Divide and Conquer – Undermining the BDS Movement from Within

Last week, my local BDS group was put on alert, when the following headline emerged:

“Palestinian Unions Say Israel Boycott Would Harm Them”

The Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) is a signatory of the PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel) call for BDS (#5), and has an estimate of 290,000 members. Naturally, if- all of a sudden- they”re not on board with the BDS movement, it”s cause for concern. That said, the whole scheme of things didn”t seem to make sense, so off I went on another journey through the Zionist Jungle.

Check Your Sources

The first thing to do, when reading any claim in the media is to check your sources. This article was published by The Jewish Community Online. An online news outlet powered by The Jewish Chronicle. I wasn”t familiar with this 164 year-old publication, but articles, such as “JINewsNet – the “New Voice for pro-Jewish and pro-Israel points of view”” and “The Danger of the Self Hating Jew”, pretty much say it all. It”s safe to say that this is a Zionist endeavor, if I”ve ever seen one.

On the issue at hand- the boycott- The Jewish Community Online is consistent in its opposition. The latest articles being:

* “Edinburgh students” Israel boycott fails” – All about the illegitimacy of the Edinburgh University Students” Association”s motion for an academic boycott of Israeli institution, and the Union of Jewish Students” triumph over “intimidation”.
* “Lebanon school bans “Zionist” Anne Frank” – Relating Lebanese actual holocaust-denial to the boycott movement, furthering confusion about holocaust fact and holocaust fiction.
* “Buycott combats Morrisons and Waitrose Israel boycott” – Extensive coverage of a counter-boycott initiative, “Buycott”.
* “Palestinian unions say Israel boycott would harm them” – (mentioned above)
* “In support of the ZF VC and other activists” – An article which originated in the Jerusalem Post, that warns of growing anti-israel and antisemetic sentiments in Britain, and equates the boycott and the Goldstone report with antisemitism.
* “Sussex Students” Union agrees Israel boycott” – Another article that goes on to confuse anti-Israeli-policy with antisemitism.
* “No kosher kill-off, Tesco tells customers” – Apparently Tesco.com is also antisemetic, and they also don”t take part in the counter-boycott initiative “Buycott”.

Note that two out of seven articles are actually about the Buycott campaign. Two out of seven talk about antisemitism directly and one more alludes to it through holocaust denial. Two out of seven report a failure of the BDS movement, or a victory of the anti-BDS movement.

With reporting like this, it”s no wonder our Palestinian friends insisted that the piece about the unions is bogus.

Uniting and Conquering

Divide and conquer is the tool of oppressors, and Zionists are- without a doubt- oppressors. This is the first time I”ve seen it in the BDS context, but I suspect we”ll be seeing a lot of this tactic in the future. Frankly, to me and others of the group, the whole story seemed unlikely. Arguments will arise within the movement, as the movement progresses and grows, but this isn”t unnatural. As a group, we could do nothing but wait for a press release that refutes this disturbing news. Sure enough, the proof that solidarity and unity conquers all was quick to arrive. Here”s the press release in its entirety:

Palestinian Trade Union Movement Unanimously Confirms Support for BDS
25 November 2009

In reaction to reports alleging that a Palestinian trade union official has stated his reservations about the Palestinian civil society campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), the full spectrum of the Palestinian trade union movement has expressed solid support for the BDS National Committee (BNC)* and for the global BDS campaign against Israel as an effective form of resisting its military occupation, war crimes and apartheid policies.

On November 12, the Jewish Chronicle, a staunchly Zionist paper published in the United Kingdom, reported that the Secretary General of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), Shaher Sa”ad, had told a small delegation of British trade unionists that PGFTU “had so little interest in the subject [of boycotting Israel] it had never discussed boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS).” The head of the delegation, Steve Scott, who is the director of Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI), a well-oiled lobbying front for Israel in the trade union movement, is quoted in the same article as saying, “the only area where the PGFTU did have a boycott policy was with regard to produce from West Bank settlements. Even then, there was concern about whether that boycott could do more harm than good for the 30,000 Palestinians
employed there.”

