Monthly Archives: April 2016

Building a Labor Movement Against Apartheid: Union Solidarity with Palestine (Jobs with Justice)

Building a Labor Movement Against Apartheid: Union Solidarity with Palestine
A workshop at the Jobs With Justice Annual Conference, April 16,  2016
Springfield, MA Trinity United Methodist Church

 
Presentation by Michael Letwin, Labor for Palestine


Many thanks to Jobs with Justice and Western Mass Labor for Palestine for hosting this panel, and a special shout-out to GEO-UAW 2322, which adopted a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution this week by a margin of 95%-5%. You are at the cutting edge of the BDS movement for Palestinian rights, and it is an honor to be with you today.

We are often asked, “Why Palestine?” Because colonialism in Palestine is at the heart of U.S. imperial project, and for more than a century, Palestinians have resisted. This has broad implications: Israel has been at the forefront of U.S. wars throughout the region and beyond. Conversely, without Tahrir Square and the Arab Spring there would have been no Occupy Wall Street – without Palestinian Intifada, there would have been no Tahrir and Arab Spring. This is a perfect example of “intersectionality.”

This nexus has its origins in the Nakba (Catastrophe) of Nakba of 1947-1949, when Zionists ethnically cleansed Palestine by massacring the indigenous population in places like Deir Yassin, erasing 531 towns and village, emptying 11 urban neighborhoods, and expelling more than 750,000 (85 percent) of the Palestinians from 78 percent of their country.

Today, at least 70 percent of 10 million Palestinians remain refugees – the largest such population in the world. Despite other UN resolutions, Israel vows that it will never allow them to return.

In Gaza today, Palestinian workers and the families are being killed and maimed by naval vessels, jet fighters, Apache helicopters, white phosphorous and other weapons supplied by the U.S. and its allies. 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 Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Syria, both Democratic and Republican politicians condone the slaughter to ensure Israel’s role as watchdog for U.S. domination over the oil-rich Middle East. It is the same system of police violence, racism, injustice, neoliberal capitalism that we face in this country.

Because Israeli apartheid is systemic, so is the BDS movement, which – like the movement against apartheid South Africa — includes an academic and cultural boycott. It demands full Palestinian rights and self-determination not only in 1967 Occupied Palestine (West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem), but also in 1948 Occupied Palestine (“Israel”): (1) An end to Israeli military occupation of 1967 areas; (2) The right of Palestinian refugees to return; (3) Elimination of apartheid throughout historic Palestine.

In other words, BDS applies not only to companies in the 1967 settlements, but from all institutions complicit with the entire regime of oppression of Palestine. Thus, BDS is inherently anti-Zionist, because these demands are incompatible with a “Jewish state” in Palestine, just as humanity and democratic rights could not co-exist with a “white Afrikaner state” in South Africa, or a “white Christian state” in the U.S.

Moreover, BDS is a picket line. Trade unionists believe that “an injury to one is an injury to all,” or as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” That kind of solidarity is what it takes to makes labor a fighting, effective movement. And like all solidarity, supporting BDS is a matter of our common class interest, because:

1. Amidst deepening economic crisis, workers in this country pay a staggering human and financial price for U.S.-Israeli war and occupation throughout the region.

2. Without the knowledge or approval of union members, top labor officials, organized by JLC, have invested some $5 billion of our money in State of Israel Bonds, as exposed by Stan Heller’s “Dump Israel Bonds” campaign. Meanwhile, they have also encouraged the U.S. to provide the money and weapons that kill Palestinian workers. This reflects a toxic mixture of racism and undemocratic business unionism. 

3. Standing against injustice anywhere energizes and empowers unions to win immediate demands. 

That is why there has been resistance in the past, as Suzanne Adely will discuss. That’s why Labor for Palestine was co-founded twelve years ago by NYCLAW and Al Awda New York to reclaim this tradition. From the beginning, LFP has called for: 

• The U.S. and other governments to end all aid to Israel. 

• Workers to emulate dockers in South Africa, India, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, the U.S. west coast, and elsewhere, by refusing to handle military or any other cargo destined for Israel.

• Labor bodies to divest from Israel Bonds, and cut ties with the Histadrut, Israel’s racist labor federation.

In just the past two years, as relentless Israeli brutality has energized the BDS movement, this edifice of Labor Zionism has begun to crack.

In July 2014, hundreds of trade unionists signed LFP’s statement Stop the War on Gaza: No Arms for Apartheid Israel — Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

On December 4, 2014, 13,000 graduate student members of UAW 2865 across the University of California overwhelmingly became the first major U.S. union body to endorse BDS. This was no accident: it was built on the work of Students for Justice in Palestine, and the national reform caucus, Academic Workers for a Democratic Union. 

Meanwhile, starting in August 2014, members of ILWU Local 10 in Oakland repeatedly refused to unload Israeli Zim Line ships. This too was no accident: it reflected a campaign by communities of color, and workers of color with a long history of blockading injustice, including apartheid South Africa in 1984 and Israel in 2010. 

As Block the Boat put it: “Do not stand in solidarity with Palestine simply to stand in solidarity with Palestine. Stand in solidarity with Palestine to bring down state violence everywhere.” These same connections are reflected in projects like Black for Palestine. 

In 2015, BDS resolutions were also adopted by the United Electrical Workers and Connecticut AFL-CIO. This month, for the first time, Palestine was a major topic at Labor Notes in Chicago. Despite (or even because of) the International UAW’s “nullification” of UAW 2865 resolution, similar BDS resolutions are being adopted by GEO-UAW 2322 at UMass-Amherst and GSOC-UAW 2110 at NYU. 

What can you do? 

• Join Western Mass Labor for Palestine – our first local chapter – and bring a BDS resolution in your own labor body. 

• Access our website, newsletter, and other materials. 

• Contact info@laborforpalestine.net for support to organize LFP meetings, chapters, resolutions, and/or other events in your local area.

Eric Lee: The Online Labour Solidarity Whiz who’s ‘Proud to be a Zionist’ (Peter Waterman)

Labour-StartApril 16, 2016

Eric Lee: The Online Labour Solidarity Whiz who’s ‘Proud to be a Zionist’ 

Peter Waterman
peterwaterman1936@gmail.com 

Eric Lee is best-known as the owner/coordinator of two international labour sites online. LabourStart is a unique and humungous news and solidarity site, fed by hundreds of volunteers. It is heavily identified with the Eurocentric and Social-Liberal International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). UnionBook is his pinboard or sandbox, on which contributors can post almost anything, or in which they can play, without any visible effect, with others.[1]

Eric, moreover, is organizing, 2016, a rather broad LabourStart Conference in Toronto, Canada this year. And he is this same year also the recipient of two awards for his online labour solidarity work, one in the UK, one in Norway.

I was therefore astounded to see his recent declaration, Proud to be a Zionist, a statement illustrated by a Left Zionist poster, with Hebrew lettering, from 1944: that is from before Israel was even created! Eric also identifies with the Israeli kibbutzim (he once lived and worked in one), though the numbers and socialist inspiration of these has been in decline for many years. As a US Left (?) Zionist paper puts it (in a piece worth reading in full) ‘What Actually Undermined the Kibbutz’:

Over the past quarter-century, most of Israel’s 270 kibbutzim have abandoned the founders’ socialist credo, ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,’ and replaced it with the new ‘privatized’ kibbutz.

