Middle East War Roils San Francisco Labor Council
Report by Bob Mattingly
LABOR TUESDAY! – April 16, 2002
Published here: 17/04/02
|On March 11, the San Francisco Labor Council narrowly adopted a resolution condemning the Israeli “bombing of civilian and political targets most specifically, but not limited to, the Palestine trade union offices in Nablus, Palestine and remind the U. S. Government that this is both a moral and legal crime…” The resolution also called upon Israeli and Palestinian labor federations “to launch joint action against both sides’ attacks on innocents and civilians and work together to gain control over this horrible situation…”
The labor council represents several hundred local unions with a total of some 75,000 members. The council has taken many controversial positions over the years, including support for Mumia Abu-Jamal. More recently, the council endorsed the National Marches to protest War, Racism and Poverty, scheduled for April 20 in Washington, D. C. and San Francisco. But just a month after the council adopted the resolution that also stated that “the U. S. proves to be the main culprit in this struggle by supplying the Israeli State billions of dollars in arms to suppress the Palestinian struggle for Statehood and ancestral lands” the labor body reversed itself and rescinded the resolution.
Perhaps the March 11 resolution might have been rescinded, even if outside pressures had not been applied to the council. We say that because it barely passed in the first place, and because the council’s executive committee, its central leadership body, seemingly opposed the resolution from the get-go. So chances are the leadership would have attempted to rescind the resolution, if they figured they could muster the necessary two-thirds majority required to rescind a motion by the council.
But the council, or more correctly, the council’s leadership, came under heavy pressure to overturn the March 11 action. That’s not to say that all the pressure that was brought to bear has been made public. It may well be that what is publicly known is no more than the tip of the iceberg. If so, that would be no surprise
What we do know is that the San Francisco Zionist establishment which includes prominent Democratic Party contributors and politicians were terribly upset that the council resolution implicitly called for the end of the 35 years of Israeli occupation of Palestine and pointedly condemned the use of U. S. supplied “Israeli F-16 jets that continue to bomb civilian and Palestinian political targets,” in defiance of the U. S. ‘s un-enforced legal restrictions.
The San Francisco Examiner carried a column by Andrew Heinze, professor of history and director of the Swig Judaic Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. Heinze lambasted the labor council for adopting what he called “one-sided and ill-informed declarations that add nothing but more fuel to the fire…” Heinze seemingly believes that Israeli and Palestinian warfare is rooted in a long-standing anti-Semitic pan-Arab “world view,” utterly opposed to a “Jewish State.” In other words, the professor implicitly defends the decades-long occupation and settlement of pre-1967 Palestine as strictly a matter of morally justifiable self-defense. Heinze called the resolution’s opposition to the Israeli occupation “arbitrary, divisive and unjust.” Heinze says that Israel “should be judged by the same standards we use to judge any nation,” but fails to apply the standards to Israel that have judged and condemned the domination by powerful nations of weak nations, especially during the past two centuries.
The professor’s attack on the labor council’s short-lived resolution revealed little more than his loyalties and insensitivities. Another attack, however, disclosed the close ties between the labor council’s leadership and the region’s organized Zionists. That’s not to say that those relationships were a secret. But they would not have received such notice except for the storm the resolution precipitated. The executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Rabbi Doug Kahn, said the Jewish community had a “close and longstanding relationship with the labor movement in San Francisco, and, specifically, the labor council leadership…,”reported the Northern California Jewish Bulletin on March 28. The same bulletin account quoted a colleague of Rabbi Kahn as saying that, “This is not the traditional relationship of labor in San Francisco or the nation to Jews and Israel. The AFL-CIO has been one of the strongest friends of Israel among organized communities in the country.”
“In the weeks to come,” Rabbi Kahn told the Jewish Bulletin, “we will be engaged in extensive discussions with the leaders of the labor council to see what steps we can take to undo [the resolution].” We can’t report on those discussions nor say with certainty that they even if they took place. However, we think it highly probable that the Zionists and their supporters in the Democratic Party who routinely are touted as “friends of labor” did pressure the labor council leadership to withdraw the council’s statement condemning the apparently endless occupation of Palestinian territory and the Israeli domination of the Palestinian inhabitants.
Of course the labor council has the right to adopt any resolution it chooses, and if it chooses to rescind a resolution, that also is its right. But what is wrong is that in the end, the pressures of the Zionists and their supporters outweighed the cries of the wounded and dying Palestinians whose blood was shed upon the land that bore them.
In the wake of the council’s rescinding the Israeli/Palestine resolution, it was announced that the labor council plans to form a committee and write a “broader” resolution. Also these statements were made:
“I think we have a responsibility to make sure we look at the big picture, from all points of view.” (Walter Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer, S. F, Labor Council.)
“It was frightening to sit there and listen to so much anti-Zionist rhetoric and hatred of Israel with no understanding of what led up to this.” (Karen Lipney, Assistant Executive Director, American Federation of Television and Radio Artist and Screen Actors Guild.)
“When the Democratic Party and big business bosses bark, their labor lieutenants snap to. And that’s what happened on this issue.” (Charles Minister, author of the resolution, Local 1141 Delegate.)
“The political leader of the trade union bureaucracy is not Walter Johnson. It is not any official in the San Francisco trade unions. They are all loyal Democrats. They look to Mayor Willie Brown and State Senator John Burton for day-to-day leadership guidance, but their leader is Walter Shorenstein, a ‘fat cat’ liberal Democrat/Zionist. Senator Diane Feinstein is one of his creations. Shorenstein is one of the wealthiest people in San Francisco, owing a good section of the financial district buildings in the city. When Shorenstein says, ‘jump’- the trade union bureaucrats ask, ‘How high?’” (Roland Sheppard, retired Painters Union official and delegate to the labor council.)