Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2002 20:49:53 -0400
Subject: STATEMENT: ICFTU on Palestinians
Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the world’s biggest union federation, the International Confederation of Trade Unions, representing hundreds of millions of workers around the world, just returned from Israel/Palestine, and issued the mealy-mouthed statement below. In essence it says stop the violence, and refers — with hedging — to “claims” of IDF abuses, and suggests troop withdrawals and being nice to civilians and journalists.
Ryder admits that he couldn’t meet with Palestinian union leader Shaher Sa’ed “who has been confined to his house with his family for the last 14 days under the 24-hour curfew now in force.” Did it ever occur to Ryder to ask ICFTU affiliates to strike or at least demonstrate to demand Sa’ed’s release? Or the release of the millions of other Palestinian workers and their families under curfew? Whatever happened to labor solidarity, Brother Ryder?
Ryder refers to the common interests of Jewish and Arab workers, the former organized in the Histradut union (sic). Did it occur to Ryder to point out explicitly to Histadrut members that the unemployment, wage and service cuts, and general insecurity facing them is a direct product of Zionist militarism, which itself is a product of the Israeli regime’s wholesale embrace of neoliberalism?*
Why doesn’t the ICFTU demand an end to the occupation? Why doesn’t the ICFTU demand that Arab workers inside pre-1967 Israel be granted full civil and social rights? Why doesn’t the ICFTU demand that the Arab workers expelled in 1948 be allowed to return to their land?
The answer of course is that the ICFTU’s politics is about one degree to the left of the fake socialism of Israel’s founders — a fake socialism which has resulted, not only in Israel but in England, France and any other country ruled by “Labour” parties, in an embrace of the market and the militarism used to enforce it.
Ironically Ryder’s statement comes on the same day that 12 million workers are on strike in Italy and 10 million in India — both against labor “reforms” and privatization imposed by neoliberal regimes.
A real labor movement uniting Jews and Arabs in Palestine (all of it) would unite workers against the equivalent “reforms” and privatizations occuring there. It would also strike for an end to the occupation, which is only neoliberalism carried on, as per Clausewitz’ saying “by other [military] means.”
Only the building of a real workers’ movement in Palestine (all of it) will bring peace. This is a matter of life or death not only for those under attack by the IDF, but for Jewish workers around the world: only the building of a united Jewish-Arab workers’ movement can isolate those who rely on barbaric and self-defeating individual terrorism.
* As for the impact of neoliberalism on Palestinian workers, a good example is provided this week by Rita Giacaman and Penny Johnson in their report on Jenin:
“Following the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the close proximity of Palestinian communities inside Israel to communities in the Jenin District, as well as social and cultural links, encouraged an increase in commercial activities across the borders. An increasing number of workers, formerly absorbed in local agriculture began working inside Israel and local agricultural activities declined with a consequential serious deterioration in agricultural productivity. More recently, conditions which emerged during the first and particularly the second uprising, the tightening of Israeli restrictions of movement, and the cutting off of relations between the town and even its villages led to serious economic strife. The inability of laborers to travel freely for employment led to very high levels of unemployment there, and a severe drop in family incomes.”
ICFTU ONLINE… “Stop the carnage now,” demands ICFTU General Secretary on his return from Israel and Palestine. 15/4/2002
Brussels, 15 April (ICFTU OnLine): “My visit revealed the full tragedy of two peoples who want peace, but who are locked into a conflict which is causing untold human suffering, can have no useful outcome, and threatens still greater calamity if it is not stopped immediately. The international community must bring the totality of its influence to bear to stop the terror and violence now. Every hour that passes brings more loss of life and more misery. There can be no sense or justification for what is happening”, said ICFTU General Secretary, Guy Ryder, speaking on his return from a
mission which encompassed the cities of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Gaza.
During this mission, Guy Ryder met with the ICFTU’s Israeli affiliate, the Histadrut, and leaders of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) in Gaza and Jerusalem. He also met with the Israeli Ministers of Defense and of Foreign Affairs, and representatives of the Palestinian
authorities in Jerusalem. Due to military operations, Guy Ryder was unable to travel to Nablus to meet PGFTU General Secretary Shaher Sa’ed who has been confined to his house with his family for the last 14 days under the 24-hour curfew now in force.
Ryder reiterated the ICFTU’s call for a meaningful ceasefire and renunciation of all acts of violence from both sides, in line with UN Security Council resolutions. This requires an immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian territories and resolute steps to stop the terror bombings against Israeli civilians.
The Israeli authorities informed the ICFTU General Secretary that the measures being taken under operation “Defensive Shield” were the minimum action required to ensure the security of Israelis. But reports from official international sources, including UNRWA and the Red Cross, concerning the situation in the areas of military activity, suggest not only a massive humanitarian emergency, but also actions which
international standards, even under conditions of conflict.
gravely concerned by these as yet unconfirmed reports, which action against civilians that cannot be condoned. Nevertheless, it is vital that civilians not be targeted, that humanitarian and medical assistance, food and water be allowed through to those in need, and that universally
accepted standards in time of conflict be strictly adhered to. Those directing military activity have a clear and pressing responsibility in this regard,” explained Guy Ryder.
Ryder also expressed concern at the severe restrictions placed upon journalists working in the region. According to the IFJ, during the past 15 days, dozens of journalists have been targeted and attacked in the Israeli sweep across the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The “reckless war” on the media has been denounced by the IFJ.
The meetings held with Israeli and Palestinian trade unions showed that there is much common ground between working people on both sides. Histadrut and Palestinian trade union leaders expressed real commitment to peace, genuine concern for those suffering on the other side of the conflict, a desire for an end to terror and violence, and the reopening of negotiations aiming to assure the peaceful coexistence of two states within secure and recognized borders.