So Eric’s Pride seems to be inspired by a Left Zionist Israel (real or aspirational) of the 1940s-50s, rather than the neo-liberal, racist, religious-conservative, projection of the present day. In the 1940s-50s Israel was almost universally supported by at least the Western trade union internationals, and the major Western (and even Non-Western) national unions. Today there is a growing international union movement, modeled on the Anti-Apartheid one, that identifies with the Palestinian unions and people, and calls for a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Now, like Eric Lee, I am a Jewish socialist and labour internationalist, both on the Ground (modestly) and in the Cloud (even more so). Shocked by his Zionist Pride statement, I decided that rather than dissecting his more-than-somewhat chauvinist[2] declaration, I would offer my own take on the Israel/Palestine situation. This is part of a general 2014 paper on the current crisis of union internationalism. It considers different international labour responses to that conflict, including Eric Lee’s Labour Zionist one. The relevant section begins as follows:

I have identified with Palestine Solidarity and/or the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, particularly in so far as this has involved unions and the wider labour movement. More so since the 2014 Israeli outrage in Gaza that scandalized even liberal Zionists abroad and former IDF intelligence unit soldiers in Israel. Given the Balkanisation/Ghettoization of Palestine, I have come to consider any UN-type ‘two-state’ solution as dead in the water (or should one here say ‘desert’ – including those caused by long-standing and continuing Israeli destruction of Palestine’s ecology?). If we are not to continue towards Israel’s ‘Final Solution of the Arab Problem’, then I see a one-state solution as the only democratic one. It may be distant (so is a post-capitalist world!) yet it provides a horizon toward which we must move.

The section continues with this consideration (edited) of the Labour Zionist position:

The Labour Zionist. Though not confined to one person, this position is

exemplified by … Eric Lee … whose position reminds me of that of Western Communists as Stalinist Russia stagnated and declined. He has been busy with triumphalist celebration of Israel’s wars, as well as the successes of the Zionist Histadrut within the [traditional trade unions] in general and the ITUC in particular. He has, however, increasingly shifted, if uncertainly, to sobering reflections on the success of the BDS/Palestine-solidarity movement, though this is not to the point of recognizing any Israeli responsibility [for this]. Two pro-Israeli sites he has either created or been connected with, TULIP (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine) and TUFI (Trade Union Friends of Israel) appear to have run out of steam late-2013.[3] Eric (with whom I fruitfully dialogued on [international labour communication by computer] in the 1990s) has also increasingly withdrawn his pro-Israeli/Histadrut news, views and personal attachments from LabourStart and UnionBook, concentrating them on his own blogsite (from which he has also removed his LabourStart/UnionBook affiliations!). Unlike many Western Communists (myself amongst them after the Soviet invasion of Communist Czechoslovakia) he has not yet had his ‘1968 Moment’ – that of abandoning a fundamentalist state-nationalism and an inevitably ‘particularistic internationalism’, in favour of the dialogical/dialectical internationalism that his remarkable and pioneering online creations make possible.

Eric Lee does a disservice to both his online and offline LabourStart activity by his continued total identification with one particular state (compare that of Communist internationalists with the Soviet Union). That he has separated his Zionism from LabourStart is a result, evidently, of 1) Israel’s increasing violation of human rights both within the country and in Palestine, 2) the increasing inter/national union opposition to Israel, and 3) the international criticism made of his continuing Zionism over the years. This shows, amongst other things, a British union refusing funds for LabourStart on the grounds of his Zionism, as well as a failure to achieve a place on the elected board of Amnesty International in the UK. Indeed, a condemnation of Eric’s support for the Israeli Zionist union confederation, Histadrut, also heavily marked a LabourStart conference in Turkey, 2011! Lee has consequently played down his identification with that body.

In so far as left, labour, socialist and human rights campaigning internationally, has caused Eric to retreat from using LabourStart to promote Zionism (and Israeli Zionist unionism), I am convinced that further campaigning at LabourStart conferences, and award-winning ceremonies, is necessary and would be to the advantage of such internationalism as LabourStart/UnionBook might represent.

I would like to forestall any argument that it is sufficient if Eric separates his Zionism from LabourStart. This would not stand up for anyone who on one of his sites promoted his labour internationalism and on another expressed anti-semitism, sexism, Maoism or Trumpism.

Eric Lee has shown he is sensitive to the forward march of the union BDS movement, and to criticism of his Israeli chauvinism. A widening campaign might oblige him to recognize there is a fundamental contradiction between national chauvinism and labour internationalism.

The Hague
20.04.16

[1] Full disclosure: I was for a year or two an active contributor to UnionBook. This was when I thought it had potential as a site of dialogue, whilst LabourStart is a ‘broadcaster’, collecting news to a centre, then sending this out. I was twice suspended from UB by Eric Lee, the second time definitively. I decided to focus my energy elsewhere.

[2] Merriam-Webster definition: 1 :  excessive or blind patriotism — compare jingoism, 2 :  undue partiality or attachment to a group or place to which one belongs or has belonged.

[3] Update, April 18, 2016: The TULIP site has evidently been revived, though it seems to have forgotten which Palestinian unions it now ‘links’ with.

 

On Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, Anti-Prison, Labor, Academic Delegation Takes Stand against Israeli State Violence, Affirms Solidarity with Palestinian People (Samidoun)

delegation-birzeit

Recently returned from a ten-day trip to the Israeli-colonized Palestine, a US delegation of anti-prison, labor, and scholar-activists has issued the following statement to mark Palestinian Prisoners Day 2016.  The delegation included three former US-held political prisoners, and a formerly incarcerated activist, two former Black Panther Party members, university professors, prison abolition organizers, and trade unionists. This was the first US delegation to Palestine to focus specifically on political imprisonment and solidarity between Palestinian and US prisoners.  The delegation also paid special attention to the recent labor organizing in the West Bank and the efforts of Palestinian scholars and activists to reclaim the history, political identity and culture of the Palestinian people.

In recognition of International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian Prisoners, the US Anti-Prison, Labor, and Academic Delegation is demanding freedom for the 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners currently held in Israeli jails and all those fighting for justice everywhere, including political prisoners in U.S. prisons.

Reflecting information, analysis, and testimony gathered from meetings with close to 100 Palestinian activists, advocates, organizers, and former political prisoners from many social justice, human rights, labor, education, and political organizations and institutions, the US delegation’s statement concluded:

We feel an urgent sense of responsibility to pressure the United States to stop funding Israeli crimes against humanity. We express our support for the struggle for a free Palestine as a central struggle in the worldwide movement against U.S. imperialism. We are committed to employing a variety of tactics in solidarity with Palestine, including Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and we condemn Israeli and Zionist attacks against advocates for justice for/in Palestine in our communities and on our campuses. We connect prisoner and labor movements across the borders; and apply the spirit of sumud to all our struggles for liberation within the United States.

