The Academic Friends of Israel
Vol.9 No 6 21 September 2010
The view from Britain: the TUC votes to boycott Israel
A few weeks ago Britain’s Foreign Secretary made a public statement regarding his sexuality which for several days afterwards was all over the press and TV. Apparently the story had been circulating for months on the internet but the only people who knew about it where those who regularly surfed the net. I mention this because there is a very similar situation with regards to the Boycotts Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) campaign directed at Israel. The internet is alive with stories about BDS successes which make you believe that Israel will soon capitulate under international pressure. The reality however is that Israel’s economy is booming and that after 10 years of campaigning, BDS has yet to make a breakthrough into mainstream news.
A similar situation occurred last week in Britain when the Trade Union Congress [TUC] passed an anti-Israel motion confirming its decision to boycott Israeli settlement goods. You would only have known about it if you had either read about on the internet or in the Jewish press. Even the BBC, that well known purveyor of anti-Israel bias ignored the story. The view of the media is that ‘TUC votes to boycott to Israel’ is a non-story when the British economy is failing and threatened with job and financial cuts. The TUC claims to speak for 6 million workers, yet the truth is that probably 98% of those members don’t care or aren’t interested in BDS or the TUC’s BDS campaign or that along with the TUC, 18 unions in Britain support the Palestine Solidarity Campaign(PSC). The main driver for the TUC’s BDS campaign is the PSC and fortunately British unions rarely communicate directly with their members on policies such as this. Even if they did tell their members about BDS the unions have no way of forcing them to support a boycott. My own union the UCU has never written to its members about an academic boycott of Israel – being an activist is a minority interest and if you want to find out about your union policies you have to look on the web. This is not to say we should ignore the TUC’s decision, but we should instead understand what it means and plan for the future.
Primarily the TUC is having to face both ways at the same time, a skill the British are well practiced at. This is because the union activists who are driven by the pro-Hamas PSC demand that the TUC boycott all Israeli goods; reject a two-state solution and stop co-operating with the Israeli trade union movement, the Histadrut. On the other hand the International trade union movement, the ITUC, of which the TUC is a leading member recently rejected demands for a full boycott and instead are working to strengthen Israeli-Palestinian trade union cooperation between the Histadrut and the Palestinian PGFTU. As a result of their Congress decision the TUC has threatened to write to all the companies they ‘suspect’ of selling settlement produce and demand that the companies prove that their goods are not from settlements. This demand may satisfy the PSC but do they really believe that businessmen are going to spend time and money in this economic climate answering their request?
One outcome of this year’s Congress is however clear and that is that the TUC which once encouraged peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, has now chosen to support those who reject the peace process and has excluded itself in future from playing a constructive role in the region.The BDS movement is quite clear that their real intentions are not aimed ending the ‘occupation’ of the West Bank and helping the Palestinians to establish their own state but to eliminate the State of Israel. One of the leaders of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, has said that BDS stands for ending Israel’s occupation of all Arab lands, ending the racial discrimination of Israel’s Palestinian citizens and recognising the right of the Palestinians to return home. Boycotts have always been used to isolate Jews and the actions of the BDS movement are no different. Even though this time they are directed at Israeli Jews, any boycott call will affect Jews where ever they live and work in the world.The TUC’s partner, the PSC, supports the existence of a Palestinian state and a full right of return for all Palestinian refugees. They campaign for full recognition of Hamas as the 'democratic government of Palestine 'but do not explicitly support Palestinian terrorism but refuse to oppose it; preferring instead to assert the right of the Palestinians to 'resist occupation.' The PSC supports a full boycott of Israel, economic, academic and cultural boycott until Israel "respects International Law".
The Israeli Ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, spoke for many when he said “This appalling decision [by the TUC] speaks volumes about the calibre of those who voted for it. Whilst many around the world are helping to create an environment for peace, some in the TUC prefer to create a noisy distraction. These people contrast sharply with those responsible leaders, who at that very same time were offering hope to the people of the Middle East. This resolution, in comparison, is hopeless, in both senses of the word.”
Britain’s Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies however have their own view as they described the TUC’s rejection of a general boycott of Israeli goods as ‘good news’, whilst at the same time failing to condemn the TUC’s existing policy of boycotting settlement goods. Nor was there any mention in their statement of any Anglo-Jewish campaign directed against the TUC and BDS. Instead they said they wanted to meet the TUC, an organisation that they have had little contact with over the last 10 years. Why are they even considering meeting them when two months ago they broke off all all contact with the leadership of the Methodist Church following its endorsement of a report deeply critical of Israel? Their request for a meeting with the TUC sends out a mixed message as they are not being consistent towards organisations that want to boycott Israel. Although it’s not the first duty of the Board of Deputies to defend Israel it’s only by doing so that they will be able to defend Anglo Jewry.
