Workers Hammer No. 196
Defend Canadian public workers and British lecturers unions!
Defend the Palestinians!
Zionist backlash over "boycott Israel"
(Young Spartacus pages)
We reprint below a Spartacist Canada supplement, written by our comrades of the Trotskyist League/ Ligue trotskyste, defending the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) against the pro-Zionist backlash which met the trade unions call for Palestinian national rights and the boycott of Israel.
In Britain there has been a wellpublicised campaign for boycotts of Israel within the university unions sparked by a letter in 2002 to the Guardian by Stephen Rose, professor of biology at the Open University, arguing for a moratorium on European funding of Israeli research. The Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), which have recently amalgamated into the University and College Union (UCU), had adopted various boycott resolutions. This has ranged from the boycott of two Israeli universities, Bar-Ilan and Haifa, (the AUT) to the boycott of Israeli universities and academics who would not dissociate themselves from Israels policies (NATFHE). For protesting the Israeli Zionist states crimes against the Palestinian people, the unions and their officials were subject to a campaign from world-wide Zionist groups and their supporters, smearing them as anti-Semitic, a favourite tactic of the Zionists. According to Socialist Worker, AUT union member, Sue Blackwell of Birmingham University, who proposed the original boycott motion in her union, even received death threats.
The vicious Zionist backlash launched against the boycott campaign included the threatening of the AUT with legal action by Haifa University, before this boycott was overturned, and calls from the Israeli education minister for the British government to intervene against NATFHE. The campaign sent shockwaves through the Israeli parliament which called an emergency meeting to discuss the boycott plans in Britain.
The Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Group call for the defence of the UCU and other unions and organisations against the Zionist backlash and recognise that the boycott campaign is motivated out of solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians. But, as our Canadian comrades explain below, we are politically opposed to campaigns for ongoing boycotts and divestment against Israel because they are not only ineffective, but counterposed to the international working-class struggle on which the liberation of the Palestinians is premised.
We make a distinction between ongoing boycotts and temporary boycotts, such as the refusal by the organised working class internationally to handle shipments of material bound for Israel as it carries out atrocities against the Palestinians or, such as recently, against Lebanon which we would support. This would express international proletarian outrage and be a concrete act against the ability of the Zionists to wage their war. An example would be what Terry Teague of the Sacked Liverpool Dockworkers, referring to the bombardment of Lebanon, called for when he said If we were still working wed have refused to touch any ship bound for Haifa while Israel were bombing innocent civilians (Mirror.co.uk, 27 July).
But we do not support ongoing boycotts and open-ended divestment, sanctions and consumer boycotts against Israel, which the Sacked Liverpool Dockworkers also endorse. In a statement, they call for boycotting Israeli consumer goods. Why not call for a boycott of all British consumer goods, protesting the British rulers brutality against the oppressed Catholic minority in Northern Ireland, not to mention British imperialisms role in the subjugation of Iraq and Afghanistan? Not only does this promote illusions in the democratic and civilised nature of other capitalist powers and corporations which the campaign seeks to dissuade from doing business with Israel, such a campaign is actually anti-working class. If successful, it would hit the Israeli proletariat the hardest, causing mass layoffs and weakening its social power that could and must be mobilised to defend its Palestinian brothers, and the peoples of Lebanon, and to smash the Zionist state from within through socialist revolution.
The main argument of supporters of the boycott and divestment movement, is that it helped overthrow apartheid in South Africa. It was the mass social struggles of the black and other non-white toilers, centred on the working class, which brought an end to apartheid in South Africa. The significant wage gains won by black class struggle and the instability caused by the strike movement deterred investment in South Africa. The imperialists and a section of the apartheid ruling class responded by agreeing a power-sharing deal with the African National Congress (ANC) to better defend capitalism in South Africa against a social revolution.
Our comrades argued that the struggle against apartheid was the struggle for socialist revolution led by the black working class in South Africa, while we were for working-class actions internationally against the apartheid rulers. For instance in September 1984, in response to strikes by the South African miners the Militant Caucus in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, whose work was politically supported by the Spartacist League/US, issued a leaflet LONGSHOREMEN: HOT CARGO ALL SOUTH AFRICAN SHIPPING!! and intervened into the mobilisation of the longshoremen that resulted in their refusal to handle South African cargo on board the Nedlloyd Kimberley (See The Truth About the 1984 Nedlloyd Kimberley Boycott, Workers Vanguard, no 873, 7 July).
The university unions boycott, which is part of the wider divestment campaign against Israel, represents an appeal to the supposed morality of British and European academic institutions and funding bodies to sever any links with the brutally oppressive and murderous Israeli regime. The problem with this is that the universities in Britain are no less attached to the British state than they are to the Israeli state in Israel. And the British imperialist state is no less bloody than the Israeli state.