Photo: Delegation Images/Freedom Archives.  US Prisoner, Labor and Academic Delegation with colleagues from the Institute for Women’s Studies at Birzeit University, Birzeit, Palestine, March 29, 2016. To contact the delegation:  palestine.prison.delegation16@gmail.com

Spanish | Arabic

Full statement follows:

We Stand with Palestine in the Spirit of “Sumud

The U.S. Prisoner, Labor and Academic Solidarity Delegation to Palestine

March 24 to April 2, 2016

At a moment of growing resistance to state violence and injustice the world over, a delegation of nineteen anti-prison, labor and scholar-activists from the United States traveled to Palestine in March 2016. Our delegation included former U.S.-held political prisoners and social prisoners, former Black Panther Party members, prison abolitionists, trade unionists and university professors. We are the first U.S. delegation to Palestine to focus specifically on political imprisonment and solidarity between Palestinian and U.S. prisoners. Our delegation also focused on recent labor struggles in Palestine for bread and dignity, and on the struggles of Palestinian intellectuals to assert the rightful claims of Indigenous Palestinians to their land, culture and history.

On this April 17, the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian Prisoners, we demand freedom for the 7,000 Palestinian political prisonerscurrently held in Israeli jails and all those fighting for justice everywhere, including political prisoners in U.S. prisons.

During our ten-day trip, we heard from diverse groups of Palestinians who daily resist summary executions, mass imprisonment, land confiscation, house demolitions, restrictions to water access and restriction of movement. In the face of Israel’s system of racialized terror, Palestinians uphold their commitment to “sumud.” This Arabic word has historical ties to the Palestinian anti-colonial liberation movement and is defined as “steadfastness,” or standing one’s ground with dignity—a form of resistance. We saw this resistance, and were inspired by it, over and over during our visit.

Having witnessed sumud firsthand, we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle and with the liberation of Palestine, including the right to return, the rights of self-determination, justice and peace. We condemn the shocking and continuing human rights violations carried out with impunity by Israel with the full strategic support of the U.S. government. We stand with the growing worldwide movement forBoycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid. We learned from the Palestinian movement that steadfastness is not only possible but necessary, especially under the most oppressive conditions.

Our travels took us to lands colonized by Israel in 1948 and occupied in 1967: from Jericho and the Jordan Valley to the Naqab, Haifa, Yafa, Jerusalem and Nablus; from Ramallah and Bethlehem to Lydd and Nazareth; and from Dheisheh to Ayn Hawd. We met with dozens of former political prisoners, prisoner support organizations and human rights advocates, professors and public intellectuals, political leaders, members of Bedouin and peasant communities threatened with displacement, women leaders, organizers for gender and sexual justice, cultural workers, and trade unionists struggling for dignified work conditions.

Our hosts insisted that we examine the harrowing conditions of Palestinian life not just in the context of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, but as the consequence of the Zionist invasion and seizure of 1948. The 1948 Nakba, or “catastrophe,” displaced 85% of Palestinians from their lands to the West Bank, Gaza and nearby Arab countries of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Subjected to Israeli military rule from 1948 to 1966, Palestinians who remained were internally displaced in their own country, confined to its poorest regions, forbidden from moving freely, stripped of land rights and subjected to a brutal system of racial apartheid.

Palestinian residents in territories colonized by Israel in 1948 continue to live with many of the same forms of state terrorism that are commonly associated with the military occupation of the 1967 Palestinian territories—an Orwellian system of laws and regulations including racialized arrest, segregation, settler violence, land confiscation, forced relocation, home demolitions and civil rights violations of all kinds. We witnessed the wholesale project of Zionist colonization—the greatest threat to the life, security and human rights of the Palestinian people.

The aim of the Zionist project was—and remains—the creation of an exclusively Jewish state through the violent displacement of Palestinians and their replacement by Jewish immigrants. After 1948, Jews who had been a numeric minority became the majority through the calculated process of massacres, forced expulsion, Jewish immigration from Europe and land confiscations by Zionist settlers. For these reasons, Palestinians we spoke to insisted on framing the roots of current-day problems in the historical context of Israel’s settler-colonial apartheid regime.

Time and again, Palestinians made clear the distinction between Zionism as a racist and colonial movement and Jewish people. They emphasized that a free Palestine will be a land of religious pluralism and respect of diverse spiritualities, according to the Palestinian National Charter of 1969 and the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence. Palestinians also stressed that historically and contemporarily there has not been a homogenous stand of Jews on Israel or Zionism. In fact, the intensification of Israeli violence and racism is leading a growing number of Holocaust survivors as well as younger Jews to invoke “never again for anyone” and “not in my name” to dissociate themselves from the Zionist state and its racist and genocidal policies.

As strongly as we were compelled to examine the shameful and brutal history of Zionist colonialism in Palestine and the harrowing conditions of Palestinian life, we were in turn compelled to learn about the continuous resistance of the Palestinian people. Time and again, people expressed their commitment to ensuring that Palestine will be free.

open-air-prison
“The Open Air Prison”: Watchtower and apartheid wall, Bethlehem, Palestine.

Israel: A Colonial Carceral State

Aware that Israel is the only country in the world that prosecutes children in military courts, our delegation observed the proceedings of three Israeli military tribunals against Palestinian youth. We witnessed a 16-year-old Palestinian boy tried as an adult and accused of running an Israeli over in a vehicle. The boy faced two life sentences in an Israeli adult prison, and was being tried with evidence presented in the form of a video reenactment, constructed from the prosecution’s theory of the act and with details likely coerced through torture, a routine practice of Israeli military prison administrators. More than 99 percent of all cases tried in the military courts end in conviction.

Legalized since 1987 by the Israeli Supreme Court as “moderate physical pressure,” Israeli torture tactics can include lengthy interrogation sessions, beatings, the tying of prisoners in “stress positions,” sleep deprivation, and psychological abuse such as threats to harm or kill prisoners’ family members. Former prisoners with whom we met recounted mock execution, torture lasting up to three months, subsequent sexual abuse, medical neglect and solitary confinement

The case of child prisoners is particularly harrowing. Human rights lawyers with whom we spoke shared the findings of international reports on the treatment by Israeli courts of Palestinian children, compared to the treatment of Israeli children. Israel’s racist double standard exempts Israeli children from prosecution as adults until the age of 18, while Palestinian children as young as 12 are tried as adults. Often charged with stone throwing, Palestinian children are subjected to lengthy sentences in adult prisons. Legal aid organizations Addameer and Defense for Children International (DCI) informed us that children are often taken from their families in the middle of the night, then handcuffed and blindfolded during their transport to torture sites, where they are denied legal representation or access to their parents for months. A former political prisoner told us that his own experience of torture behind bars was amplified when he heard, in a nearby cell, the voice of a child crying out for his mother.

For Palestinians of any age, the price of resisting the colonial apartheid order is often death. Between October 2015 and March 2016, approximately 200 Palestinians, including 41 children, have been extra-judicially murdered at the hands of Israeli military forces. We met Palestinian parents whose homes were demolished and who were levied heavy fines for their children’s alleged actions. In blatant violation of international law and human decency, the Israeli military has refused to release their children’s bodies, which they continue to hold in a state of suspension—literally frozen—for over 6 months.

