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Monday, 26 January 2009

Palestine Solidarity Campaign Executive Ducks Challenge Over Histadrut

‘The Nazis boycotted Jewish shops and Histadrut boycotted Arab produce

Histadrut recognises the urgent need for the State of Israel to operate against the command and control structures of the organisational terror network belonging to Hamas… No democratic country in the world would allow its sovereignty to be violated and its citizens subjected to terror attacks on a daily basis…. Israel had no choice but to respond to the repeated attacks and aggression as an act of justifiable self-defense.’

Statement of 13.1.09.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Britain is the largest solidarity group over Palestine in Britain. Formed in 1982, just before Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, by a number of people, myself included, it now has about 3,000 members. In the past month, as a result of what has been happening in Gaza, it has attracted another 600 members.

One would expect PSC therefore to be in the vanguard of the campaign to Boycott Israel and Zionist organisations. In particular one would expect it to be fully in support of a Boycott of Zionism’s racist and apartheid ‘trade union’ Histadrut. Unfortunately this is not the case. PSC Executive believes you can have a Boycott campaign which doesn’t boycott key Zionist organisations like Histadrut, which more than any other organisation, was responsible for the founding of the Israeli state, including Hagannah and Palmach, which carried out the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1947-9.

PSC Executive, the leading members of which are supporters of various offshoots of the old International Marxist Group (Socialist Action & Communist League), worked overtime to prevent the passage of a motion from Scottish PSC calling for the breaking of links with Histadrut and also against a milder motion from Brighton and York PSCs calling for a re-examination of such links, education etc. The only motions they didn’t object to was an amendment from Bricup (Academic Boycott campaign) which didn’t mention boycotting Histadrut and of course their own motion which said nothing.

The vote on the motion to break links with Histadrut was much closer than last year – with us getting over 40% of the vote. Approximately 112-84 supported the Executive, with about 50 abstentions. It was only after Bernie Regan, the TU organiser, mobilised various minor trade union executive members and bureaucrats to speak against the SPSC motion that it was defeated. The main argument they used was that we couldn’t prescribe the tactics of activists in individual unions.

However as both Mick Napier of SPSC and myself made clear, what was being proposed was policy for PSC not tactical questions for each union. My own branch of UNISON has already proposed a motion to annual conference calling for the cutting of links. Others may not wish to go that far but even a moderate union like TSSA has disaffiliated from Trade Union Friends of Israel. It is clear that now is the time, if ever there was a time, to inflict a decisive wound on the Zionists and their front organisations in the trade unions. But PSC Executive baulked at such a step. Why?

There are a number of reasons. PSC now has about 18 unions affiliated to it. It also receives considerable financial support from some unions, e.g. UNISON has recently given a grant for £20,000. Much of this work is due to Bernie Regan and his close links with various union leaders. Bernie was previously a left member of the NUT Executive for the Socialist Teachers Alliance. He undoubtedly fears that if the unions are pushed to actually back up their fine words of support with concrete action, such as cutting links with Histadrut, they will be less generous to PSC.

Yet this misses a crucial question. What is the point of securing affiliations via friendly contacts and mates if it comes at a political price? If the result is that they pressurise you to not expect them to support a meaningful boycott then that affiliation becomes meaningful. Building PSC is secondary to building support for the Palestinians.

Instead of taking the path of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions call for boycott and divestment PSC Executive took the least line of resistance – flowery words involving nothing concrete.
More disgracefully were reports from what PSC Executive Members such as General Secretary Betty Hunter and others were saying. It was being suggested that some unions, including UNISON, would disaffiliate. Betty Hunter was explicit that those supporting cutting the links with Histadrut were seeking to split PSC. This was the nonsense that advocates of the position of breaking links were facing. Noone had ever advocated splitting PSC yet this was being openly peddled by an Executive worried that for the first time ever they might be defeated at conference. And like the right-wing of trade unions they reacted with horror stories. Some people seem to think that if their authority is challenged then that is a call for breaking up PSC as if the organisation were their personal property.

PSC Executive has had a catastrophic loss of nerve as well as a severe case of tunnel vision. In the wake of the Gaza genocide Israel and Zionism has suffered enormous political damage. The pictures of children’s schools being bombed with phosphorous are not designed to win friends and influence enemies. That is what lies behind even New Labour Ministers like Douglas Alexander and Hazel Blears attacking the BBC for refusing to screen the Gaza charity appeal. To start being cautious and timid at a time like this, when the people of Gaza have suffered so enormously, makes it clear that PSC Executive is becoming a stumbling block to effective action.
Executive members, despite their socialist pedigree in some cases, have lost all semblance of any class analysis. Palestinian national unity is everything regardless of who it is that is being unified with. Noone doubts the need for Palestinian unity. That is the essence of any national liberation struggle, but do you unite with collaborators and quislings? In any national movement, as with the ANC, there are radical working class forces which are less likely to cave in to diplomatic pressure or sacrifice Palestinian national rights, such as the Right of Return, to their own economic interests.