In arguing the case for the boycott, a letter sent to the Guardian by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel on 30 May, stated Collaboration with the intelligence services and the occupation regime is part of the routine work of the Israeli academy. But it is also equally the case that providing technocrats and scientists for the military, operatives for the intelligence services, bankers for Britains financial institutions exploiting the Third World and intellectual justification for British imperialism is the central, routine work of British academic institutions. To take just one example of a British university: the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London was set up to train colonial administrators for the British Empire.
You only have to look at the members of the governing body of SOAS to see the bond between British academic institutions and British imperialism today. The chairman is Lady Barbara Thomas Judge who, among other things, is also the chair of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. Also on the board is Andrew Lloyd, a former member of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whose CV includes Head of Post in Kosovo after the imperialist NATO war from 2000 to 2002. Then there is Lord Mayor DW Brewer, head of the City of London Corporation, a role — the SOAS website brags — concerned with promoting the worlds leading international financial centre, which we know as the centre of British imperialism.
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For standing in defence of Palestinian national rights, the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees has come under furious attack from the government, media and sections of the labour bureaucracy and NDP [New Democratic Party]. Apologists for Zionist state terror rail that CUPE Ontarios defence of Palestinian rights equals support to terrorism. Others have viciously slandered the union stance as anti-Semitic. All opponents of Israels murderous assault on Lebanon and its ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people must defend CUPE Ontario against this pro-Zionist right-wing backlash!
CUPE Ontarios late May convention, attended by 900 delegates representing 200,000 union members, unanimously adopted a resolution calling to support the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until that state recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination. Endorsing a July 2005 call to action by 180 Palestinian organisations, the resolution specifically demands the dismantling of the apartheid wall built to seal off the West Bank, as well as the right of return for all Palestinian refugees. These demands are squarely in the interests of working people throughout the world. Unions elsewhere, including the COSATU [Congress of South African Trade Unions] labour federation in South Africa, have now raised similar calls.
CUPE Ontarios stance slammed into a ramped-up war on terror that targets the Muslim population for state repression, as well as the Harper governments hardline support for Israel. Canada was the first country to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority following the election of Hamas earlier this year, acting even before the United States, Ottawas senior partner and Israels chief paymaster. Harper has obscenely described the death and destruction raining down on Lebanon as a measured response by Israel.
CUPE Ontarios call for active labour support to Palestinian national rights marks a break with the pro-Zionist consensus that has historically dominated in the Canadian labour bureaucracy and especially the NDP. Some unions, notably the Steelworkers Toronto Area Council, have defended CUPE Ontario against the right-wing onslaught. But in the main, the labour misleaders have distanced themselves from or actively oppose CUPE Ontarios stance. Among the most vile is New Democrat MP Pat Martin, who raved in a letter to the rabidly Zionist National Post (5 June) that the state of Israel deserves the support of the international labour movement
. As a trade unionist and an NDP MP, I do not want to be associated in any way with the Ontario CUPE resolution.
Both the national and BC [British Columbia] CUPE leaderships have made clear that they disagree with the CUPE Ontario resolution. The president of CUPE Local 2063 led a pro-Zionist picket of the unions Toronto offices. It has been widely reported that a member of the University of Toronto teaching assistants Local 3902 is preparing a lawsuit against the union, attacking its right to defend causes that are irrelevant to its members interests. This is a frontal attack on the right of the labour movement to champion causes on behalf of the oppressed and an open invitation to union-busting by the capitalist state. Defeat the Zionist backlash — Defend union rights!
Also joining the chorus against CUPE Ontario is Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove. While denouncing CUPE Ontarios finger-pointing and boycotts, Hargrove salutes Israels rulers — including war criminal Ariel Sharon, who he calls a brave leader — for making genuine progress by pulling out of Gaza last year (Toronto Star, 5 June). Seeking to line up the working class behind the bourgeoisies anti-Palestinian backlash, this labour traitor reserves his ire for the election of the terrorist organization Hamas.
Contrary to Hargroves whitewash, Israels disengagement from Gaza, combined with the wall sealing off the West Bank, has allowed the Zionist rulers to even more effectively strangle the Palestinian population economically while giving the army a freer hand for military terror. Gaza is little more than a concentration camp: an impoverished, devastated strip where 1.4 million Palestinians are trapped, surrounded by the sea, an electrified fence and a wall sealing its border with Egypt.
Relentless state terror and devastation by Israel have long been visited upon the Palestinians. Combined with the political bankruptcy of Palestinian nationalism, exemplified by the ignominious 1993 Oslo deal between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel, this has driven much of the Palestinian people into the arms of the reactionary, anti-woman and anti-Semitic outfit Hamas. The latters electoral victory was met with a starvation embargo. Now, with their imprisonment of much of the Palestinian cabinet, the Zionist rulers, like their US patrons, are asserting their right to carry out regime change against any Palestinian government not to their liking. Down with the starvation embargo! No US/Canadian aid to Israel! Free the Hamas ministers, legislators and other victims of Zionist repression! Israel out of Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank and all the Occupied Territories!
