This article appears in the next issue of International Union Rights, the publication of the International Centre for Trade Union Rights.
In early August 2014, the Workers Advice Center (WAC MAAN) asked LabourStart, the news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement, to launch an online campaign to protest union-busting at a garage in the illegal Jewish settlement of Mishor Adumim in the occupied West Bank.
WAC MAAN is a relatively small union based in Israel which organises workers in both Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The Palestinian workers at the Zarfaty Garage in Mishur Adumim had recently joined WAC and gone on strike to defend their rights. Their employer, Moshe (Moris) Zarfaty, had retaliated by fabricating false “security” charges against local union leader Hatem Abu Ziadeh, using the war in Gaza as a cover. As a result of those false charges, the Israeli police revoked Abu Ziadeh’s work permit, which was in effect a dismissal, after working in the garage faithfully for 17 years. Eventually the criminal case against Abu Ziadeh collapsed, and the union continues to fight for his reinstatement.
Meanwhile, the LabourStart campaign resulted in 8,500 email messages being sent in 17 languages from around the world to two Israeli government officials and to Moshe Zarfaty, the owner of the garage.
Though the online campaign was closed after a few months, and despite the decision by an Israeli labour court in April that WAC is in fact the legal union representing the workers in the garage, Zarfaty remained furious that he had been the target of a large global online campaign.
Zarfaty contacted the Israeli police and demanded that they investigate WAC, declaring that the LabourStart campaign “was an offence committed according to Communication Law 621 – an attempt to harass a person using phone company equipment,” according to WAC’s leader Assaf Adiv.
Adiv was summoned to report to the Israeli Police station in Ma’ale Adumim, in the West Bank, on 5 May 2015, where he was closely questioned and denied the charges.
“They were suspicious of my role as chairperson of the union and my involvement in creating the global protest campaign,” he explained.
Two days later, Adiv’s lawyer, Michal Pomerantz, sent a letter to both the legal advisor of the Government and the Police demanding they close the investigation against him. The letter explained the background to the case and the need of the Police to stay clear from labour disputes like the one at the Zarfaty Garage.
Less than a week later, they had an answer from the Police.
Shaul Gordon, the legal advisor to the Israeli Police, explained that while the complaint by Zarfaty was treated as an ordinary complaint, the police did not pay proper attention to the fact that this was part of an industrial dispute.
He admitted that it was wrong of the police to have summoned Adiv for investigation. And he added: “I made it clear to the responsible people in the Police region of the West Bank that the policy of the Police in such circumstances when you have a labour dispute is to deal with it with the utmost carefulness, especially as in some cases one side in such disputes tries to mobilize the Police to its side in order to put pressure on the other side.”
He indicated that the police would be making no further enquiries.
“It was simply a false complaint by the Garage managers as a tactic in a long running industrial dispute,” Adiv said.
“The police investigation of WAC MAAN’s leader should be seen as a very dangerous precedent for freedom of association in Israel.
“WAC-MAAN made it clear that it is not going to retreat or give up the right to organise ALL workers, including Palestinian workers who are employed in the Settlements.
“We plan to continue with our mission to defend all workers regardless of their national or religious affiliation or the colour of their skin.”
Adiv concluded: “WAC MAAN drew encouragement from its ability first to force upon the police to cancel the case against the leader of the workers Hatem Abu Ziadeh, and then to cancel the complaint against Adiv as a reflection of its growing influence and the possibility to push forward our drive to organize workers for their rights including Palestinian workers in the settlements.”