On June 13, more than fifty labor and anti-apartheid activists participated in a spirited picket of an Israel Bonds “celebration” dinner in New York City that honored prominent labor official Denis Hughes.
Part of a rapidly growing movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, the protest was called by New York City Labor Against the War, Labor for Palestine, Dump Israel Bonds, Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, International Action Center, and the National Lawyers Guild-NYC Chapter.
It dominated the dinner’s only media coverage, headlined “Protesters chant outside Israel Bonds gala,” which reported that, “Protesters were in force Monday night as the State of Israel Bonds, a prominent charity for real estate folks, celebrated its 60th anniversary honoring Denis Hughes, president of the New York State AFL-CIO.”
For decades, US labor officials have invested unknown millions from union retirement funds — often without their members’ knowledge — in the Bonds.
This year’s dinner awarded a “Peace Medal” to Denis Hughes, president of the New York State AFL-CIO. Hughes was director and chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank during the notorious “credit bubble” decade. It was chaired by Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and head of the Jewish Labor Committee.
Appelbaum has long traded on his image as a “progressive” labor leader to attack growing international trade union support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. Recently, he has been at the forefront of a witch-hunt that banned supporters of Palestinian rights from meeting at the NYC LGBT Community Center.
Dump Israel Bonds Campaign
The June 13 protest builds on earlier efforts to end such complicity.
On October 14, 1973, just eight days after Israel provoked its fourth war in twenty-five years, three thousand Arab autoworkers in Detroit held a wildcat (unofficial) strike and march to protest UAW Local 600’s purchase, without membership approval, of $300,000 in Israel Bonds. On November 28, 1973, Arab workers and their supporters struck again, this time a B’nai B’rith “Humanitarian Award” for UAW International President Leonard Woodcock.
On May 21, 2002, immediately following the infamous Israeli massacre in Jenin in the West Bank, New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) picketed an AFL-CIO Israel Bonds National Labor Division event where “special guest” Israeli Consul General Alon Pinkus “express[ed] his gratitude to the labor movement for its decades of support.”
On December 4, 2004, NYCLAW and Al Awda-NY co-founded Labor for Palestine, a network which called for U.S. labor bodies to “Divest all labor investments in Israeli Apartheid.”
Since then, Labor for Palestine has organized numerous events, and has issued public statements condemning labor officials’ support for Israel and calling for labor bodies to cut ties with the Histadrut, “the Zionist labor federation that not only supported Israel’s war on Gaza, but which has spearheaded — and whitewashed — racism, apartheid, dispossession and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians since the 1920s.”
More recently, it has supported the Dump Israel Bonds campaign, established by Connecticut trade unionist Stan Heller.
It has also worked with US Palestinian Community Network, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network/Labor, US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and other allied campaigns.
PTUC-BDS Call and LFP Statement
The June 13 picket followed a May 4, 2011 call from the newly-formed Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS (PTUC-BDS) which asked labor bodies around the world to “divest . . . from Israel Bonds and all Israeli and international companies and institutions complicit in Israel’s occupation, colonization and apartheid.”
The protest was accompanied by an online statement calling on Hughes and Appelbaum to “Stop Scabbing for Apartheid — Withdraw From Israel Bonds “Celebration.”
The statement points out that the Israel Bonds dinner “follows the May 15 Israeli massacre of unarmed Palestinian refugees exercising their right to return, the first anniversary of the deadly May 31, 2010 Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and Israeli prime minister Netanyahu’s arrogant U.S. tour.”
It notes that, “Whitewashing this betrayal is the Histadrut, the Zionist labor federation, and its ‘progressive’ U.S. mouthpiece, the Jewish Labor Committee.”
Recounting labor’s role in opposing apartheid South Africa, it expressed support for dockers from South Africa to Oakland, CA, who have refused to handle Israeli cargo, and argues that, “[r]ather than being used to secretly finance racism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and colonialism, union members’ funds should be transparently invested in justice for all workers.”
So far, the statement has been signed by more than one hundred trade unionists, many of whom are current or former elected union officials. To sign, please go here.
Labor speakers at the picket included:
Marty Goodman, former Executive Board member, Transport Workers Union Local 100
Stanley Heller, 40-year member of the AFT
Michael Letwin, Former President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325; Labor for Palestine; New York City Labor Against the War
Brenda Stokely, Former President, AFSCME DC 1707; New York City Labor Against the War; Million Worker March Movement
Mike Gimbel, Retired member of AFSCME Local 375 Executive Board
Steve Millies, member, Transportation Communications International Union
Also speaking were:
Bill Doares, Al-Awda NY, PRRC
Jill Dowling, Committee to Stop FBI Repression
Alan Stolzer, Military Resistance Organization
Sherry Wolf, Siege Busters Working Group; International Socialist Organization
David Letwin, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
Johnnie Stevens, Workers World Party
Ann Lamb, Jericho Movement
Rabbi Weiberman, True Torah Jews Against Zionism
 Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975), pp. 76-81.
 http://www.laborforpalestine.net/wp/2009/12/19/trumka-letter/; http://laborforpalestine-net.freeahmadsaadat.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Histadrut-Briefing.pdf