A Palestinian adult we met in the old city of Hebron witnessed and video-recorded, in late March, the execution, by an Israeli military officer, of a wounded and incapacitated youth. This witness was subsequently harassed by settlers and investigated by the Israeli military while we were still in Palestine, a chilling reminder of the repeated arrests in the United States of Ramsey Orta after he recorded the 2014 strangulation of Eric Garner at the hands of the police in Staten Island, New York.

Our visit to Palestine made clear that incarceration is a central feature of the ongoing Zionist settler-colonial project. In meetings with former prisoners and legal aid organizations including Adalah, Addameer and the Arab Association for Human Rights, we learned that Palestinians face one of the highest per capita incarceration rates in the world: one in fivePalestinians has been imprisoned at some point in his or her life, including 40 percent of the Palestinian male population. Since 1967, Israel has imprisoned approximately 800,000 Palestinian political prisoners.

As in the United States, incarceration imposes collective punishment on communities. The families of the incarcerated in Palestine are forced to travel long journeys of up to 15 hours to visit their loved ones. At the prisons, visitors are routinely subjected to humiliating, full-body searches and sexual harassment by Israeli prison guards, a humiliation that has led some women to discontinue their visits. Once inside, relatives are allowed only a 30- to 45-minute visit: no contact, separated from the prisoner by Plexiglas walls.

In the face of repression, Palestinian prisoners have successfully employedhunger strikes to improve prison conditions and win the release of prisoners, including those held under administrative detention–prisoners held without charges, trial, or conviction.

Inspired by the Palestinian people’s respect for their political prisoners and fallen martyrs—reflected in images on public walls, in moments of silence, in daily conversations—our delegation is even more committed to making known the existence of dozens of U.S. political prisoners. Many U.S. political prisoners were given draconian sentences for their political activism in the anti-imperialist struggles and liberation movements of racially oppressed groups during the 1960s and 1970s. Dispensing with them as “criminals,” the U.S. government refuses to acknowledge the political nature of their incarceration.

Our delegation builds on the long history of solidarity between anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements in the United States and Palestine, expressed most recently in 2013 when thousands of prisoners in Pelican Bay, Guantanamo and Palestine, all on hunger strike at the time, issued solidarity statements with one another. The presence and the histories of two former Black Panther Party members on our delegation served as a constant reminder of the years of solidarity between the Black liberation movement and Palestine.

Colonial Violence and Indigenous Resistance

Israel, which presents itself to the world as a nation of laws, views civil society organizers who bring attention to its crimes as a threat. We were reminded during our visit to the offices of DCI that one of theorganization’s lead coordinators was shot and killed, execution-style, by an Israeli military sniper, as he observed a Palestinian protest against the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza. We witnessed firsthand the escalating Israeli terror against the Palestinian people when we heard on the news—and discussed with the Boycott National Committee—the calls by Israeli Ministers for the “civic” assassination of BDS leaders. This is an escalation of state-sanctioned terror that includes the 2014 assault on Gaza; the burning alive of Palestinian youth Mohammad Abu Khdair at the hands of settlers; the burning alive of the Dawabsheh family in Duma Village by settlers; and the intensification of detentions, land confiscation, displacement and deportations. These conditions have driven Palestinian youth to take matters into their own hands and engage in acts of resistance, which many call a third intifada. Reacting to this resistance, Israel has used the uprisings as pretext for intensifying violence against Palestinian youth.

During our visit, we heard the same message from a cross section of organized forces: that the 1993 Oslo Accords have 1) legitimized continued state violence and re-created a colonial structure—camouflaged as a model of Palestinian autonomy; and 2) weakened the Palestinian anti-colonial liberation movement. Twenty-three years after the failure of Oslo, social, cultural and grassroots organizations, as well as representatives of a wide array of Palestinian political parties, including those of the mass institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organization, emphasized the need to end political divisions in order to rebuild the movement to free Palestine.

While we focused primarily on the experiences of those held in official prisons, our visits to cities in lands taken by the Zionists in both 1967 and 1948 made clear that—as in the Gaza Strip, where nearly two million people are currently held under siege—much of post-Nakba Palestine is tantamount to an open-air prison. In cities like Jerusalem (Al-Quds), Lydd and Hebron (Al-Khalil), Palestinians encounter checkpoints, omnipresent surveillance, with watchtowers on virtually every corner, a wall choking off the daily life of Palestinians, racial apartheid and vulnerability to extrajudicial execution on a daily basis. The old city of Al-Khalil is the epitome of an open-air prison. How else can one describe a situation in which children must walk through barbed wire-lined streets with soldiers training machine guns on them from watchtowers—or in which the Indigenous residents of that city have been forced to erect mesh screens over their marketplace to protect themselves from the trash, urine and feces that Zionist settlers throw at them from the windows of their stolen apartments above? We were equally mortified to see that a section of the Israeli apartheid wall has literally cut this historic Palestinian neighborhood in half. Consequently, family members in Al-Khalil are now unable to see one another without going through a military checkpoint. Severe travel restrictions and street closures have turned the formerly vibrant marketplace into a ghost town, as people are unable to travel to the market or even have access to their own homes.

view-al-khalil
View from Al-Khalil (Hebron) marketplace up to Zionist settlers’ stolen apartments. The tarps have been erected by the Palestinians to protect themselves from the trash, urine, and feces that settlers throw down at them from their windows.

Poverty, Economy and Palestinian Workers Rights 

Settler colonialism in Palestine aims at the destruction of Palestinian life through a complex colonial network that includes refugee camps, the siege and blockade of Gaza, imprisonment and exile, and the caging of communities on all sides by the “Israeli West Bank barrier”—more realistically, the apartheid wall—that snakes 280 miles through the occupied West Bank and confiscates Palestinian residential and agricultural lands in its path. This attempt at destroying the social and economic fabric of the Indigenous population is the modus operandi of a Zionist state whose goal is to maintain a demographic Jewish majority.

The exploitation of Palestinian labor is part and parcel of the ongoing colonization project. Palestinian trade unionists detailed this exploitation to our delegation historically and contemporarily. They explained that the Histadrut—the Israeli labor federation that enjoys a fraternal relationship with the AFL-CIO—has been an integral part of the Zionist movement and the colonization of Palestine even before the creation of the state of Israel. The Histadrut exploits Palestinian workers in Israel by deducting a portion of their salaries for benefits they never receive.

Palestinian labor leaders also shared the findings of a draft report on the horrifying conditions of Palestinian women workers, including those who are employed in Israeli settlements on the West Bank and are subjected to long work hours, reduced pay, and sexual harassment at checkpoints. None of the Palestinian workers employed by Israeli businesses enjoy the protection of the Israeli labor federation or Israeli labor laws. Palestinian trade unionists called on us to wage a campaign among U.S. trade unionists to divest U.S. workers’ pension funds from Israeli bonds.

