NUT: Time to Boycott Israeli goods and institutions

The near-universal revulsion at Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza in January has created a situation in which we can build a stronger and more effective movement in solidarity with the people of Palestine. In order to do so, we will have to address the underlying political issues, and may be faced with difficult decisions.

This attack was not, as some have argued, a disproportionate response to provocations from Hamas. As Israeli defence minister Barak made clear from the outset, the attack had been planned months in advance – in fact, at the very time that Israel was negotiating a ceasefire in June 2008. It was in fact Israel which continually broke the ceasefire, through its refusal to relax the siege of Gaza and continued raids. The real purpose of the attack was to depose the democratically-elected Hamas government and impose a leadership loyal to Israel’s ally, former Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. It was also intended to threaten the Palestinian people of the cost of continued opposition to Israeli indirect rule, and to gain electoral benefit for the government parties in Israel’s general election.

Israeli military action

The scale of Israel’s attack, the huge number of casualties – almost 1500 dead, including over 400 children – the use of white phosphorus, flechette shells and other anti-personnel weapons in densely-populated areas, the attacks on UN and Red Cross schools and hospitals, and other Israeli war crimes – sparked an unprecedented wave of demonstrations across the world. In Sakhnin, a Palestinian city in Israel, an estimated 150,000 people – 10% of the Palestinian citizens of Israel – marched in protest. Hundreds of thousands took part in the many demonstrations, pickets and occupations in Britain.

Despite this mass opposition, western governments continued to support Israel. In the face of all the evidence, Britain placed the blame for the assault on the Palestinian government, and made a hypocritical appeal for restraint “on both sides”. Meanwhile, Britain continues to arm Israel, with £27 million of equipment sold in the first nine months of 2008. This support does not result from the pressures of any “Zionist lobby”; it reflects the alliance of an imperialist power with one of its client allies. Not for the first time, the British government is complicit in Israel’s war crimes.

Solidarity activity

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has seen a major leap in membership, with groups being established around the country. It is welcome to see that the NUT, both nationally and at association level, has played a significant role in this. But this solidarity will be ineffective if it is limited to slogans, and to exhorting the British government to mend its ways. We must work to translate widespread sympathy with the Palestinian people into a real movement in solidarity with their struggle. The many twinning groups being set up across the country are attempting to provide direct material and political support to Palestinian communities.

The Palestinian call for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, analogous to the campaign against apartheid South Africa, has begun to attract major support. Indeed, recent reports in the Israeli financial press indicate that this campaign is beginning to bite. Israeli exports are beginning to suffer as consumers chose not to buy the fruit, vegetables, plastic goods and other produce of this criminal state. A boycott of Israeli academic institutions and other official bodies is also contributing to the isolation of Israel. This boycott, it is important to note, is not directed against individual Israelis, many of whom play a major role in the movement of solidarity with the victims of Zionism.

Union action

But the campaign must go beyond this. We must make sure that union funds are not invested in Israeli bonds or shares, or in any companies which maintain Israel’s oppression. We should insist that pension funds are not similarly invested. And we should add our voice and weight to those pressing local authorities and education providers to divest from all such shares.

The NUT executive statement calls for the end of British arms sales to Israel. This is a welcome development, and the union must push this demand through the union and labour movement. This should apply not only to direct military supplies, but to all supplies which help maintain Israel’s illegal occupation, such as in building the apartheid wall and developing settlements. As an example of what can be done, Sandwell council recently decided not to offer its waste management contract to the French company Veolia, because it is building a tram line between Jerusalem and illegal West Bank settlements.

The NUT should also take up the demand of all Palestinian unions for a boycott of the Israel’s Histadrut union federation. Since the publication of this demand in February 2007, the Histadrut has enthusiastically supported Israel’s assault on Gaza, and has backed the new right-wing Israeli government headed by the reactionary Netanyahu. This is not a workers’ union, but, as Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti wrote in Monthly Review, “an integral part of Israel’s colonial and apartheid system”. It is shameful that unions in Britain and elsewhere still maintain links with this body.

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