Yet we had the utterly ludicrous situation when the Communist Party of Britain (Morning Star group) moved a motion giving what passed for their analysis of the motives behind Israel’s attack on Gaza. Now the CPB carry some weight among left union leaders although numerically they are small. Yet their motion was politically illiterate, the bastard child of their Stalinist upbringing.

The CPB motion described Israel’s strategy in Gaza as being to destroy the Palestinian Authority of Abbas when anyone with the merest acquaintance with the situation knows full well that one of the aims was to reimpose Abbas’s rule over Gaza! How more stupid could you get? Well that didn’t stop Bernie Regan supporting the motion despite its political illiteracy, incoherence and just plain stupidity. The motion also described Israel as a client state alongside Iraq and Afghanistan and described US policy as creating a Greater Middle East belt up to an including Afghanistan! The difference between Israel and the other states is that Israel is funded and subsidised by imperialism. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is a settler colonial state.

PSC Executive, despite Betty Hunter having called Abbas’s regime ‘quisling’ at the PSC fringe meeting at UNISON conference in June 2007, does its best to cultivate good relations with it. We have already carried an Open Letter to Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestine Authority from Palestinians concerning Abbas’s abandonment of the Right of Return and also the use of torture and arbitrary detention by Abbas’s security forces of Palestinians.

There is an abundance of information about the links between the CIA and Abbas’s security forces.
The CIA and Fatah; Spies, Quislings and the Palestinian Authority
Palestine: Possible Fatah Presidential Candidate Financed by CIA
The CIA and Hamas

Why is PSC Executive endorsing political garbage from the CPB, which bears no relation to reality and in practice is similar to previous support for dictatorial regimes such as Saddam Hussein's and Ayatollah Khomeinis (before turning on communists!). Why does it behave with timidity when it comes to Histadrut and endorse motions such as the above?

One reason lies in the way PSC Executive sees itself as a solidarity organisation. Lobbying MPs, petitions etc. are fine but anything which in any way challenges the power structures in this society, which links in western support for Israel with the imperialist nature of the society we live in, is anathema. Any anti-imperialist or anti-Zionist analysis and politics is out. The result is that PSC is content to be what is effectively a lobbying group for the Palestinians inside the trade union movement.

Of course the Zionists are made of sterner stuff. When they are strong, as in the Bakers Union, they use their strength to harass their opponents. Last year PSC was forced to remove boycott literature from its stall. TUFI even tried the same at the PSC stall at UNISON conference – they objected to a picture of an Israeli soldier pointing a gun at a child! Truth hurts – and indeed it was removed until I personally put it back again and made contact with the official who had authorised this. No doubt if a PSC Executive member had been there they would have told us not to make a fuss.

The other reason, which ties into the above, is that PSC Executive are wedded to a 2 State solution in Palestine. No matter that half a million settlers are established in the West Bank and 40% of the land has been confiscated officially. PSC retains the illusion that an Israeli Government (Netanyahu? Lipni?) is going to remove the settlers, demolish the Apartheid Wall and establish friendly relations with a sovereign Palestinian state. Oh and some of them believe that (kosher) pigs will fly too!

On South Africa, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, which PSC fondly believes it is emulating, supported a unitary state solution. PSC Executive effectively supports a cross between an Indian Reservation and a Bantustan. It avoids debate on the topic and retreats behind slogans for a Palestinian state, knowing full well that Oslo is dead and that a genuine anti-apartheid movement would be demanding equal political and civil rights for all Palestinians within what was Mandate Palestine.

It is this nonsense, with the accompanying ‘peace process’ [in fact a war processwhose main purpose is to placate the Arab regimes] which is crippling PSC’s analysis and activity. Routinist activities – demonstrations, petitions, letters, stalls – are fine. Political death blows to links with Zionism are something else.

Initially PSC was reluctant to endorse a Boycott campaign and today it sees it as primarily a consumer boycott of West Bank produce. But consumer boycotts are symbolic. Boycotts which cut links with Israeli state organisations such as Histadrut, are a different matter. When the Association of University Teachers passed a motion 3 years ago to boycott 2 Israeli universities all hell broke loose. Politicians in the US and Britain clamoured to denounce it. Israeli academics fell over themselves to prove (unlike the Gaza invasion) how much they supported peace. We even had 4 Presidents of Israeli Universities petitioning the Israeli Government to stop using road blocks to interfere with Palestinian students ability to study!

