The blog of Eric Lee - web design and internet consulting for the trade union movement.

Unions - If you want to help the Palestinians, don't boycott Israel

In the last several weeks, unions in a number of countries have been engaged in a wide-ranging and often acrimonious debate over the subject of boycotting Israel.

In Britain, both the National Union of Journalists and the University and College Union -- together representing some 155,000 journalists and university lecturers -- have called for a boycott of Israel. At its upcoming conference, the country's second largest union, the 1.4 million member Unison, is likely to do the same -- or else pass a somewhat watered-down version of the call. The unions and professional associations of architects and doctors are considering similar steps.

At a recent conference in London organised by the South East Region of the Trades Union Congress, the lay president of the TUC found herself alone and somewhat isolated defending the national centre's traditional position of support for a two-state solution and engaging with both the Palestinian and Israeli unions.

Nearly all the major unions in Britain have rallied behind the newly-formed "Enough" coalition which is calling for widespread protest against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands forty years after the June 1967 Six Day War.

The debate is not confined to Britain alone. South African unions have long been champions of the Palestinian cause and have recently intensified their involvement in demonstrations and boycott calls. In Canada, the decision in 2006 by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in Ontario to call for a boycott of Israel made headlines. Several years ago, Norwegian unions backed a call for a boycott of products produced in the Jewish state.

But lest one think that there is a consensus in the international trade union movement, there is not.

The decision by the UCU to call for a boycott of Israel produced a strong response not only within Britain, but overseas as well. The giant American Federation of Teachers (with 1.3 million members) strongly condemned the UCU decision. And when CUPE Ontario decided to back the boycott, they were condemned publicly by, among others, the head of the Canadian Auto Workers, Buzz Hargrove.

The reaction of the Israeli unions themselves has been swift and strong. The head of the union in Israel's ports has already threatened to instruct members to stop unloading British ships and planes if the boycott threat becomes real. The leader of the Histadrut national trade union centre, Ofer Eini, has issued a public call on British unions to back down.

Meanwhile, many Palestinian trade unionists have publicly backed the call for a boycott of Israel, though there have some exceptions -- including university teachers.

It is a debate which is tearing apart the international trade union movement and at its core is a workers' rights issue.

Proponents of the boycott within the trade union movement are basically giving up on the Israeli left and peace movements, and on the Histradrut national trade union centre, and saying that only external pressure will persuade Israel to end the occupation. Many of them reject the traditional trade union support for a two-state solution, and call for an end to the Zionist state itself.

Opponents of the boycott are urging support for those elements within Israel who are seeking a solution to the decades-old conflict with Palestine and the Arab countries. Nearly all of them believe that the only solution is a partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, living side by side in peace.

The proponents are claiming that the violation of human rights in general, and workers' rights in particular, is so extreme in Israel that extreme measures are called for.

Opponents point out that there are many countries in which human rights violations are far worse -- including Sudan (Darfur), Saudi Arabia, China, Colombia and so on.

That last point is an interesting one. China is a country that has no free trade unions. The national centre is state-controlled and always has been. Independent trade union activists are routinely jailed, strikes and demonsrations are broken up, and the lives of many millions of workers are miserable as a result. (You wouldn't want your worst enemy to work in a Chinese mine, for example.)

And yet there does not seem to be any movement anywhere -- at least not in the trade unions -- calling for a boycott of Chinese products.

In Britain, part of the reason given by the union-backed Palestine Solidarity Campaign for focussing on Palestine is that the U.K. has a special connection -- all of Palestine was once a British mandate territory. But of course a case could be made that Britain has a special connection with China as well. Until ten years ago, Hong Kong was a British colony.

Ask proponents of the boycott why they want to boycott Israeli goods but not Chinese ones and they'll likely answer that a boycott of China wouldn't be effective. The Chinese economy is too big, too strong, it simply wouldn't work. Israel, on the other hand, is a much smaller country and is therefore more vulnerable.

In the schoolyard, this kind of behaviour is called "bullying". Israel is being targetted by some groups because it is vulnerable, because it is a tiny country dependent upon exports to survive.

The general rule for unions in dealing with boycotts is to talk to our colleagues in the country concerned. We wouldn't support a boycott of apartheid South Africa if the workers' organisations there didn't call for one. We'd only back a boycott of Chinese goods if independent and democratic Chinese unions were to call for one. Workers' rights violations take place all the time on plantations around the world, but the only way we'd consider backing a boycott call directed against Dole or Chiquita would be if the unions themselves called for one.

The Israeli unions have been absolutely clear on this point: A boycott of Israel spearheaded by unions overseas strengthens the Israeli right, which always argues that country is alone and friendless in the world. And it does nothing for the Palestinians. It is simply a continuation of the official Arab boycott which began in 1945, and which picked up where the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses ended. It is the inheritor of a disgraceful tradition.

It is right for unions around the world to be discussing the plight of the Palestinians and seeking ways to provide assistance to them. But they should be doing so in partnership with the Israeli trade union movement, not in opposition to it.


