Government seeks showdown with Unions over Israel

Monday, 29th June 2009 at 8:00 UTC 3 comments

A friend pointed me to a press release on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (read, Foreign Ministry), in which the Foreign Secretary attempts to put Trade Unions in line on policy towards Israel. I find this problematic on several levels, not least, in that it shows what a Labour government will demand from Unions.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has expressed dismay that motions calling for boycotts of Israel are being discussed by trade union congresses and conferences. He said: ‘The Government is dismayed that motions calling for boycotts of Israel are being discussed at trade union congresses and conferences this summer.

Mr Lewis, Minister of State responsible for the Middle East, is this week meeting representatives of leading British unions in order to make clear the Government’s firm belief that calls for boycotts of Israel cannot and do not contribute to peace.

I think my issues with this are basically threefold. First, there’s the issue of Israel/Palestine itself. To my mind, the indication is that Britain still wants to view Israel and Palestine as somehow equal entities. The massive disadvantages and injustices are simply not there, these are two nations who need to merge into one, or one and a half states (i.e. an Israeli state, in which the Arab population must swear allegiance to their oppressors and a non-viable, Israel-pliant state).

Anyhow, this deference to the oppressor state implies that the government has in some way been pressurised into this action by Israel. But the second concern this raises in my mind has little to do with the Israeli state, instead it regards the interactions currently taking place between the Labour government and the Unions that have traditionally been so supportive of it.

This represents a rather worrying power dynamic which is always the contradiction of a Labour government. Essentially, once the unions have succeeded in bringing about a Labour government, such are the power dynamics that no real debate is possible in case they damage the unity and the legitimacy of the government. And when the government they have elected to serve their interests is troubled, they must in turn compromise on their demands to keep that government in power, despite the fact it must now take on either a puerile centrist, or right wing populist stance in almost every area simply in order to stay in power.

But lets move on from narratives and contradictions and so forth, to the final area of concern that this raises. This could well fit a trend of alienation through criminalisation (or disuading people to get behind a campaign by making out that its activities are inherently illegal, I’ve spent too much time with academics I fear) which has been laid out in the attempts to convict several activists in Scotland of Inciting Racial Hatred for what many would think of as opposing Israeli racism.

There is a real worry that the kind of action the government is using to criminalise the BNP is in fact the very same methods it will use to criminalise support for the Palestinians. It may well be in talks already with the Israeli ambassador and government, much as it is in talks with E.On, to crush dissent on its pre-determined line. Unfortunately, unlike in the Climate Movement, where it is understood, though much loathed, that we must face jail or lose the planet, in the case of the Palestinian cause, people are likely to simply crawl further and further back inside the box of conformity.

So all round, this is a worrying, if little reported and little discussed action. I really hope this isn’t a sign of government intentions to crush Union solidarity with the marginalised in Israeli society and the marginalised nation of Palestine, but I somehow find it hard to shake the sense of foreboding this statement has brought.


Entry filed under: Activism, Human Rights, Labour Party, Middle East, Party Politics, Politics, Racism, Workers.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. kaerast  |  Monday, 29th June 2009 at 21:42 UTC

    If unions are threatening to damage international relations with Israel, then the government have to react. A boycott in itself probably wouldn’t damage relations unless it was particularly widespread, but the possibility in Israel’s mind that our government support these boycotts could be damaging and so something needed to be said. At least that’s how I see it.

    Otherwise, why has Israel been picked out? Do the government therefore support the unions’ views on other debates they will be having this summer?

  • 2. Graham Martin  |  Tuesday, 30th June 2009 at 11:42 UTC

    The boycott is becoming widespread, and is beginning to bite, with Veolia pulling out from building the Jerusalem light rail project, which is quite an exciting development (and the first time I have ever opposed the building of a light rail system!). The thing is, the government is ill-prepared to talk tough with Israel, so people are having to do it for them. If having good relations with Israel means being complicit in its war crimes, crimes against humanity and its maintenance of Apartheid, then we shouldn’t seek good relations with them. Simple as.

  • 3. Des Clark  |  Tuesday, 30th June 2009 at 15:59 UTC

    David Millibands concern about Israeli boycots may reflect his particular ethnicity.


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