Palestinian trade unionists also told us about the devastating socio-economic conditions that have been steadily worsening since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Oslo legislated and legitimized the increasing dependency of the Palestinian colonized economy on the Israeli colonizing power, and has threatened any potential for the emergence of an independent Palestinian economy. The continuing blockade of Gaza and the restrictions placed on Palestinian farmers and small industries have strangled the Palestinian economy and led to the degradation of living conditions, leading to alarming levels of poverty in the 1967 occupied Palestinian areas, as well as among Palestinians in the areas seized by Israel in 1948.

Palestinian labor organizers told us about the crisis in Palestinian refugee camps produced by cuts in the services of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Cuts in UNRWA services in education and health, combined with institutionalized discrimination in healthcare, education and employment, have created shocking disparities. Life expectancy for Palestinians is, on average, 10 years lower than the Israeli rate; infant deaths are 18.8 compared to 3.7 per 1000 births; and the death of Palestinian mothers due to complications of pregnancy or labor is 28 per 100,000 births compared to 7 for Israelis. These conditions have led to widespread strikes by Palestinian employees who demand equitable pay scale and the restoration of health and education services.

Palestinian trade union leaders also expressed grave concerns over the diminishing conditions of public education in Palestinian Authority areas. They echoed the sentiments of Palestinian teachers, administrators and parents who protested the worsening work conditions for Palestinian teachers and insisted on joining local and national marches for a whole month, despite attempts by Palestinian security forces to suppress their rallies.

Trade union leaders also highlighted the apartheid conditions in Israel, where schools are segregated. The ratio of spending on education in these schools is 1:9, and Palestinian students living in Israel are forced to learn a curriculum that denies their own history and exalts the misleading history of the colonizers.

We join hands with our comrades in the Palestinian labor movement and salute the struggle of striking teachers, labor organizers and workers demanding economic justice, independence and national self-determination from colonial structures. We further pledge to campaign in the ranks of U.S. labor to divest from Israeli bonds and sever ties between the AFL-CIO and the Histadrut.

Dispossession and Struggle for Land and Return  

A university professor with whom we met explained how the system of Zionist colonization is one of the most intensely territorialized systems of spatial control the world has seen. In 1948, Israel destroyed at least 531 Palestinian towns and villages, and within five years, established 370 new Jewish settlement towns, 95% of which were built on seized Palestinian land. The state of Israel now controls 93% of the land captured in 1948.

Today, eight million Palestinian refugees are forbidden from returning to their homeland. Those in the West Bank are subject to the ubiquitous system of checkpoints that severely restrict their ability to travel to work, school, mosques and churches, and to hospitals for medical treatment. Under the Absentee Property Law, Palestinians can lose their rights as homeowners for any number of reasons, including renovating or expanding their homes to accommodate a growing family. The Israeli state rarely grants Palestinians permission to build or expand homes, forcing them into “illegal” construction of houses, which are then subject to demolition orders.

In the village of Ayn Hawd, near Haifa, an elder explained how Israel confiscated the homes of the Palestinians and turned the village into a park and an artists’ colony, replaced the mosque with a restaurant, and protected the settlement of Zionists living in stolen Palestinian homes. We saw how those settlers have repeatedly trashed and destroyed the old Palestinian cemetery. There, as elsewhere, we witnessed the central role of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in the ongoing destruction of Palestine.

The sight of bulldozers on top of a hill signaled the looming destruction of the village of Um El Heran in the Al-Naqab desert, a territory colonized in 1948. Um El Heran is one of 46 “unrecognized villages” that do not exist on Israeli official government maps and are therefore denied electricity, water, roads, schools and all essential services extended by the state to nearby “recognized” Israeli towns of Jewish settlers. Throughout Palestine, we observed water tanks and solar panels fastened to rooftops to compensate for Israeli restriction of water and electricity, while the homes of Jewish settlers enjoy full state-sponsored services including swimming pools.

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Bulldozers set to demolish Palestinian Bedouin village of Um El Heran, Al-Naqab desert. The village is to be destroyed in preparation for the construction of a Zionist settlement. The Jewish National Fund (JNF) flag flies alongside the Israeli flag.

Public Intellectuals and Anti-Colonial Cultures of Resistance

Everywhere we went in Palestine we witnessed signs of a culture of resistance. Youth activists in the Naqab told us about their use of poetry to resist Zionist attempts to uproot them from their lands. In the 1948 urban areas of Yafa, Lydd, Haifa and Nazareth we heard about oral history projects to counter the systematic program of cultural and historical erasure deployed by Israel through the outright destruction of sites and signs of Palestinian life, their replacement with invented maps and road signs, and the elimination of the word “Palestinian” from school textbooks and curricula. We also heard from grassroots organizations and activists about campaigns to defy Israel’s ban on the commemoration of the Nakba, about projects, that bring Palestinian children to the sites of their families’ destroyed villages, and about others that use oral history to pass on the collective memories of a people who refuse to submit to a settler-colonial project aimed at negating their existence on their land.

We visited the Ibdaa Arts Center in the Dheisheh refugee camp and the Popular Arts Center in El Bireh and saw, painted on interior walls, murals that defied the Israeli occupation ban on resistance art on public walls. Palestinian cultural figures told us that Israel continues to shut down theater, dance and music performances that challenge its colonial rule. We learned that, in an attempt to end the wave of protests currently engulfing Palestine, the Israeli Prime Minister demanded that the Palestinian Authority prohibit taxi drivers from playing Palestinian music on their radios.

We participated in two conferences hosted by the Institute for Women’s Studies at Birzeit University and the An-Najah National University, both co-sponsored with the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies at San Francisco State University. We shared the platform with Palestinian academics who are engaged in the daily struggles of their people and who insisted on defining the academy as a site of struggle for the dignity of all Palestinians. We compared our respective analysis of the United States and Israel as settler-colonial regimes intent on destroying Indigenous life and the Third World movements that have arisen to challenge colonialism and imperialism.

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Delegation members with colleagues and students at An-Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine

Solidarity was forged as former political prisoners in Palestine and former US-held political prisoners in our delegation discussed parallel experiences. Palestinian audiences at both conferences were moved by the messages we brought with us in a collection of letters from currently incarcerated U.S. political prisoners—some of whom have already served 40 years and more—to their Palestinian sisters and brothers. Our colleagues at Birzeit University’s Institute for Women’s Studies translated the letters into Arabic. The solidarity was palpable during the final plenary of Birzeit’s conference, when the phone rang and we heard the voice of U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal. Mumia was calling from State Correctional Institution Mahanoy in Pennsylvania to express solidarity with and love for the people of Palestine.

We learned that Palestinian universities offer free tuition to former Palestinian prisoners and that every graduation ceremony honors Palestinian students, faculty and staff martyred or imprisoned by Israel during the academic year. In contrast, Israel has banned access to education for Palestinian prisoners, even denying some the possession of a pencil and paper.

Speaking alongside members of both campus communities who were imprisoned by the Israeli colonial state, and witnessing how Palestinian universities honor those who sacrificed their lives for their people heightened our commitment to insist that our own academic institutions resist the neoliberal university, reclaim the mission of public education, and restore the gains for which earlier generations of students—including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Black Student Unions; the Third World Liberation Front at San Francisco State University; Ocean Hill-Brownsville; the Open Admission Strike of 1969 at the City University of New York—fought. This struggle continues today on our campuses and community spaces. We also reject Israel’s and the Zionist movement’s attempts to employ McCarthyite tactics to intimidate, harass and silence advocates for justice in and outside Palestine, and activists and scholars who stand for justice on university campuses, public schools and in public life the world over.