The Histadrut is not a genuine trade union or confederation. You only have to look at its historical relationship to non-Jews to see that.

Not sure how much use the boycott is, myself, but I would have nothing to do with the enemies of freedom and equality in the Histadrut.

Eric - What an excellent article. Regarding your point about China, I think it is worth mentioning that not only is there no call for a boycott of China due to their labor policies, but the international labor movement is providing more legitimacy to the party dominated union in that country than ever before - witness, the recent trip to China by the leadership of the CtW Federation. I worry about our movement when it attacks the legitimate free trade unions of Israel while backing the anti-democratic sham unions of China.

Excellent article Eric.


Excellent points, in particularly "It is a debate which is tearing apart the international trade union movement and at its core is a workers' rights issue."

I suspect that the most active proponents of the boycott are hardly concerned with Israelis s human beings, individuals or as trade unionists.

many of the most zealot boycotters seem largely driven by a visceral hatred of Israel, and would be despondent if peace came to the region

sadly, this Soviet style "anti-zionism" and gesture politics is going to take its toll on the Left and trade unions too.

Israel, China, wherever.

Let 'em do whatever the fuck they want.

I'm sick of it all.

Visiting the Jeruslam Post it's clear the Zionists, right wingers and American fundies regard the British as scum (just check out some of the comments) and hope we burn in hell.

Humans are fucked. Christ knows what percentage of the people (Jews, Muslims and Christians) living in the Middle-East are out of their minds.

I think I prefer the Scientologists.

"God gave us this land, so it's ours" - man, 21st century.


"Yes, it says so in MY holy book"

oh, right!

Morons. Fuckin' bastard morons.

Sorry, am I being too un- PC?

We're really fucked.

Eric, this is a very sad post. As a Jewish person living in Palestine I think its important to listen to what the Palestinian people are saying. The fact is that Palestinian civil society and trade unionists are calling for this boycott. If in doubt, see the following links: and and

As someone who sees the daily humiliation of palestinian people both in israel and the occupied territories, i know the only thing that will change the mind of israelis around me is if they begin to feel like they're immoral behavior for the last 60 years is being condemned (and not condoned).

the histadrut has a long and dirty history of racism towards arab workers that continues to the present and it should be locked out of the international trade union movmenet. its president amir peretz, graduated, by becoming the head of the israeli military and unleashing a brutal war against gaza and lebanon last summer that left 1500 people dead, including hundreds of children...

there is no 'two sides' here, there is a racist state that legislates racism in its citizenship/natioanlity, land/property and marriage laws and an illegal military occupation that has lasted 40 years, not to mention the dispossession of millions of palestinian refugees. for 60 years israel has violated every UN resolution and it stands as the country with the most UN resolutions against it. campaigners for human rights aren't singling israel out, it is doing so on its own...

i know many of the people in different countries working on boycott campaigns and none are motivated by anti-semitism. many of these people work on anti-poverty issues in their own countries, engage their own governments bellecist policies, and struggle in solidarity with a whole range of other countries.

for the record, the zionist movement appologists for israeli war-crimes are being hypocritical. the same voices howling at how this isn't conducive to 'peace' have either been silent on or have actively called for the imposition of a brutal sanctions regime on the starving palestinian people for the past year. now, whose acting as the real impediment to peace in the middle east? the palestinian people? or the israeli military and its US and British government supporters (engaged in their own bloody and genocidal war in iraq)?

fortunately the arguments of the Zionist 'pro-peace' - read Palestinians should keep quiet and accept the peace of the grave - are wearing very thin. as a jew its my responsibility to speak out and say: 'israeli apartheid - not in my name!' ... i hope other sisters and brothers in the labour movement will join millions of others pushing this campaign at the grassroots level...

in solidarity,

neve, yafa - palestine

israel is being bullied? come-on! be real!!! israel has killed 10,000s of people over the years, imposes a racist regime on palestinians, has dispossesed 5-million adn keeps another 4-million in open air prisons, etc. let's not continue apologizing for the crimes of an apartheid state! the boycott campaign is a non-violent means of putting pressure on a long-standing violator of UN resolutions. nothing more and nothing less. and yeah... whatever other people say about the histadrut is true... it has a bad history... i know some people will get teary eyed because they remember all the zionist myths about labour and the kibbutz, but the fact is that to this day palestinians cannot become members of the kibbutz community. kibbutzim have always been racist and exclusionary organizations aimed at settler colonial theft of palestinian lands.

"As a Jewish person living in Palestine" really??...I would say "as a muslim lying bastard..."

This is a very biased article:

It is the duty of us all to defend the Palestinian causes, denounce the Israeli/Zionist crimes and criticise the disastrous Israeli policy of expansion and oppression in Palestine.

Boycott Israel

Nice to see the Hamas rep has showed up in the form of Kosta.

Funny how you didn't mention all the Jews driven out/killed in Muslim lands over the last few centuries. Or the fact the Palestinians openly supported the Nazis in WWII.

