The Chief-Leader, NYC Civil Service Newspaper October 19, 2007
Thompson and Israel
To the Editor:
The undersigned trade-union activists disagree with New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson and the Jewish Labor Committee, who have joined the witch-hunt against British unions for boycotting Israel (Sept. 7 issue [*]).
Palestinian trade-union bodies have long asked international labor to support the boycott; endorsers now include the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and unions in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada.
It is no more unfairly selective or one-sided than the isolation of apartheid South Africa, a campaign in which we and many others actively participated. This boycott — many of whose supporters are Jewish — DOES NOT target Israel for its ethnicity, but for theft and colonization of Arab lands, denial of equality to Arab-Palestinians in Israel, and violation of Palestinian Refugees’ right to return home.
South African apartheid — racist oppression of the black majority — was consolidated in a 1948 white-only election. At the same time, apartheid Israel began with the Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1947-49, when Zionists systematically terrorized, dispossessed and ethnically cleansed the Palestinian majority. Some 13,000 Palestinians were massacred, 531 towns and villages erased, 11 urban neighborhoods emptied, and more than 750,000 (85 percent) driven from 78 percent of their country.
In 1967, Israel seized the remaining 22 percent — including East Jerusalem, the’ West Bank and Gaza — which remains under military rule.
Today, at least 70 percent of the 10 million Palestinians are in exile — the world’s largest refugee population. Those who managed to remain — today, 1.4 million (or 20 percent of the population in Israel) — are confined to 2.5 percent of the land, subject to more than 20 discriminatory laws, and deemed a “demographic threat” to be “transferred” elsewhere.
In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, 140 illegal, ever-expanding Jewish-only settlements and road systems dominate the water resources and control 40 percent of the land. Palestinians are confined, separated and degraded by an 8-meter-high separation wall, pass laws, curfews and 600 military checkpoints. In Gaza, 1.4 million suffer sealed borders; air, artillery and ground strikes; economic blockade; designation as “enemy entity”; and suspension of essential services.
During the past seven years, 4,274 Palestinians in these 1967 territories have been killed, compared with 1,024 Israelis. The military has seized 60,000 political prisoners; it still holds and tortures 11,000.
Apartheid Israel has also aggressively exported itself beyond Palestine. It was apartheid South Africa’s closest ally. Especially since 9/11, it has promoted the demonization of Arabs and Muslims. It has 200 nuclear weapons, but manufactured phony “evidence” of WMD for the Bush administration to invade Iraq.
There, in Afghanistan and in Lebanon, the U.S./Israel alliance has killed, maimed and displaced millions of people, using Israeli-perfected techniques of collective punishment, air war, human shields, home demolition, assassination, kidnapping, rendition, detention, torture, separation walls, partition and ethnic cleansing. Working people in this country have also paid a high price for these wars to dominate the oil-rich Middle East. Now, Israel is at the forefront of escalating attacks against Syria and Iran.
Moreover, apartheid Israel is sponsored by the U.S. In the past ten years alone, it has provided $17 billion in military aid, which the bipartisan Congress has just increased by 25 percent. U.S. trade-union officialdom is a shameful accomplice, and tries to silence union members who oppose this apartheid regime.
Ending this support would strike a critical blow against war and racism — abroad and at home. As in South Africa, points out Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, a boycott “will not change [the regime’s] position in a day, but it will send a clear message that [apartheid is] racist and unacceptable in the 21st century . . . They would have to choose.”
Workers in Palestine, the United States, and around the world, deserve no less.
Former president, Mail Handlers Local 300
Former executive board member, TWU Local 100
Former president, Assn. of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325
Former president, AFSCME DC 1707
[Signers affiliated with New York City Labor Against the War; other affiliations listed for identification only]
*The Chief-Leader, September 7, 2007
Thompson Hits Israel Boycott by Brit Unions
By ARI PAUL
City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. Aug. 28 blasted several British unions, including the Transport and General Workers Union
(TGWU), for supporting a boycott of Israeli goods.
Various groups have called for boycotts of products made in Israel and for institutions to divest from companies that do business in Israel to protest the country’s 40-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mr. Thompson sent letters to several trade-union leaders saying, “Boycotts of this nature will result merely in a failure to achieve a just and fair resolution of the Middle East conflict.”
Labor Leader Applauds
Jewish Labor Committee President Stuart Appelbaum, who is also president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, praised Mr. Thompson’s stance.
“I thank Comptroller Thompson for his bold words against these ill-conceived anti-Israel resolutions,” Mr. Appelbaum said in a statement. “It is my hope that Comptroller Thompson’s words will be followed by similar actions by others truly concerned about seeking a just and fair resolution, and peace in the Middle East.”
The JLC issued a statement signed by dozens of American labor leaders opposing such boycotts and divestment campaigns. The president of the TGWU’s American counterpart, James C. Little of the Transport Workers Union of America, signed the statement, but Roger Toussaint, president of TWU Local 100, has not made his stance on the issue public.
‘Bring Them Together’
“Trade unionists and their organizations seeking such a just and fair resolution should be assisting those working to bring the two sides together in direct talks and then negotiations,” the JLC’s letter said. “In this regard, we call for increased engagement of trade unions with their counterparts on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We support efforts of Palestinian and Israeli trade unionists and their organizations to maintain contact and cooperative and mutually supportive activities, even in the midst of tumult and political change within their respective communities and polities.”
Mr. Thompson was pleased to see American unions signing the JLC’s statement.
“The Comptroller is concerned about any issues that affect trade and the economy,” a spokesman for Mr. Thompson said in an email. “In this instance, as he indicates in his letter, he is concerned that ‘antagonism or retaliation’ are being employed whereas constructive dialogue would be a more productive route.”