The Academic Friends of Israel
For more information:
TUC Composite motion C18 Palestine
The Jewish Chronicle, ‘TUC votes to keep up West Bank boycott’
Jerusalem Post, ‘UK trade union federation to continue boycott support’
Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies Joint Statement on the TUC
The Worlds Unions (ITUC) reject boycotts and embraces Israeli Palestinian cooperation
BBC Panorama flotilla programme
Watch the BBC Panorama programme which shows what really happened on the Mavi Marmara, when Israeli commandos seized the ship and nine people died. Panorama has exclusive new video and interviews with Israeli soldiers and activists involved.
The Legal Basis of Israel's Naval Blockade of Gaza by Ruth Lapidoth
- The relations between Israel and Hamas are in the nature of armed conflict. Nowadays no formal declaration of war is needed. Hence the rules of the laws of armed conflict apply. This means that Israel may control shipping headed for Gaza - even when the vessels are still on the high seas.
- The rules of naval warfare have not been fully codified in a treaty and are in the nature of binding customary rules. They can be found in the relevant manuals of Western armies (in particular the U.S. and Britain) and in the San Remo Manual prepared by a group of experts.
- In order to be legal, a blockade has to be declared and announced, effective, non-discriminatory, and has to permit the passage of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population. In addition, the San Remo Manual of 1994 includes two conditions: first, the state which applies the blockade may decide where and when and through which port the assistance should reach the coast. In addition, the state may require that a neutral organization on the coast should verify who is the recipient of the assistance. In Gaza, for instance, does it reach the civilians or Hamas?
- A ship that clearly intends to breach the blockade may be stopped already when it is still on the high seas. Stopping the flotilla heading for Gaza in international waters 100 kilometres from Israel was not illegal; in time of armed conflict, ships intending to breach the blockade may be searched even on the high seas.
- Israel is within its rights and is in full compliance with international law because it has fulfilled all of the above-mentioned conditions for a lawful blockade. E.g., in January 2009 Israel notified the relevant authorities of its intention to establish a blockade of the Gaza coast.
The Gaza Flotilla: Facts and Official Reactions by Manfred Gerstenfeld
- The Gaza flotilla was a well-thought-out provocation against Israel. The flotilla was falsely presented as an enterprise of humanitarian aid to a needy population. If that were indeed the case the organizers would have accepted Israel's offer to dock the flotilla at the port of Ashdod. The main ship, the Turkish Mavi Marmara and two others, transported people only and no aid. Part of the aid, such as camouflage netting, was clearly meant for Hamas's military purposes. Some samples of the aid, such as medicines, were past their sell-by date. One of the undeclared aims of the main organizers was to support the Hamas regime that rules Gaza. In its charter Hamas promotes genocide of Jews.
- The main organizers of the Gaza flotilla were the Turkish IHH, a body for which there are strong indications of having terrorist links. There were also others on board with terrorist links. Several of the participants on the Mavi Marmara were prepared for violence with weapons and attacked the Israeli soldiers. The weapons found were far from normal for a ship purporting to be bringing humanitarian aid. Seven of the nine dead had expressed their wish to die as martyrs before they departed on the journey.
- Negative opinions about Israel were hastily expressed by senior officials of various countries and international bodies. They did not care to wait until a reasonable amount of facts were known. Today if one analyzes their statements one finds many fallacies in them. In view of many other far more violent actions by some Western countries on various occasions, the claims about disproportionality of the Israeli interception of the flotilla convey double standards.
- The German response to the flotilla affair merits special investigation. On 2 July the German parliament issued a unanimous resolution with an anti-Israeli bias. Never in its history has the Bundestag issued a resolution against any rogue state. The Jewish Central Council in Germany adopted a statement saying that the Parliament's resolution was based on incomplete information and a mixture of half-truths and prejudices.
The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks
Dr Manfred Gerstenfeld - Chairman of the Board of Fellows, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Vivian Wineman - President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews
John D A Levy - Director of the Academic Study Group on Israel and the Middle East
Andrew R. Marks, M.D. - Columbia University, USAProfessor
Leslie Wagner CBE
Rt Hon Lord Young of Graffham
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