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Conclusion

We were asked repeatedly to bring these Palestinian stories of dispossession and steadfast resistance back to the United States. Much of what we saw in Palestine called up images of life in the United States. Like Israel, the United States is a settler colony—built on the genocide and denial of Indigenous peoples’ rights; the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans; the colonization of Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Hawaii and Guam; the exclusion of Chinese people; the incarceration of Japanese people in concentration camps; and the rising vilification and criminalization of immigrants from Latin America and of Arabs, Muslims and Mediterranean and South and Central Asian people. Like Israel, the United States suppresses resistance using the cover of law. The United States continues to engage in imperialist wars and interventions in the Third World, while 2.3 million people are incarcerated in U.S. prisons, young Black, Latina/o, and Indigenous people are executed and targeted while educational institutions become increasingly privatized and corporatized. The 99% are getting more impoverished while the 1% is getting richer. Significantly, the United States funds Israel to the tune of $4 billion annually and supports the distorted ideology of Zionism.

We therefore feel an urgent sense of responsibility to pressure the United States to stop funding Israeli crimes against humanity. We express our support for the struggle for a free Palestine as a central struggle in the worldwide movement against U.S. imperialism. We are committed to employing a variety of tactics in solidarity with Palestine, including Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and we condemn Israeli and Zionist attacks against advocates for justice for/in Palestine in our communities and on our campuses. We connect prisoner and labor movements across the borders; and apply the spirit of sumud to all our struggles for liberation within the United States.

  • Support Palestinian people’s just struggle for self-determination, return and sovereignty, and the struggle against settler colonialism in the United States, Israel and elsewhere
  • Release Palestinian and all political prisoners, including those in the United States
  • End all U.S. military and financial support of Israel
  • Support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel
  • Reject the new Israeli and Zionist McCarthyism that seeks to intimidate, harass and silence advocacy for justice in Palestine

In Joint Struggle,

  • Rabab Abdulhadi, author and professor, San Francisco State University*, California
  • Diana Block, author and activist, California Coalition for Women Prisoners*, San Francisco, California
  • Susan Chen, counselor faculty, member California Faculty Association – SFSU chapter Affirmative Action Rep, San Francisco State University*, California
  • Dennis Childs, author and professor, University of California*, San Diego
  • Susie Day, writer, Monthly Review Press*, New York City, New York
  • Emory Douglas, Revolutionary Artist and Minister of Culture, Black Panther Party, 1967-1982
  • Johanna Fernández, author and professor, City University of New York-Baruch College*; Organizer, Campaign to Bring Mumia Home
  • Diane Fujino, author and professor, University of California*, Santa Barbara
  • Alborz Ghandehari, member of BDS Caucus of UAW 2865, University of California Student-Workers Union*
  • Anna Henry, activist and member, California Coalition for Women Prisoners*, San Francisco
  • Rachel Herzing, independent scholar and co-founder, Critical Resistance*, Oakland, California
  • Hank Jones, activist, former US-Held political prisoner and member, Black Panther Party, Los Angeles, California
  • manuel la fontaine, former US-held prisoner and member, All of Us or None*, San Francisco, California
  • Claude Marks, Former US-held political prisoner, Freedom Archives*, San Francisco, California
  • Nathaniel Moore, archivist, Freedom Archives*, San Francisco, California
  • Isaac Ontiveros, member, Critical Resistance*, Oakland, California
  • Michael Ritter, counselor faculty; member CSU Academic Senate & CFA Board of Directors, San Francisco State University*, California
  • Jaime Veve, Co-Convener, Labor for Palestine*, New York City, New York
  • Laura Whitehorn, Former US-held political prisoner, New York City, New York

*All institutional and organizational affiliations are for identification purposes only

http://www.freedomarchives.org/Pal/Delegation.We.Stand.pdf

In Arabic:http://www.freedomarchives.org/Pal/Delegation.We.Stand.ARABIC.doc

In Spanish:http://www.freedomarchives.org/Pal/Delegation.We.Stand.SPANISH.docx

April 20, 2016: From Oakland to Palestine: “Prisons, Repression & Resistance”

DelegationA Report Back by Members of the US Prisoner, Labor, and Academic Delegation to Palestine:

Emory Douglas, Former Minister of Culture, Black Panthers Party

Diana Block, California Coalition for Women Prisoners

Anna Henry, California Coaliition for Women Prisoners

Rachel Herzing, Co-Founder, Critical Resistance

Manuel La Fontaine, All of Us or None

Claude Marks, Freedom Archives

Isaac Ontiveros, Member, Critical Resistance

Jaime Veve, Labor for Palestine

Moderared by Professor Rabab Abdulhadi

The Adjunct Project Endorses the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

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The Adjunct Project endorses the Resolution Endorsing the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, scheduled to be voted on at the April 15 plenary meeting of the Doctoral Students’ Council (DSC) at the Graduate Center, CUNY. This resolution responds to a call from Palestinian academic workers in the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and the General Union of Palestinian Teachers, among other Palestinian labor and civil-society organizations. If passed, it would require the DSC to adhere to the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and support the work of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) groups and other solidarity efforts.

Palestinian workers face some of the world’s highest unemployment rates and are increasingly forced to take exploitative, unregulated, non-unionized jobs. Answering the call to boycott is a refusal to cooperate with institutions complicit in Palestinian workers’ exploitation and occupation.

In New York City and across North America, groups supporting Palestinians have come under attack. Students, faculty, and other workers associated with CUNY SJP chapters currently face unsupported charges of anti-Semitism that infringe on their freedom of speech, their academic freedom, and their working conditions. The Adjunct Project joins the SJPs in vehemently opposing anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of bigotry and racism. We advocate an end to Israeli state apartheid policies as a specifically anti-racist and anti-colonial project.

We further condemn local and state politicians who attempt to justify a regime of austerity through the suppression of solidarity organizing on campuses. In March, the New York State Senate voted for a $485-million reduction in state funding for CUNY in part as retribution for Palestinian solidarity organizing on campuses. This planned defunding failed in last-minute budget negotiations, but the CUNY system still faces a massive shortfall: in addition to millions of dollars in cuts to individual colleges, no funds were allocated for contract negotiations with the 25,000 workers represented by the Professional Staff Congress who have gone six years without a pay increase.

The passage of this academic-boycott resolution is important for resisting both the austerity politics that target public employees like CUNY workers and, in particular, the effects of such politics on working-class people-of-color students, faculty, and staff, who must contend with forms of structural racism, settler colonialism, and racial capitalism similar to those faced by Palestinians.

We join the graduate student worker union UAW 2865 at the University of California in endorsing academic boycott and the many other academic groups that have done so as well, including the Association for Asian American Studies, the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, the African Literature Association, the American Studies Association, the American Anthropological Association, and the National Women’s Studies Association, and we support the GSOC for BDS caucus of the union of graduate student workers at New York University in their referendum on BDS, including academic boycott.