There could be no more effective way of aiding both Palestinian workers and demonstrating the loathing that ordinary workers feel regarding what has happened in Gaza than a full-scale campaign against links with Histadrut. Instead Bernie Regan tried to pretend that everyone agrees on the nature of Histadrut and that our disagreements are only tactical. This is false. In private conversations with Bernie at the One State conference 18 months ago he explicitly told me that he thought that now it had divested itself of its industries Histadrut had qualitatively changed. But this misses the point that Histadrut, even if it is more of a genuine union for Israeli Jewish workers is still a settler union, as racist as it ever was. It’s like the Anti-Apartheid Movement supporting retaining links between the TUC and the White Mineworkers Unions.

A golden political opportunity has been missed. When I and other activists move motions on Histadrut at union national conferences this summer, the Zionists are going to respond that even Palestine Solidarity Campaign doesn’t support us! And why? Because PSC Executive is too timid to take advantage of a unique opportunity to deal a death blow to ‘even handedness’ amongst British trade union bureaucrats who like to show that they support ‘both sides’ – as if the rapist and his victim are equal. Their petty sectarian manouvering is at the expense of the Palestinian people's struggle to be free.

Tony Greenstein

The Histadrut
Histadrut was set up in 1920 as the General Confederation of Hebrew Labour. Although opposed to boycotts now, its major campaign throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s was a Boycott of Arab Labour, Land and Produce. What this meant was that they set up picket lines outside Jewish owned factories and orange groves to force the owners to sack any Arabs they employed. Hiring an Arab because they were cheaper was termed ‘national treason’. Likewise produce from Arab farms was destroyed and Arabs were barred forever from land that had been sold to the Zionists.

Their position was best summed up by David Ha'Cohen, former Managing Director of Solel Boneh, the building and construction company owned by Histadrut:

‘I had to fight my friends on the issue of Jewish socialism to defend the fact that I would not accept Arabs in my Trade Union, the Histadrut; to defend preaching to housewives that they should not buy at Arab stores; to defend the fact that we stood guard at orchards to prevent Arab workers from getting jobs there... to pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes; to attack Jewish housewives in the markets and smash Arab eggs they, had bought... to buy dozens of dunums from an Arab is permitted but to sell God forbid one Jewish dunum to an Arab is prohibited; to take Rothschild the incarnation of capitalism as a socialist and to name him the 'benefactor' - to do all that was not easy. And despite the fact that we did it- maybe we had no choice - I wasn't happy about it."
David Hirst, Gun & the Olive Branch, p.63.

Indeed Histadrut was never a trade union but had a department for trade unions. Until the 1980’s when its bankrupt companies were privatised, it was Israel’s second largest employer after the State itself. Up till then it had followed a rigorously racist anti-Arab policy. It took it until 1959 to even admit Arabs to membership and until 1965 it refused to admit Arabs to membership. Its holding company Hevrat Ovdim and its other subsidiaries continued to remain exactly as they were – run by Jews only.

In particular it refused to employ Arabs in many of its factories on ‘security’ grounds and Arabs were mainly concentrated in Solel Boneh and in unskilled work. Histadrut refused to invest in industry in Arab villages resulting in a much higher level of unemployment among Arabs as well as lower wages. That is why poverty is endemic in the Israeli Palestinian community, over three times greater than among Israeli Jews.

Histadrut has never opposed the Occupation of the West Bank or Gaza strip. On the contrary Solel Boneh built most of the early settlements including Kiryat Arba. It has always been hawkist and pro-war. The attack on Lebanon in July 2006 was led by Defence Minister Amir Peretz, former Histadrut General Secretary. The most hawkish member of the present Israeli cabinet, and convicted sexual harasser, is Haim Ramon, another ex-General Secretary. Its present General Secretary, Ofer Eini, is a Labour MK. And if there were any doubt about its attitude to the attack on Gaza, then Histadrut made it clear on 13th January 2009 when it issued a statement via the Zionist Laborstart site. (it doesn’t, incredibly, have a web site of its own).


StrugglingAtWork said...

One clarification.

BRICUP's amendment was tactical. It was an attempt to get some recognition of the problems of Histadrut if there were not enough votes for a boycott - not that we were against boycotting Histadrut. Of course BRICUP members at the meeting voted for the strongest Scottish motion.

Tony Greenstein said...

Yes sorry if I didn't make this clear. Bricup's position has remained the same and Sue Blackwell's speech was excellent but I do think the moving of the amendment was tactically wrong and helped create the impression that we were divided.

Anyway we all live and learn. The main thing is to create a majority that these political cowards cannot overcome.

Chris S said...

Is all very depressing, when there is a real appetite for action against Israel the PSC should not be so timid.

The CPB motion looks like a joke.