As longtime labor and anti-apartheid activists, we strongly disagree with the decision to honor Stuart Appelbaum at tonight’s annual dinner of the Labor Research Association in New York City.
The LRA’s dinner program praises Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, for building “relationships with community organizations in an effort to expand the rights of unorganized workers.”
What it doesn’t say is that, as head of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), he leads the witch-hunt against labor bodies in South Africa and around the world that support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid.
The BDS campaign was initiated by Palestinian civil society, including its entire labor movement. The campaign demands Palestinian self-determination, including an end to Israeli military occupation, the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the land from which they have been ethnically cleansed since the Nakba of 1947-1948, and equal rights for all throughout historic Palestine.
It has been endorsed by numerous labor bodies, including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), UNISON (UK), Transport and General Workers’ Union (UK), Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Canadian Union of Public Employees-Ontario, six Norwegian trade unions, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Scottish Trades Union Congress, and Intersindical Alternativa de Catallunya.
The campaign gained still greater urgency after the Gaza Ghetto Massacre launched by Israel on December 27, and which left 1,400 dead and 5,000 wounded; nearly all were civilians, hundreds of them children. Gaza remains under Israeli siege.
War crime investigations have been called for by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UN officials, Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, and Israeli soldiers themselves.
But the strongest response was made by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union in Durban, and the Western Australia Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia, both of which refused to handle Israeli cargo.
Their action is in the honorable tradition of dockworkers in Denmark and Sweden (1963), the San Francisco Bay Area (1984) and Liverpool (1988), who refused to handle shipping for apartheid South Africa; Oakland dockworkers who refused to load bombs for the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (1978); and West Coast dockworkers who struck against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2008).
COSATU, in turn, “call[ed] on other workers and unions to follow suit and to do all that is necessary to ensure that they boycott all goods to and from Israel until Palestine is free.”
That call took on renewed urgency after Israeli Occupation forces fired on a nonviolent May Day protest against the Apartheid Wall in the Bethlehem area of the West Bank. Nine marchers were injured, including the head of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), Shaher Sa’ad. Six protesters were arrested and remain in prison.
As the protest organizers point out, “The events of May 1 are the latest of a strategy of escalation implemented over the last months by the Occupation forces and which has lead to increased arrests, injuries and deaths among the coordinators and activists against the Apartheid Wall.”
In response to the May Day attack, the Bethlehem branch of the PGFTU and its allies have specifically called on “trade unions across the globe” to “Support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and promote concrete BDS actions to hold Israel accountable for its crimes and force it to respect Palestinian rights.”
This appeal is particularly relevant to workers in the United States.
In the past ten years alone, U.S. military aid to Israel was $17 billion; over the next decade, it will be another $30 billion. As in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. aircraft, white phosphorous and bullets kill and maim on behalf of the occupiers, while both Democratic and Republican politicians condone the slaughter.
U.S. support bolsters Israel’s longstanding role as watchdog and junior partner for U.S. domination over the oil-rich Middle East — and beyond. In that capacity, Israel was apartheid South Africa’s closest ally; no wonder South African anti-apartheid veterans lead the international movement against Israeli apartheid.
Moreover, as with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, workers in the United States also pay a staggering human and financial price, including deepening economic crisis, for U.S.-Israeli war and occupation throughout the region.
Yet Appelbaum and the JLC denounce those in labor who respond to Palestinian appeals for solidarity. They smear BDS supporters with accusations of “anti-Semitism,” just as the Israel Lobby routinely attacks Archbishop Desmond Tutu and numerous other critics of Israeli apartheid — many of whom are Jewish.
This is standard JLC operating procedure. For decades, it has served as “progressive” mouthpiece for the Histadrut, the Zionist labor federation that has spearheaded — and whitewashed — apartheid, dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians since the 1920s. Meanwhile, U.S. labor leaders have plowed at least $5 billion of our union pension funds and retirement plans into State of Israel Bonds.
In 2007, Appelbaum and the JLC recruited top AFL-CIO and Change to Win officials to sign a statement condemning British unions for supporting the BDS campaign. Now, to deflect international outrage over Gaza, they have launched “Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP),” a benign-sounding name whose express purpose is to target labor BDS supporters.
Their shameful complicity with Israeli apartheid echoes “AFL-CIA” support for U.S. war and dictatorship in Vietnam, Latin America, Gulf War I, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
For all these reasons, we call on the LRA to revoke its award to Stuart Appelbaum, and suggest that it be given instead to COSATU, whose courageous leadership against Israeli apartheid is an example to workers everywhere.
Issued by New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) Co-Conveners:
Former President, NPMHU Local 300
Former President, UAW Local 2325/Assn. of Legal Aid Attorneys
Former President, AFSCME DC 1707; Co-Chair, Million Worker March