Thursday 9 July 2015

Pro-BDS does not mean Pro-Palestinian

The international Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement directed at Israel has probably found more support in Britain than in any other Western democratic society. Directed at Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, BDS is in effect antisemitic, even if that is not the intention.  The long term aim of the BDS  campaign is the replacement of the Jewish  state with a Palestinian one.  They are no different in this respect to the Arab nations who have always been unwilling to accept a Jewish presence in the region.

Since 2002 British activists have been party to this aim by initiating calls for academic, trade union, media, medical, architectural, and cultural boycotts of Israel. Britain's trade union movement which is mainly controlled by the Left, works closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and is a key member of their  British BDS campaign. Unions which are affiliated to and fund the PSC include Unite, Unison, the GMB, the RMT, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the UCU. The NUT is just one of several British unions using their considerable influence in the global labour movement to persuade unions in Europe and around the world  to adopt BDS. As a result relations between the largest British unions and their Israeli counterparts are probably now at their lowest point for many years because of British support for the Palestinians. 

It therefore came as a nice surprise to hear that a delegation from the Israeli union for government employees, which is part of the Histadrut,  paid a short visit to Britain at the end of June and met with the TUC  as well as their opposite numbers in the First Division Association, the union for senior civil servants. Unfortunately a meeting with the GMB had to be cancelled at the last minute. The outcome I am told was good and further visits and meetings  and now planned both in UK and Israel.

Visits such this are very unusual nowadays because of the anti-Israel stance of the British unions, yet it in the late 1960s and early 1970s it was commonplace for union delegations to visit Israel and their Israeli counterparts to travel to Britain every couple of  months.  Leading Left wingers of the time, Franks Cousins and Len Jones along with TUC General Secretary Len Murray all believed that the role of the British trade unions was to help the peace process by building relationships between the Israeli and Palestinian trade unions and not just support one side against the other as is the case today. Although the TUC is affiliated to the PSC and supports the boycott of Israeli settlement goods it is committed to a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state living side by side with a secure Israel .

Britain's two largest unions Unite and Unison were also invited to meet the Israelis. Since they both have a long history of anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian rhetoric and  conference resolutions condemning Israel their failure to reply to the invitation may have been more than just an administrative oversight. Maybe they value their support for BDS and the PSC more than they do for the opportunity for dialogue to try and help build links between Palestinian trade unionists and Israelis?. Unison proudly says it "has been campaigning in solidarity with the Palestinian people for over 20 years", so unless there is a genuine reason for missing an opportunity for dialogue  it makes a makes a nonsense of Unison's claims  to help the Palestinians.

If Unite and Unison don't want to talk to Israelis then they should  talk to Palestinians like Bassem Eid instead rather than blindly follow the edicts of the PSC. Eid wrote in an article for the Washington Institute:
..."BDS spokespeople justify calling for boycotts that will result in increased economic hardships for the Palestinians by asserting that Palestinians are willing to suffer such deprivations in order to achieve their freedom. It goes without saying that they themselves live in comfortable circumstances elsewhere in the world and will not suffer any such hardship. It would seem, in fact, that the BDS movement in its determination to oppose Israel is prepared to fight to the last drop of Palestinian blood...."

Where is the evidence that pro-Palestinian campaigners such as the PSC, UNISON or any of the unions done anything to help improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians?  There seems to be plenty of anti-Israel rhetoric and talk of solidarity but very little else. British trade unions like Unite and Unison and the UCU appear to focus on the conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine almost to the exclusion of other international issues. Over the last ten years this has involved all them in considerable costs in terms of money and resources, yet none appear to be directly involved in any aid or training programmes for Palestinians run by international trade union bodies such as the ITUC. Their support for the PSC appears to be more about the political ideology of the Far Left who want to destroy Israel than it is about helping the Palestinians.

So let's change the narrative and help the Palestinians ourselves and the first thing we can do is to ask the unions to show us exactly how all the thousands of pounds they have spent on BDS has helped the Palestinians in any material way whatsoever - pity the Palestinians - pity the poor union members whose money is being squandered on Israel hate rather than Palestinian humanitarian aid. Our second move has to be to label BDS supporters as anti-Israeli rather than pro-Palestinian.

Ronnie Fraser

Academic Friends of Israel

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