Ronnie Fraser: The view from Britain – Trade Unions Council (TUC) to Vote on Israel

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Twenty seven years ago in 1982 at the time of the first Lebanon war the Trade Unions Council (TUC) Congress adopted its first ever resolution criticising the policies of the State of Israel. Despite opposition from the TUC General Council the motion which was proposed by Fire Brigades union ended nearly 35 years of often unquestioned support for Israel and the Histadrut. It opened the door for what developed at subsequent TUC Congresses, open criticism of Israeli actions with what appears to be limited criticism of Palestinian actions.

At next month?s TUC Congress in Liverpool, the Fire Brigades union will once again attempt to change the TUC?s current policy of working with both sides in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict with a motion which calls on the TUC to promote a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, by encouraging a consumer boycott of Israeli goods and products produced in the Israeli settlements and divestment from companies who have invested in the West Bank. The resolution also calls for the TUC to review it links with the Histadrut, a UK ban on arms sales to Israel and a ban on importing on goods from West Bank settlements.

Although eighteen of Britain?s trade unions are affiliated to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign [PSC] it is by no means certain that the motion will succeed. How the two largest unions in Britain, Unison and Unite vote will be crucial in deciding if the motion will be defeated or not. In all probability the TUC will follow the lead of the academics trade union, the UCU, whose legal advice allowed them to debate and vote on a boycott motion.

If the boycott motion is passed the TUC would then tell Congress that the TUC General Council will decide what parts of the resolution can be implemented because of the possibility that calling for a boycott of Israeli goods and services could contravene UK discrimination legislation.

If the motion is adopted, the TUC will then find themselves isolated and out of step with their fellow trade unionists in America and Europe and the International Trade Union Confederation [ITUC] who are very supportive of increasing Israeli-Palestinian trade union cooperation following the signing on 24 July 2008 of a landmark cooperation agreement. Approval of the motion will also put at risk the jobs of the 26,000 Palestinians who work in the settlements, many of whom are fellow trade unionists working along side Israelis under collective agreements.

The Far Left and their partners in the PSC, who proposed the motion, are not interested nor care that a boycott will not be effective or helping the Palestinians, all they are interested in is the publicity value of yet another union decision to boycott Israel. Their campaign, which depends on media publicity, is to continually tell the world to boycott Israel and that Israel is a racist apartheid state so that eventually people will believe it. The PSC are part of the worldwide boycott, sanctions, divestment movement, which is not about reasoned criticism or debate regarding Israeli policies or behavior as its real aim is the delegitimisation of the State of Israel.

The Gaza invasion in January gave the anti-Israel boycott movement in Britain momentum because not only do they have the trade union support but they also backing from prominent NGO?s, the media and the UK government.

Implementation of a boycott motion would also feed into the level of antisemitic discourse in Britain which has become more widespread in mainstream media than ever and often goes unchallenged. The Community Security Trust [CST] writes in its latest report on anti-Semitic discourse in Britain that:

“Anti-Israel boycotts exemplify the highly charged debate over what is and is not antisemitic, in the context of anti-Israel activities. For some, unique treatment of the world?s sole Jewish state is itself a prima facie case of anti-Semitism. Boycott supporters, however, strongly deny such motivation, and often claim that the charge of anti-Semitism is knowingly and falsely levelled against them in order to shield Israel……Enacted boycotts of Israeli people, products and culture would have overwhelmingly negative physical and psychological impacts against British Jews (such as the removal of many kosher goods), in a manner quite different to how it would impact against other British people”

The CST has also reported that they recorded 609 antisemitic incidents in the first six months of 2009. This is more than the 544 incidents recorded during the whole of 2008 and the CST has never before recorded more than 600 antisemitic incidents in a calendar year. Of the 609 antisemitic
incidents recorded between Jan and June 2009 286 occurred in January alone. This figure does not include another 236 reported anti-Israel incidents that were considered not to be antisemitic.

Although David Milliband, the Foreign Secretary issued a press release in June opposing trade union boycotts, the British government has in recent months, given support to the labeling of goods from the settlements, as well as policies aimed at?curbing settlement building? and just recently, the
start of what could result in an arms boycott. The Foreign Office also listens to the influential NGOs such as OXFAM and Christian Aid and War on Want has aligned itself with the PSC. In addition there is media support from the BBC and newspapers like the Guardian and Independent who report and
recycle at every opportunity anything to do with the Gaza war and the settlements.