The boycott resolution before the DSC is an important step in supporting the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. We encourage representatives of the DSC to vote for the resolution, and all members of the CUNY community to raise awareness, through resources like those provided by Labor for Palestine, and to support or get involved with efforts on their campuses, including CUNY for Palestine and SJP chapters.

With love and solidarity,

The Adjunct Project coordinators

[Image: “Palestine: The Separation Wall” by MissyKel via CC BY-NC-Nd 2.0.]

Labor for Palestine Update

Original format

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Labor for Palestine Update

ManawellManawel Abdel-Al, of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (third from left) speaks at 2016 Labor Notes conference.

Dear fellow trade unionist,

As reported below, trade union solidarity with Palestine continues to grow.

Labor Notes Conference
In two well-attended sessions at the 2016 Labor Notes conference in Chicago, Manawel Abdel-Al, of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, explained the condition of Palestinian workers (including the recent West Bank teachers’ strike), and his personal support for one democratic state with equal rights for all throughout historic Palestine, coupled with refugees’ full right of return.

He also discussed the need for solidarity with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.  This was followed by discussion of recent BDS work in North America, including Labor for Palestine (LFP) campaignsILWU Local 10 members’ refusal to handle Israeli Zim Line cargo; and historic BDS resolutions from UAW 2865CNS (Quebec)United Electrical Workers, and Connecticut AFL-CIO.

LFP Delegation to Palestine
An LFP delegation has just returned from Palestine, a report of which is forthcoming.

LFP at Western Mass Jobs With Justice
This Saturday, April 16, LFP and other BDS supporters will be speaking at a Jobs With Justice conference in Springfield, MA.

To build on this momentum, please:

*Read and distribute Labor for Palestine: Challenging US Labor Zionism (American Quarterly, December 2015), which provides historic and current overview.

*Sign and share Open Letter to UAW Leadership: Respect Union Democracy, Solidarity, and the BDS Picket Line (January 28, 2016)

*Tell us how we can support efforts to organize LFP meetings, chapters, resolutions, and/or other events in your local area.

*Let us know if you are interested in joining a future LFP delegation to Palestine.

*Like the LFP Facebook page.

*Donate to Labor for Palestinewhich has been at the forefront of U.S. labor BDS since 2004.

Solidarity!

Labor for Palestine Conveners
*Suzanne Adely, Global Workers Solidarity Network; Former Staff, Global Organizing Institute, UAW
*Michael Letwin, Former President, ALAA/UAW L. 2325
*Clarence Thomas, Co-Chair, Million Worker March; ILWU L. 10 (retired)
*Jaime Veve, TWU L. 100 (retired)

LaborforPalestine.net
info@laborforpalestine.net

Solidarity With GSOC-UAW 2110 BDS Vote (UAW 2865)

April 8, 2016

fhammer0127tradeunions-240Dear Advocates for Justice at GSOC­UAW Local 2110,

We, members of the BDS Caucus of UAW 2865, are inspired by your campaign to join the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement until such time as Israel adheres to international law by ceasing its oppressive treatment of the Palestinian people. Calling on NYU and the UAW International to divest from Israeli state institutions, and on individuals to respect the academic boycott, are righteous and necessary components in honoring the call for solidarity from Palestinian laborers who are currently suffering under Israeli apartheid and colonization.

In December 2014, our local became the first major labor union in the US to join the BDS movement. In one of our local’s historically highest voting turnouts, thousands of members voted, by a landslide, to call on the UAW International and the University of California to divest from Israeli apartheid and colonialism and on the US government to stop all forms of aid to Israel. While the vote has since been nullified by the UAW International, the moral momentum that drove the campaign and the overwhelming outpouring of support we have received following the nullification are testaments to the fact that to support the Palestinian struggle for freedom and self­determination is to be on the right side of history and justice.

One of the guiding visions of our campaign was to trace connections among the logics, institutions and bodies responsible for oppressing Palestinians with similar forces and logics of oppression we experience in our own localities. This framework allowed us to draw parallels with how standing in solidarity with Palestinian liberation is central to our work in fighting for the liberation of all oppressed people, including but not limited to people of color, workers, immigrants, women and LGBTQ communities. In addition, campaigns such as ours, and now yours, highlight the critical importance of our tripartite roles as students, academics and laborers, allowing us to be the protagonists of our stories and active agents of social transformation on our campuses. This nexus reflects how the Palestinian struggle is speaking to multiple sectors and dimensions of identity, activism and people, and it provides an incredible learning opportunity for us to develop collective conversations about our rights and responsibilities to global justice. As students and workers of conscience, it is incumbent upon us to side with all who face oppression and persecution. This is as true of Palestine as it was for South Africa, and surely for the many matters of injustice and oppression we are witnessing in our own campuses and communities here in the US.

Following the UAW 2865 BDS victory, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) became the first national union to endorse BDS. The Connecticut branch of the AFL­CIO has also endorsed BDS. This growth in BDS participation among the labor movement and beyond is a reflection that, despite efforts of repression, silencing and criminalization, a movement that belongs to the people cannot be stifled. We are inspired by your courage and ethical fortitude, and we extend our heartfelt support for your efforts. We salute you for practicing ethical, justice­centered and democratic union practices, and are certain that the US labor movement in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom will only grow.

In Solidarity,
UAW 2865 BDS Caucus

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement Comes to New York University (Muftah)

April 7th, 2016

Social justice is finding a home at New York University (NYU), one of the nation’s most expensive institutions of higher education. Students at NYU have been pushing for the school’s graduate student union, known as GSOC, to endorse the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” movement with a motion that calls on NYU to adopt the campaign’s key provisions. Voting on the ballot, which is available here, is expected to take place over four days from April 18 to 22.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, commonly referred to as “BDS,” is an international effort to exert political and economic pressure on Israel’s decades-long occupation of the West Bank and treatment of its Palestinian citizens. The movement engages in peaceful civil resistance that involves three elements: boycotting entities that profit from violations of Palestinian rights; divesting from corporations that finance such organizations; and calling for direct sanctions against the Israeli state to deprive it of the goods and services that support its occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people.

At every stage, the NYU campaign to ratify the BDS motion has been democratic and transparent. Ella Wind, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and elected Unit Representative for NYU’s GSOC, told Muftah that groups supporting and opposing the measure have been actively campaigning ahead of the vote. The union has scheduled town hall events to discuss the motion, and made its website available to interested groups to post information about their position on the vote. Due to popular demand, multiple town halls have been scheduled before the vote, in order involve as many members of the student body in the debate.

Wind told Muftah that the BDS campaign was partly inspired by and modeled after a similar vote taken by GSOC’s sister chapter at the University of California in December 2014. According to the UC union’s press release, it was the “first major U.S. labor union to support divestment from Israel by [a] membership vote.”  Nearly as remarkable was the level of support the motion received: voters endorsed BDS by 2 to 1, with 65% of the union’s rank and file voting in favor of the resolution.

