which are usually last-resort expedients when governments do nothing. For many there is no other practical means of expressing, with any sniff of effectiveness, abhorrence at the relentless colonisation by Israel of the West Bank and East Jerusalem (appropriating so far well over 40% of their land mass by recent Foreign Office calculations). The fact that a significant minority of Israelis, and many Jews here, vehemently oppose both that colonisation and Gaza’s slow strangulation, with the oppression and humiliation that attends them, only underlines the complete failure of western (particularly US and UK) diplomacy, replete as it is with double standards. If the Israeli government were remotely interested in accommodation with Palestine, as opposed to its subjugation, they would long ago have ceased their annexation programme, as President Obama once rightly demanded they should – only to be ignominiously overridden by Mr Netanyahu with complete impunity. Mr Taub is yet another plausible apologist for Israeli policy which, ironically, is founded on the very “bigotry and prejudice” he charges Unison with. Some of us so avidly labelled as antisemites by Zionist hardliners believe passionately in the right of Israel to exist in peace and security behind its lawful borders, and are also convinced that its policies are profoundly self-damaging.
Andrew Phillips
House of Lords
[Andrew Phillips, Baron Phillips of Sudbury, is a LibDem life peer

• I agree with Daniel Taub that we who want justice for Palestine should support the constructive and creative voices – as many of us do (notably British Shalom-Salaam Trust). An unfortunate aspect of boycott is that it may indeed segue into bigotry; certainly to withdraw the invitation to Moty Cristal seems to illustrate that potential, as does the boycott of the Habima theatre company. But there may be some different aspects to this that could be considered. One problem with the notion of conflict resolution or negotiation between Israel and Palestine is the huge imbalance of power between the two. There is of course very effective work done at grassroots level, but nonetheless the power differential must affect the process, however well-intentioned the more powerful participants might be. This effect is vastly multiplied at the higher political level. So to condemn the boycott of any representatives of that power, or blithely talk about negotiations between the two sides, as things stand, misses the point. Although Habima is commendable for the reasons Taub outlines, the boycott is proposed because it has performed to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, thus collaborating with and in some ways legitimising illegal appropriation of occupied land. Boycott is one of the few non-violent means of protest and resistance left to a disfranchised people. True, it might perhaps be slightly more nuanced in its implementation, but it is always going to sweep over people or organisations that do not on the face of it deserve to be caught in its net. Anyone working and hoping for justice for Palestine will surely understand the necessity for its use.
Sylvia Cohen, London

• It is strange to read Daniel Taub, defending what he calls the voices speaking for peace against being boycotted, when he is representing and defending one of the most vindictive and oppressive governments in the Middle East. Faced with thousands of Palestinians imprisoned for long periods without trial, many in their teens, assassinations of suspects not proven guilty, and appropriation of hundreds of acres of land through illegal evictions alongside the building of many illegal settlements, and all in the name of defending Israel, Taub’s comments are hardly credible. It’s true, boycotts are not always the most sensitive of political actions but, for instance, their use helped remove apartheid in South Africa. Boycotts can and do work in raising moral issues; perhaps that is why so many pro-Israeli establishment figures are critical of their use. As I understand it, Habima has chosen, in the past, to perform at illegal settlements, thereby giving support to their land-grabbing presence. That, for me, at this moment, is reason enough to boycott its performances here in England.
Ernest Rodker, London

• I’m not sure how Daniel Taub knows that “supposed pro-Palestinian activists … are doing nothing to support Ashtar Theatre of Ramallah”. I was at the Globe when the theatre was at least three-quarters full at a matinee, which is not bad for a play in Arabic with minimal subtitles. And if Taub thinks that the boycotts of Israel have done “nothing at all”, why is he so exercised about them? It would be surprising if the Israeli government were not concerned about the recent successes of the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, including the Olympia Food Co-op in the US refusing to stock Israeli products, the loss of contracts worth billions of dollars by two corporations, Veolia and Alstom, which were complicit in the Israeli illegal occupation, and the pullout by Deutsche Bahn from a rail project on Palestinian land.

Taub may say he is concerned on behalf of the Palestinians, but there are plenty of Palestinians – I am one of them – who cheer every victory of the boycott movement as a sign that there are limits to Israel’s power to have things its own way.
Karl Sabbagh, Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

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