Boycotts, divestment and the class struggle
To his credit, CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan has refused to buckle in the face of the pro-Zionist barrage. He told one reporter, I come out of Ireland and know about the right to self-determination. You cant have self-determination without a viable state. Indeed, there are many parallels between Israels oppression of the Palestinians and the long history of Britains suppression of Irish national rights.
As defenders of the Palestinian people and opponents of Israels blitzkrieg in Lebanon, the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste stands with CUPE Ontario against the Zionist-orchestrated anti-union offensive. At the same time, we oppose the political strategy of calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel promoted by the CUPE Ontario resolution. Such a strategy is not merely ineffective: it is counterposed to the only road to social and national liberation for the oppressed Palestinians, which lies through the class struggle of the international proletariat.
The CUPE Ontario resolution appeals to international law, ie, the United Nations. A CUPE Ontario call to join a 12 August protest at the Israeli consulate prominently includes the slogan Support UN Peacekeeping. And in a 31 July letter to Stephen Harper, Sid Ryan calls for the Canadian government to stop backing Israel and return to the proud history and tradition of Canadas role as an international peacekeeper.
The UN and the Canadian imperialist rulers are not and have never been peacekeepers! From the 1950-53 Korean War to the starvation sanctions that killed 1.5 million Iraqis, the UN has acted as a tool of imperialist depredation around the world. It was the UN that disarmed Palestinian fighters during Lebanons 1975-90 civil war, setting up the 1982 massacre of 2000 civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Christian rightist forces directed by Israeli troops under the leadership of Ariel Sharon. Under successive Liberal and Tory governments, Canadian UN troops have for decades acted as border guards for the Zionist rulers, including today in south Lebanon. Against the current Israeli attack on Lebanon, we stand in military defence of Hezbollah without giving that reactionary fundamentalist outfit any political support whatsoever. No to UN intervention!
Campaigns for divestment and sanctions sow illusions that pressuring the Canadian government, corporations and campus administrations will produce a more benevolent policy toward the Palestinians. This is often promoted as a peaceful alternative to military defence of the Palestinians against Israels rampage. What is urgently needed is the mobilisation of the working class in this country (and in the US and elsewhere) in concrete acts of solidarity with the besieged Palestinian and Lebanese masses — for example, refusing to handle military goods to Israel and organising material aid to the Palestinians.
This perspective can only be realised by mobilising workers against their own rulers, not by fostering illusions in the supposed benevolence of the imperialist state. While defending CUPE Ontario against the Zionist hysteria, reformist left groups like the International Socialists (IS) and Communist Party (CP) have uncritically backed the calls for sanctions and divestment. This reflects their own dead-end stance of pushing the Canadian rulers to take a stand against their senior partners in Washington. Typical is a 15 July statement by the Canadian Peace Alliance, whose steering committee includes IS and CP supporters, demanding in the name of humanitarianism and Canadas historic diplomatic role that our government reverse its shameful support for US and Israeli aggression.
As revolutionary Marxists, we advance the perspective of a socialist federation of the Near East. That requires struggle by the Arab, Hebrew-speaking and other working classes of the region to smash the Zionist state and the despotic regimes in the surrounding Arab countries. We defend the Palestinians in their struggle against Zionist rampage and occupation. However, as long as the conflict remains one of nation against nation, the Palestinians can only lose out to the heavily armed (including with nuclear weapons) and more technologically advanced Zionist state.
At bottom, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is one of interpenetrated peoples, two populations laying claim to the same small piece of land. There can be no equitable resolution to the conflicting national claims of the Palestinians and Hebrew-speaking people under capitalism. It is necessary to break the Hebrew-speaking proletariat from Zionist chauvinism and the Palestinians from Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism. That requires the construction of Leninist-Trotskyist parties committed to the overthrow of capitalist rule in Israel and throughout the region. We have no illusions that this will be an easy task. Winning the Hebrew-speaking proletariat to champion defence of the Palestinians will likely require a historic event like the victory of social revolution in another country in the Near East extending a hand of proletarian internationalism to the Israeli workers.
From North America to the Near East, a class axis of struggle is desperately needed. Here in Canada, we fight to break the working class from the grip of the pro-capitalist NDP and labour bureaucracy, winning it to champion the cause of the oppressed — from the Palestinians abroad to immigrants, Native people and the Québécois at home. In the fight to forge a revolutionary workers party, the proletariat will become conscious of its power as a class to sweep away the rapacious, war-mad capitalist system through socialist revolution.