Palestinians should get right of return just as soon as Jews get right of return in the rest of the Muslim world.

Whether or not 'Neve' is Jewish or not is irrelevant to the boycott issue and his need to highlight it and Mel Simpson's need to assume Neve is a "Muslim" reveals to me that both Neve and Mel are racist clowns.

Oh and btw, 'Neve', next time sign your next disingenuous comment "Tel Aviv, Palestine" both because you clearly oppose two states for two people and because there is no city or town called Yafa in Israel. Rather there is a town/city called Jaffa in Arabic and English and Yaffo in Hebrew.

It surely will irk Neve to learn -that is if he ever spent anytime here - that the overwhelming majority of the residents of Jaffa/Yaffo, whatever their disagreements with the government, claearly don't want to be absorbed into a future Palestinian state, nor does anyone here ever refer to Jaffa/Yaffo as occupied Palestine.

Maybe 'Neve' ought to move here to persuade we deluded residents of Jaffa/Yaffo that we would all be better off if Israel were dismantled and Jaffa/Yaffo handed over to the Palestinian Authority.

Even though methinks it would be a bit of an uphill battle for 'Neve', surely it wouldn't be an unworthy cause for someone like 'Neve': already familiar with dispensing those god awful rags Morning Star & Socialist Worker on street corners in the Sisiphysean hope of convincing ordinary Londoners to smash the state.

BTW, great post Eric.

israel has killed 10,000s of people over the years, imposes a racist regime on palestinians, has dispossesed 5-million adn keeps another 4-million in open air prisons

These types of lies make peace impossible. Palestinians and Muslims have killed many more of their own than Israel has done in defending herself.

Great post Eric.

Interesting responses too. I'm baffled when I read comments which present Palestinian national aspirations as legitimate and natural, whilst labelling Jewish national aspirations racist and colonialist. Is not such acceptance of one group's national aspirations and rejection of another's intrinsically racist?

None of the modern Middle Eastern states existed in anything like their present form until after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. And Jews have a longer continuous historical presence in Israel than any other present day ethnic group, predating any sort of Arab groups by over 1000 years -as thousands of archeological discoveries prove beyond doubt.

Talk of Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing is laughable. Israel is the only Middle Eastern state where millions of Jews and Arabs have citizenship on equal terms. Sure, there's racism within Israeli society, but then there's racism in every society and racism in Israel certainly isn't confined to its jewish citizens.

The fact is, that had the Arab nations accepted the existence of a tiny Jewish State on their western border and not tried to destroy it, together with its Jewish citizens, over several decades, Palestinians would not be suffering now.


your words might appear to have greater sincerity had your blog not deliberately, linked to David Duke's neo-Nazi web site "No War for Israel" or the Holocaust revisionists at Zeopedia.

so I think it is perfectly legitimate question the motives of some of the supporters of the boycott

No "good" deed goes unpunished.

The Jew hating ignorant bigot kosta says:

"israel has killed 10,000s of people over the years, imposes a racist regime on palestinians, has dispossesed 5-million adn keeps another 4-million in open air prisons, etc."

I love the etc, it refers to more hot air.

The number of dead in all the Arab-Jewish wars over the last hundred years is less than the number of people who were killed in Algeria during their civil war in the 1980's.

It is less than the number of Jews killed on any day during the years of the Holocaust.

The number of Arabs who fled or were driven mandate Palestine was about half a million the same number as the Jews who were driven out of Arab countries in the 40's and 50's.

Kosta is either totally ignorant of the facts or he is a liar.

I was really upset to see this post. You support for Israel undermines the good work you do for the union movement elsewhere.

How can there be a two state solution when Israel has already seized most of the viable Palestinian land in the West Bank? When Israel's vision of a Palestinian state is a puppet entirely controlled by Israel, with no authority on transit, untilities or anything else?

The Hisdradut is not a genuine trade union movement, is a racist and Jewish nationalist organisation. Your call to support the Histradut is like saying we should have supported the whites-only South African unions during apartheid.

If Palestinian unions thought they could work with the Histradut, don't you think they would already have done so?

The Israeli 'peace movement' and 'left' has not been particularly impressive of late. Isolating Israel, so that her citizens realise that their government's actions are unacceptable to the rest of the world is the only solution.

Christian, above, says: "I'm baffled when I read comments which present Palestinian national aspirations as legitimate and natural, whilst labelling Jewish national aspirations racist and colonialist. Is not such acceptance of one group's national aspirations and rejection of another's intrinsically racist?"

Christian, how about white Afrikaners' national aspirations? Don't they have a right to a racially pure Afrikaner state in South Africa? Shouldn't Black South Africans accept this, and retreat to the 13% of the land set out for them in 1910, the so-called 'homelands'?

It is also worth mention to windowlicker that the Palestinians weren't responsible for the Holocaust. You might recall that that was the Germans, primed by centuries of Christianity. Ironic that Christians are now the biggest supporters of Israel, and Muslims - who were historically tolerant - are painted as enemies.

Great article Eric!