Despite this overwhelming support, the executive board of the United Auto Workers (UAW), which is the umbrella organization for the UC and NYU graduate student unions, took steps in January 2016 to overturn the admittedly “fair and democratic vote.” Journalist Ben Norton published an account of the board’s nullification effortsin Salon, providing perhaps the most nuanced coverage on the issue. Norton’s side-by-side comparison of the UAW board’s rationale and the UC union’s response demonstrated that the board’s decision was, as the UC union claimed, “imposed to undermine the union’s collective bargaining power” and “grossly misrepresent[ed] the actual text of [the] resolution.”

The UAW board’s unilateral action is but one example of growing institutional opposition to the grassroots BDS movement.

Indeed, one of the most recent blows to BDS has come from the U.S. federal government itself. On February 24, 2016, President Barack Obama signed a trade bill into law that, according to Ma’an News Agency, condemns “politically motivated actions that penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel.” The New York State Senate also passed a bill in January 2016 that, if signed into law, would prohibit the state from contracting with pro-BDS entities and require that it maintain a McCarthy-esque list of individuals and organizations active in the BDS movement.

As Wind stressed, however, the pushback against BDS has a silver lining. “Backlash against BDS shows that it is working, because if it were not then [its opponents] would not try so aggressively to work against it,” she said. Efforts to promote BDS, even if unsuccessful, can only encourage individuals to take a principled stand on an important issue and ensure the debate on Israel’s actions against the Palestinians continues.

These benefits are ones that cannot be undone by top-down maneuvering spearheaded by institutions or moneyed interests, no matter how hard they try.

American and Palestinian Unionists Build International Solidarity To Win ‘Freedom’ for Palestine (In These Times)

In These Times
WEDNESDAY, APR 6, 2016, 3:12 PM

American and Palestinian Unionists Build International Solidarity To Win ‘Freedom’ for Palestine

BY JEFF SCHUHRKE

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In an address on Middle East policy last month, Bernie Sanders —the first Jewish American to win a presidential primary—did something virtually unheard of in contemporary U.S. politics when he called for an end to “what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory” by Israel.

The only candidate to skip the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington, Sanders instead delivered a speech from Utah in which he acknowledged that “today there is a whole lot of suffering among Palestinians” due to the occupation.

“For a presidential candidate to break from the mold, like it seems maybe Sanders is doing, and to talk about the fact that the occupation needs to end, is something that’s exciting to Palestinians,” says Manawel Abdel-Al, a member of the general secretariat of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).

“We hope this isn’t just election talk,” he adds. “People were very excited about Barack Obama as well and we didn’t get much progress. But we’re hopeful.”

Abdel-Al—who lives in occupied East Jerusalem—is visiting Chicago this week at the invitation of the United Electrical Workers (UE), the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, and Jewish Voice for Peace to enlist the support of the U.S. labor movement in the Palestinian liberation struggle. He addressed standing-room-only audiences of rank-and-file unionists at last weekend’s Labor Notes conference and again on Tuesday night at the local UE Hall.

A machine repair technician by trade, Abdel-Al has been a union activist for three decades. He tells In These Times that throughout their history, Palestinian trade unions have always waged a “two-part” battle. “We represent workers in the class struggle for socioeconomic rights, but also in the national, political struggle for freedom and independence,” he says, noting that the Palestinian labor movement has managed to endure despite a century of repression and upheaval under British, Jordanian, and Israeli control.

Abdel-Al’s PGFTU represents 14 private sector unions in the West Bank and Gaza. In the West Bank, Abdel-Al says the PGFTU negotiates collective bargaining agreements with employers and successfully convinced the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) to pass a minimum wage law in 2012. The union federation is now calling for the P.A. to implement social welfare policies by next year.

Meanwhile, over 25,000 public schoolteachers (not affiliated with PGFTU) staged a one-month strike earlier this year to call for the P.A. to honor a promised pay raise that had been “left on the backburner for three years,” Abdel-Al says. The strike ended last month after President Mahmoud Abbas intervened and promised back pay and a 10 percent wage increase.

Abdel-Al’s PGFTU is not recognized by the Israeli government, leaving unprotected the approximately 92,000 West Bank Palestinians who regularly cross into and out of Israel and Israeli settlements for work. Abdel-Al explains that while many of these workers have legal permits to be employed in Israel, many others are unauthorized workers—hired under-the-table by Israeli employers—and face extreme exploitation. “When they’re injured on the job, they’re simply taken to the closest border checkpoint and left there. The employer disappears.”

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Abdel-Al at Chicago’s Haymarket monument. (Jeff Schuhrke)

Regardless of their legal status, Abdel-Al says that all Palestinian workers in Israel, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, face discrimination, arbitrary dismissal, low pay, and a host of other issues on the job.  “All we want is freedom from oppression,” he says, asking U.S. unionists to do whatever they can to help their fellow workers in Palestine.

Heeding this call, last August, UE became the first national U.S. labor union to endorse Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)—a global, nonviolent movement to protest Israeli human rights violations inspired by the successful efforts of civil society groups to pressure South Africa’s apartheid regime in the 1980s.

While the activist network Labor for Palestine has been pushing U.S. unions to get behind BDS for the past decade, serious strides have only been made in the two years since Israel’s 2014 bombardment of Gaza, which killed 1,462 civilians. In December 2014, BDS was endorsed by University of California graduate student workers with UAW Local 2865—a vote that was controversially nullified by the UAW’s International Executive Board earlier this year. Following Local 2865 and UE’s lead, the Connecticut AFL-CIO also passed a resolution in favor of BDS late last year.

BDS is gaining traction within the international labor movement as well, with support from unions in South Africa, the UK, Norway, Brazil, and elsewhere. Last April, it was endorsed by Canada’s Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), which represents 325,000 public and private sector workers in Quebec.

“I think BDS is a powerful tool to educate people on what is happening in Palestine,” Nathalie Guay, coordinator of CSN’s international relations, tells In These Times. Guay, who helped connect the PGFTU and UE, hopes that more North American unions will not only endorse BDS, but also send their members on delegations to Palestine to learn about the situation first-hand. “Every single person who goes there comes back as an activist for Palestine. We need more of that.”

Noting the growing international influence of unions from the global south, including Brazil’s pro-BDS Central Única dos Trabalhadores, Guay predicts the international labor movement will continue to increase its support for Palestine in the years to come. “I think there will be some evolution,” she says.

This evolution is already evident in the International Trade Union Confederation—a global organization composed of the world’s major labor federations—which has issued increasingly critical statements of Israel since the 2014 assault on Gaza.

“We believe statements are not enough and hope the ITUC will change its policies in a more definitive way to help end the occupation,” Abdel-Al says. “But no matter how small, this is a positive change.”

Abdel-Al took time out of his busy schedule this week to visit the Haymarket memorial—a tribute to martyred Chicago unionists who were hanged in 1887 as a result of their activism in support of the 8-hour workday. “This is the birthplace of the worldwide labor movement. Around the world, we celebrate labor on May 1st because of what happened in Chicago.”

He wants U.S. labor activists to remember that occupied Palestinians are also oppressed workers. “Any activism, any support for us would be in accordance with a slogan that is well known by the working class everywhere—workers of the world, unite! Through solidarity and willpower, workers can make changes and bring about the achievement of rights for persecuted and oppressed people everywhere.”

Jeff Schuhrke is a Summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times.