Britain’s Trades Union Congress votes for BDS against Israel

From the Thursday, September 17, 2009 Palestine Telegraph:

Britain’s trade unions go for a mass boycott against Israel

September 17, 2009 (Pal Telegraph)—In a landmark decision, Britain’s trade unions have voted overwhelmingly to commit to build a mass boycott movement, disinvestment and sanctions on Israel for a negotiated settlement based on justice for Palestinians. The motion was passed at the 2009 TUC Annual Congress in Liverpool today (17 September), by unions representing 6.5 million workers across the UK.

Hugh Lanning, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: ‘This motion is the culmination of a wave of motions passed at union conferences this year, following outrage at Israel’s brutal war on Gaza, and reflects the massive growth in support for Palestinian rights. We will be working with the TUC to develop a mass campaign to boycott Israeli goods, especially agricultural products that have been produced in illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank.’

The motion additionally called for the TUC General Council to put pressure on the British government to end all arms trading with Israel and support moves to suspend the EU-Israel trade agreement. Unions are also encouraged to disinvest from companies which profit from Israel’s illegal 42-year occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

The motion was tabled by the Fire Brigades Union. The biggest unions in the UK, including Unite, the public sector union, and UNISON, which represents health service workers, voted in favour of the motion.

The motion also condemned the Israeli trade union Histadrut’s statement supporting Israel’s war on Gaza, which killed 1,450 Palestinians in three weeks, and called for a review of the TUC’s relationship with Histadrut.

Britain’s trade unions join those of South Africa and Ireland in voting to use a mass boycott campaign as a tool to bring Israel into line with international law, and pressure it to comply with UN resolutions that encourage justice and equality for the Palestinian people.

From the Guardian:

Israel: TUC boycott on goods produced in illegal settlements is ‘slap in face’
Israeli embassy says boycott will harm ‘Jew and Arab alike’ and calls for TUC to ‘hang its head in shame’

A targeted boycott of Israeli goods originating from illegal settlements agreed by the TUC today to step up the pressure “for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories” was described by Israel as a “slap in the face” for those seeking peace in the Middle East.

Hugh Lanning, chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, described the TUC move as a “landmark” decision which followed a wave of motions passed at individual union conferences this year because of “outrage” at Israel’s “brutal war” on Gaza.

But the Israeli embassy rounded on the “reckless” commitment to a boycott passed at the TUC congress following protracted behind-the-scenes disputes.

A spokesman for the embassy said the TUC should “hang its head in shame”.

“Any boycott will inflict harm and hardship on workers throughout Israel, both Jew and Arab alike. Boycotts would not promote progress or understanding, but would be a slap in the face to all those who sincerely campaign for peace.”

Reiterating the union’s condemnation of the offensive, Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, told union delegates that they “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.

In the most controversial motion to be debated at the four-day conference in Liverpool, Barber told delegates: “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.”

The embassy accuses British trade unions of taking a one sided approach to the conflict and ignoring the suffering of Israel citizens.

“The boycott statement fails to acknowledge Israel’s obligation to protect its citizens from terror and issues no calls on Gaza’s rulers or the Arab world to address Israel’s legitimate security concerns.

“Both prime minister Brown and foreign secretary Miliband have condemned boycotts of the State of Israel. We will continue to strive to prevent such motions, in cooperation with Israel’s friends within the TUC, who recognise the absurdity of this motion.”

The TUC’s governing body thrashed out its position at a crisis meeting today to block a tougher stance by the Fire Brigades Union, which called for a general boycott of Israeli goods.

Delegates backed both the FBU’s motion and a revised position agreed by the general council, which takes precedence in forming TUC policy. The TUC statement, while significantly beefing up an initial draft following rows on the general council, successfully limited the boycott by restricting it to goods from the illegal settlement.

The TUC statement condemned both the Israeli January offensive and the rocket attacks on Israeli citizens.

Barber said: “Both were unacceptable, and both have led to the UN investigation concluding that war crimes may have been committed. The blockade of Gaza, which continues to this day, is intolerable collective punishment.”

The statement called on the British government to make appropriate representations to the international community to secure lasting peace through a negotiated settlement based on “justice for the Palestinians and on security for Israel.”

The TUC wants an end to arms sales to Israel, which it claims rose to £18.8m last year, up from £7.7m the year before.

Several unions are furious with Israel’s TUC equivalent body, Histadrut, for a statement issued in January which backed the attacks in Gaza, which resulted in 1,540 deaths and left 5,000 injured. Barber said the TUC would continue to press Histadrut to take a firmer line, and to help Israel and Palestinian unions to work together for the prospect of peace of people in their region.

“The situation in the Middle east is Grim,” said Barber. “Our brothers and sisters every day face terrible problems. They need all our support in creating a just and lasting peace. President Obama is now trying to move things forward and we all wish him every success. But we too have a part to play.”

Tabling the FBU motion, 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 TUC position gives individual unions an opt out following pressure from the University and College Union in a clause which says that “in undertaking these actions each affiliate will operate within its own aims and objectives within the law”.

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