“There is still room for hope,” commented Ryder, “working people everywhere know that peace and security are preconditions for the realization of their most basic requirements, for themselves, and their families. The ICFTU has been working to promote contact and cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists for many years. We will persist in that work because it is the best way we can contribute to the development of understanding and to the construction of peace.”
As a critic both of the Israeli occupation and of corporate-dictated globalisation, it seems to me that the convergence that took place in Washington last weekend was long overdue. Despite easy labels like “anti-globalisation”, the trade-related protests of the past three years have all been about self-determination: the right of people everywhere to decide how best to organise their societies and economies, whether that means introducing land reform in Brazil, or producing generic Aids drugs in India or, indeed, resisting an occupying force in Palestine.
When hundreds of globalisation activists began flocking to Ramallah to act as “human shields” between Israeli tanks and Palestinians, the theory developing outside trade summits was put into concrete action. Bringing that courageous spirit back to Washington DC, where so much Middle Eastern policy is made, was the next logical step.
But when I saw Le Pen beaming on TV, arms raised in triumph, some of my enthusiasm drained away. There is no connection whatsoever between French fascism and the “free Palestine” marchers in Washington (indeed the only people Le Pen’s supporters seem to dislike more than Jews are Arabs). Yet I couldn’t help thinking about the recent events I’ve been to where anti-Muslim violence was rightly condemned, Ariel Sharon deservedly blasted, but no mention was made of attacks on Jewish synagogues, cemeteries and community centres. Or about the fact that every time I log on to activist news sites like Indymedia.org which practise “open publishing”, I am confronted with a string of Jewish conspiracy theories about September 11 and excerpts from the Protocol of the Elders of Zion.
The globalisation movement isn’t anti-semitic, it just hasn’t fully confronted the implications of diving into the Middle East conflict. Most people on the left are simply choosing sides and in the Middle East, where one side is under illegal occupation and the other has the US military behind it, the choice seems clear. But it is possible to criticise Israel while forcefully condemning the rise of anti-semitism. It is equally possible to be pro-Palestinian independence without adopting a simplistic “pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel” dichotomy, a mirror image of the good-versus-evil equations so beloved of President Bush.
Why bother with such subtleties while bodies are still being pulled out of the wreckage in Jenin? Because anyone interested in fighting Le Pen-style fascism or Sharon-style brutality has to confront the reality of anti-semitism head-on. The hatred of Jews is a potent political tool in the hands of both the right in Europe and in Israel. For Ariel Sharon, it is the fear of anti-semitism, both real and imagined, that is the weapon. Mr Sharon likes to say that he stands up to terrorists to show he is not afraid. In fact, his policies are driven by fear. His great talent is that he fully understands the depths of Jewish fear of another Holocaust. He knows how to draw parallels between Jewish anxieties about anti-semitism and American fears of terrorism, and he is an expert at harnessing all of it for his political ends.
The primary and familiar fear that Sharon draws on, the one that allows him to disguise all aggressive actions as defensive ones, is the fear that Israel’s neighbours want to drive the Jews into the sea. The secondary fear Sharon manipulates is the fear among Jews in the diaspora that they will eventually be driven to seek a safe haven in Israel. This leads millions of Jews around the world, many of them sickened by Israeli aggression, to shut up and send their cheques, a down-payment on future sanctuary.
The equation is simple: the more fearful Jews are, the more powerful Sharon is. Elected on a platform of “peace through security”, Sharon’s administration could barely hide its delight at Le Pen’s ascendancy, immediately calling on French Jews to pack their bags and come to the promised land. For Sharon, Jewish fear is a guarantee that his power will go unchecked, granting him the impunity needed to do the unthinkable: send troops into the Palestinian Authority’s education ministry to steal and destroy records, bury children alive in their homes, block ambulances from getting to the dying, sabotage all international attempts to get at the truth of what happened in Jenin.
Jews outside Israel now find themselves in a tightening vice: the actions of the country that was supposed to ensure their future safety are making them less safe right now. Sharon is deliberately erasing distinctions between the terms “Jew” and “Israeli”, claiming he is fighting not for Israeli territory but for the survival of the Jewish people. When anti-semitism rises at least partly as a result of his actions, it is Sharon who is positioned once again to collect the political dividends.
It works. Most Jews are so frightened that they are now willing to do anything to defend Israeli policies. So at my neighbourhood synagogue, where the humble facade was badly scarred by a suspicious fire recently, the sign on the door doesn’t say, “Thanks for nothing, Sharon.” It says, “Support Israel – now more than ever.”
There is a way out. Nothing is going to erase anti-semitism, but Jews outside and inside Israel might be a little safer if there was a campaign to distinguish between diverse Jewish positions and the actions of the Israeli state. This is where an international movement can play a crucial role. Already, alliances are being made between globalisation activists and Israeli “refuseniks” – soldiers who refuse to serve their mandatory duty in the occupied territories. The most powerful images from Saturday’s protests were rabbis walking alongside Palestinians.
More needs to be done. It’s easy for social justice activists to tell themselves that since Jews already have such powerful defenders in Washington and Jerusalem, anti-semitism is one battle they don’t need to fight. This is a deadly error. It is precisely because anti-semitism is used and abused by the likes of Sharon that the fight against it must be reclaimed.
When anti-semitism is no longer treated as Jewish business, to be taken care of by Israel and the rightwing Zionist lobby, Sharon is robbed of his most effective weapon in the indefensible and increasingly brutal occupation. And as an extra bonus, whenever hatred of Jews diminishes, the likes of Jean-Marie Le Pen shrink right down with it.