From Socialist Voice, May 2010

ICTU flexing its political muscle on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Anyone who pays even passing attention to politics in the Middle East knows that what is happening in Palestine is nothing short of an attempted genocide of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government, in particular the attack on Gaza, which was one of the worst in recent years and which caused an unprecedented level of human suffering on the Palestinian people.
     At an ICTU conference on Israel and Palestine held on Friday 16 April in Dublin Castle, the discussion centred on possible ways that Ireland can support the calls from Palestine for a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The ICTU had previously adopted as policy the boycott of Israeli goods at its biennial delegate conference in 2007.
     Passing resolutions, although important, just isn’t enough any more: there is a recognition that the time has come for more direct action.
     The conference was chaired by Jack O’Connor, who made it clear early in the debate that the trade union movement’s stance was not anti-Semitic and was not an attack on the Israeli people.
     The keynote speaker was the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mícheál Martin, who told the conference that the Government does not agree with or support any form of boycott of Israel, stating that such an approach would be counterproductive to efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We all know that ultimately it is the politics of persuasion which is best placed to win the day and which must be the path that we pursue,” he said. The minister did, however, note that he has consistently argued against any move to upgrade EU-Israel relations “until such time as the level of political progress on the ground warrants it.”
     Jack O’Connor rejected calls from some delegates for the ICTU to sever links with Histadrut, the Israeli labour federation, which is opposed to the BDS campaign.
     Avital Shapira-Shabirow, director of Histadrut’s international department, was very critical of the ICTU’s stance, and there was a vigorous exchange of views when she explained her organisation’s position during a panel discussion. She argued that it was easy to outline “simplistic solutions” to complex situations from afar.
     Omar Barghouti, a founder-member of the global BDS campaign, established in 2005, told the gathering that the boycott was a “moral obligation and political imperative.” He noted that the campaign was gaining momentum internationally, and he praised the ICTU’s efforts. “By holding on to its position and spreading the BDS message, and starting now to think how to apply it practically, ICTU is now applying a lot of pressure on the Government and we hope that in time this will bring results.” He was one of several speakers to call for Ireland to exercise its veto to block Israel from joining the OECD.

Israel has now more than two hundred settlements in the occupied territories, housing almost half a million settlers. A network of Israeli-only roads, checkpoints and barriers entrench Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land. They make life a misery for Palestinians trying to travel to work, school, or hospital.
     The attack and the blockade on Gaza continues; the occupation remains in place; the settlements, the wall, the attacks on east Jerusalem and expulsion of its Palestinian inhabitants all continue unchecked.
     In one panel discussion at the ICTU conference John Douglas, general secretary of Mandate, recalled the involvement of Irish retail workers in the boycott of apartheid-era South African goods and said his union would support a consumer-led boycott campaign against Israel followed by a worker-led effort.
     The time for action is now. Support the boycott.

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