So there you have it, the outlook for the autumn in Britain is that even if the TUC boycott motion is defeated the boycotters are not going to go away and anti-Israeli and anti- Zionist rhetoric will continue unchecked with a knock on effect on anti-Semitism.

Anglo Jewry, which has been remarkably quiet of late, last put down a marker down in 2007 to say enough is enough when they published a legal opinion which clearly stated that the UCU?s academic boycott motions were antisemitic and infringed discrimination legislation. Surely now is the time to do the same again and obtain a legal opinion on the legality of the TUC boycott motions. If the promotion of anti-Israel boycott motions is deemed to be illegal then it is a step worth taking to take protect Anglo Jewry from further harassment.

Ronnie Fraser
Academic Friends of Israel
For more information and links:
The TUC motion P76 on Palestine
The Jerusalem Post ?British fire fighter union calls for complete
boycott of Israel?
16 August 2009
The CST report on antisemitic discourse in Britain 2008
The CST report on Antisemitic Incidents January-June 2009
Education Trade Unions working with Palestinian teachers
The _American Federation of Teachers_ ( ) (AFT),
Utdanningsforbundet, the Union of Education Norway (UEN) and Britain?s National
Union of Teachers (NUT) are all currently involved in training programmes
for Palestinian teachers. The NUT is also working with the Israeli teachers
union on developing programmes to combat anti-Semitism.
“AFT programs boost organising, communications for Palestinian teachers”
_ (
Education International training programmes for Palestinian teachers
Israeli and Palestinian Trade Unions Reach Historic Agreement
Brussels, 6 August 2008: The Israeli national trade union centre Histadrut
and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), both of
which are affiliated to the ITUC, have reached a landmark agreement to
protect the rights of Palestinian workers employed by Israeli employers, and to
base future relations on negotiations, dialogue and joint initiatives to
advance ?fraternity and coexistence between the two peoples.? The current
agreement draws on the terms of an initial 1995 agreement, which it had not
been possible to fully implement in the intervening years…….
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 co-operation and reconciliation. TULIP supports peace
and a two-state solution and does not believe in boycotts, divestment and
Trade Union Friends of Israel [TUFI] was established to promote
Israeli-Palestinian trade union co-operation and strengthen the links between the
Israeli, Palestinian and British trade union movements.
NGO Monitor generates and distributes critical analysis and reports on the output of the international NGO community.
To read more about Oxfam and Christian Aid:
NGOs and Antisemitism: Oxfam´s “Blood Oranges”, Christian Aid?s “Bethlehem’s Child”, and HRW´s “Indiscriminate killings” _
NGO Monitor´s Submission to the British Parliamentary Committee against Antisemitism (PCAA)
European Court: Boycott call is discrimination not “free speech”

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recently settled an important case about boycotts of Israel. The case was brought by Jean-Claude Fernand Willem, the former mayor of a small French town called Seclin. In October 2002, he announced that the town was going to boycott Israeli goods. After a complaint from the local Jewish community, the state prosecutor charged him with inciting discrimination under the 1881 Press Act. Mr Willem took the view that his call to boycott Israeli products was part of a political debate concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was without doubt a matter in the general interest. He complained to the ECHR that his conviction had thus constituted a violation of his right to freedom of expression within the meaning of Article 10 of the Convention.

Like the French courts, the Court took the view that Mr Willem had not been convicted for his political opinions but for inciting the commission of a discriminatory, and therefore punishable, act. The Court further noted that, under French law, the applicant was not entitled to take the place of
the governmental authorities by declaring an embargo on products from a foreign country, and moreover that the penalty imposed on him had been relatively moderate. The Court therefore found that the impugned interference had been proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and that there had been no violation of Article 10.

The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. Its rulings only apply to the country where the complaint was made, in this case France and are not are
advisory rather than mandatory on the other member states within rest the European Union.
The press release issued by the ECHR Registrar can be found here
The judgment which is in French, and can be found here:

Ronnie Fraser: The view from Britain – Trade Unions Council (TUC) to Vote on Israel

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