Union sanctions not helping the Palestinians

Bren Carlill

The Australian – October 18, 2010

A handful of Australian unions are aiming to bring a resolution in support of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions – or BDS – movement against Israel to the Australian Council of Trade Unions. BDS activists claim they aim to coerce Israel into peace, but are really motivated by either hate or ignorance. They ignore the fact that BDS not only reduces the chance for Israeli-Palestinian peace, but also hurts the very Palestinians they claim to be protecting.

In light of this, the upcoming BDS resolution at the ACTU is both sad and absurd. All Australian unionists in favour of Israeli-Palestinian peace will either vote against the resolution, or unwittingly prolong the conflict.

In 2008, the Israeli and Palestinian equivalents of the ACTU signed an agreement that sought to protect the rights of workers in both communities. In recent months, as a result of pressure from BDS activists, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions has been backing out of the agreement. Here is a clear example – one among many – where the BDS movement has succeeded, but in doing so succeeded in hurting Palestinians.

The Israeli and Palestinian economies are intricately intertwined. The Palestinian Authority exports to and imports from Israel more products than any other country. Thus, a Palestinian boycott of Israel – which BDS activists call for – would decimate the Palestinian economy. Likewise, thousands of Palestinians find employment in Israel, including Israeli settlements. A successful BDS campaign would see these people lose their jobs. This is why Palestinian unions do not support the BDS campaign (Which makes you wonder why Australian unions are getting involved…) Recent political pressure has seen some Palestinian unions support a very watered down concept, but they have conditioned their support on the thousands of Palestinians who would subsequently become unemployed being guaranteed jobs. Hardly an overwhelming vote of confidence by the very people the proposed ACTU resolution purports to support.

There are a minority of people in Israel who suggest no Israeli compromise will ever be enough for the international community, so why compromise at all? The BDS campaign strengthens these people’s voices, at the expense of others who are urging Israelis and Palestinians to find a way through the legion of complexities and arrive at a mutually agreed upon peace. The reality is, Israel does not need to be coerced into peace. Poll after poll reveals Israelis are overwhelmingly in favour of a viable two-state resolution of the conflict. That is why the Israeli government has continued to return to negotiations with the Palestinians, despite two decades of Palestinian rejection of peace offers (with no counter offers) and near-constant terrorism and anti-Israel incitement in official Palestinian media. It is why Israel has signed peace treaties with every Arab country thus far willing to sign peace treaties with it.

Israelis have been dying for peace – literally – since their state was established 62 years ago. Boycotting Israel will not change this, but only strengthen the hand of rejectionist Palestinians, including Hamas, that want no peace, no dialogue and no co-existence with Israel.

Consider this: the Oslo peace process began when Israeli and Palestinian academics met in Oslo to discuss ways to find peace between the two peoples. Had BDS been in place, this meeting would not have happened, proving in yet another way how BDS ruins the chance for peace and prolongs the conflict. Indeed, BDS activists condemn any meeting between Israelis and Palestinians. However, peace will only have a chance  when Israelis and Palestinians of all stripes – politicians, academics, unionists and others – sit down and talk with each other, allowing trust to grow.

Beyond the prolonging of the conflict that BDS promotes is the sheer and utter hypocrisy of its advocates. For instance, Omar Barghouti, the founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, is a PhD student at an Israeli university. While his hypocrisy is self-evident, for others it’s a little more subtle. The Google search algorithm, used by billions of internet users across the planet, was written by an Israeli. While Finland invented the mobile phone, it was Israel that provided the technology to miniaturise it. Likewise, voicemail, firewalls and instant messaging are all Israeli inventions. The Intel chip was designed in Israel, as was most of the Windows operating system. Even transition lenses are an Israeli invention, designed by Israel for the NASA space programme – the list goes on. If BDS activists, including those unions bringing this absurd resolution to the ACTU, were true to their word, they would be sure never to turn on their computers or mobile phones, and remain squinty in the sun. But, of course, they won’t, proving BDS is not about ‘justice’ or building up Palestine, but about tearing down Israel.

There is an Israeli organisation called Lend for Peace, which provides micro-financing for Palestinians. It does this to build up the Palestinian economy, thereby laying the foundations for a viable Palestinian state and, thus, a viable two-state peace. Would the BDS activists want to boycott this because it is run by Israelis? Or are they selective in their targets for boycott, only persecuting people who disagree with them? Is such McCarthyism a fitting policy for an Australian trade union?

The hypocrisy of BDS activists extends beyond how they choose to employ their boycotts to upon whom they unleash their selective moral outrage. No BDS campaign is suggested against the region’s true human rights abusers, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. In these countries, not only is gender, sexual or ethnic equality a joke, but one couldn’t even dream for basic civil rights, like the ability to organise a trade union or criticise the government without fear of arrest.

A sad indictment on the modern Middle East is that Arabs in Israel have more rights than Arabs in any other Middle Eastern country. Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, but it is the only country the BDS activists want to boycott. Such is the absurd nature of the resolution about to be before the ACTU.

Bren Carlill is an analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council


A slightly shorter version of this article ran in The Australian on October 18, 2010 (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/unon-sanctions-not-helping-the-palestinians/story-e6frg6zo-1225939887031