On November 14, Shaher Sa”ad categorically denied the above report in an interview with Aljazeera TV, reiterating his support for the boycott against Israel. The following day, in an official speech [1] before thousands of Palestinian workers at a political rally in Nablus, he called again for “boycotting [all] Israeli goods” and “supporting local [Palestinian] products” as an effective “form of resistance against the Israeli occupation.”

Whether Mr. Sa”ad made the statement attributed to him by the Zionist media outlets in the UK or not, the fact remains that PGFTU has officially endorsed the Palestinian civil society campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, since it was launched on 9 July 2005, and has been a member in the BDS National Committee (BNC), the coalition of Palestinian unions, political parties, NGOs and networks that leads the global BDS campaign, ever since its inception.

If the Jewish Chronicle”s report is accurate, something that cannot be taken for granted, given the paper”s notorious record, Mr. Sa”ad will have isolated himself completely from the absolute majority of the Palestinian trade union movement, including a solid majority within PGFTU itself. Since the above report, the BNC has officially asked PGFTU for clarifications and for a public, written position confirming its support for the boycott and calling on international trade unions to support BDS. Within hours of our letter, PGFTU-Gaza (which forms a sizeable part of the whole Federation) issued an official statement confirming its support for BDS and condemning any alleged violation of it by Sa”ad. Six trade union factions within PGFTU immediately followed suit, endorsing the BNC position and confirming their unambiguous support for BDS. Union leaders affiliated to all political parties represented in the PGFTU have insisted on the need to combat any attempts to undermine the BDS movement.

Furthermore, the largest, most representative Palestinian trade union federation, the General Union of Palestinian Workers (one of the constituent mass organizations of the PLO), reiterated its steady support of BDS and denounced Sa”ad”s reported statements as falling completely outside the Palestinian trade union consensus behind the boycott of Israel. The Palestinian Federation of Independent Trade Unions also issued a similar position. It is worth noting that all three federations are part of the BNC.

The Israel lobby groups in the UK and elsewhere have felt quite desperate lately in their abortive attempts to stop the spectacular growth of the BDS movement, particularly among major international trade unions. In South Africa, Great Britain, Ireland, Brazil, Canada and France trade union federations representing tens of millions of workers have endorsed – partially or fully – the BDS campaign against Israel. Many trade unions in Europe, Latin America and Canada have also announced their support for the Israel boycott, underlining the dramatic shift in international public opinion against Israel, especially in the aftermath of its war crimes against the Palestinian people in the occupied Gaza Strip, which were squarely condemned by the UN Fact Finding Mission led by South African Judge, Richard Goldstone.

The BNC, including all three federations representing the Palestinian trade union movement, warmly salute all international trade unions who have endorsed BDS, confirming that this is the most effective and needed form of solidarity with the Palestinian people and the strongest challenge to Israel”s criminal impunity and exceptionalism. As in the struggle against South African apartheid, Israel”s occupation, colonialism and apartheid will only come to an end when international civil society shoulders the moral responsibility by holding Israel to account before international law and universal principles of human rights, and by treating it as a pariah state, as apartheid South Africa was, deserving comprehensive and sustained BDS campaigns.

Any isolated and dissonant statements attributed to any Palestinian trade union official can never be regarded as remotely representing the Palestinian trade union movement, as it would be in direct conflict with the consensus in this movement behind BDS. We urge all international trade unions to heed the call of Palestinian civil society, including the trade union movement, by endorsing BDS. We further urge all trade unions and trade union federations to sever their links with the Histadrut, a Zionist organization that has always played a key role in perpetuating Israel”s occupation, colonization and system of racial discrimination, and that has justified and applauded Israel”s war crimes in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

The Histadrut and Israel apologists within the international trade union movement have continuously tried to use partial comments and innuendo by this or that Palestinian trade union official to create a deceptive impression of an imagined “split” in the Palestinian trade union movement on BDS. Today, we reconfirm to the TU movement worldwide that the Palestinian trade union movement stands united in support of BDS and calls on every TU to endorse BDS. This
is our best hope to end Israel”s grave violations of international law and to attain our inalienable, UN-sanctioned rights, especially our right to self determination.

The Palestinian Civil Society BDS National Committee (BNC)

[1] http://www.maannews.net/arb/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=240140

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