Starting with the UE 53rd Convention in 1988, delegates to UE conventions have adopted resolutions opposing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; supporting the human rights of the Palestinians; opposing the one-sided policy by which the U.S. government funds and arms the Israeli government; and calling for negotiations toward a just and peaceful solution to this longstanding conflict.
At our 74th Convention in 2015, we took our commitment to peace and justice for Palestine and Israel one step further, endorsing the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS arose from a 2005 call by Palestinian trade unions and hundreds of Palestinian civil society organizations for a worldwide campaign of boycotts to pressure Israel to end its apartheid rule over the Palestinians. BDS was modeled after the 1980s international solidarity campaign that put economic pressure on South Africa’s government and helped end apartheid.
Our resolution — the first by a U.S. national union to endorse BDS — was welcomed by many people in the peace and international solidarity movements, including the Palestinian labor movement. But our statement was also met with fierce hostility by forces connected to the Israeli government, including Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law firm that files nuisance lawsuits against critics of Israel, including against former President Jimmy Carter. A few weeks after our convention Shurat HaDin wrote a letter to the CEO of General Electric, slandering UE as “anti-Semitic” and demanding that GE rescind its labor agreement with UE. They also filed a frivolous and unsuccessful unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
A pro-Israel website, based in Israel, launched an online campaign against UE, urging its readers to flood us with harassing phone calls, emails, and hostile comments on our Facebook page. For several weeks in the fall of 2015 UE offices received a steady stream of hate messages.
These attacks on our union are part of the broader attack on critics of Israel, and especially BDS. At the core of these attacks are the effort to smear anyone who criticizes Israel as an “anti-Semite,” an anti-Jewish racist. Increasingly, U.S. student activists are being targeted by pro-Israel groups, then punished by university administrators. Professors who write or speak critically on the Israel-Palestine conflict have been fired. The targets of this persecution include members of Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) and other Jews.
In addition, numerous state legislatures have passed laws targeting BDS. Most alarming, however, is a bill now before both houses of Congress, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, to make it a felony to boycott Israel. As of July the Senate bill (S. 720) had 43 sponsors, and the House bill (H.R. 1697) had 234 sponsors, 63 Democrats and 174 Republicans. Punishments for violating this law would be a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison. On July 18 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote to all members of Congress urging them to oppose the bill as unconstitutional, and in the negative publicity that followed, at least one Democratic senator withdrew support for the bill, and others expressed opposition. But this outrageous attack on free speech and fundamental human rights remains a real threat.
The situation of the Palestinians has been getting steadily worse. In the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel continues to confiscate homes and land to expand Israeli settlements. Since 1967 Israel has settled more than 500,000 of its citizens in the West Bank, and has been building a wall that separates neighboring towns and cuts off farmers from their fields. All of this is illegal under international law.
In Gaza, 1.8 million Palestinians are crowded into a tiny enclave under continuous military and economic blockade. In the summer of 2014 Israel waged a merciless war on the impoverished population of Gaza. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed. Since then, Israel’s blockade of crucial supplies getting into Gaza has led to the collapse of the power grid, and Gazans now get electricity for only a couple of hours a day. Food, medicine and building supplies, needed to rebuild after Israel’s brutal bombing and shelling, are blocked.
For more than 25 years the U.S. engaged in a so-called “peace process” with Israeli and Palestinian representatives. But the U.S. role has always been extremely one-sided. The U.S. provides Israel $3.8 billion a year in aid and repeatedly uses its UN veto to shield Israel from criticism of its human rights abuses.
In recent years racism and extremism in Israel has grown more severe. One-fifth of Israeli citizens are Palestinians whose families survived the large-scale ethnic cleansing that occurred when Israel was created in 1947-1948. Some members of parliament, including cabinet members in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, call for stripping their citizenship and expelling them. Some in the government also call for expelling all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and annexing them to Israel. The “peace process,” supposedly aimed at negotiating the terms of Palestinian statehood in those territories, has been dead at least since March when Netanyahu, in his reelection campaign, declared he would never accept a Palestinian state.
Labor support for BDS has grown worldwide. At its recent Canadian Conference, our friends in Unifor passed a BDS resolution. BDS is supported by, among many others, UNITE, the largest union in Britain; and COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions that helped defeat apartheid in that country. Even in Israel, progressive activists who seek a fundamental change in their country’s direction have endorsed BDS, despite growing government repression against the movement. In endorsing BDS, Gideon Levy, prominent columnist in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has written “boycott, divestment and sanctions is the only game in town [and] the most non-violent, legitimate means there are.”
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 75th UE CONVENTION:
- Demands the U.S. government end all military aid to Israel and pressure Israel to:
- End the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the siege of Gaza
- Uphold the 2014 agreements;
- Negotiate a peace agreement on the basis of equality, democracy, and human rights for the Palestinian and Israeli people, including Palestinian self determination and the right of return for refugees;
- Endorses the BDS movement and urges the union at all levels to become engaged in BDS and the movement for peace, justice and equality between the Palestinians and Israelis;
- Opposes all efforts to outlaw BDS and otherwise punish non-violent critics of Israeli policies, and calls on the union at all levels to work for the defeat of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720 and H.R. 1697).