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labor UK's Largest Union Backs Boycott of Israel

The largest Union in Britain, UNITE, endorsed a call to Boycott, Divest and Enact Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, because of its treatment and occupation of Palestine. Another article explains the BDS movement.

UK's Largest Union Backs Boycott of Israel Despite Labor's Calls to Refrain

The union, which claims a membership of around 1.3 million, overwhelmingly carried two pro-Palestinian resolutions.

LONDON - UNITE, Britain's largest Trades Union - which last week confirmed it will be financially backing Labor Party leader Ed Miliband's bid for the premiership next May - has defied his recent call to not support the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment campaign against Israel.

At their annual conference held in the south coast resort of Brighton last week, they voted to support two hostile- to-Israel resolutions, including one that actively supports the BDS policy promoted by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

The union, which claims a membership of around 1.3 million, overwhelmingly carried two pro-Palestinian resolutions, while clearly rejecting a pro-Israeli motion. The third motion, from the Bank of England branch, proposed greater co-operation between UNITE and the Histradut by way of constructive dialogue and support for the Israeli union movement.

The main pro-Palestinian resolution calls for raising awareness, building support, campaigning, and lobbying for "a free and independent Palestine" by highlighting the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel itself.

A key section of the resolution instructs the union to work with others to develop campaigning and a "leverage strategy" around the BDS movement, including tackling "complicit companies" involved in the "occupation," the "apartheid wall," and "illegal settlements" "through workforce pressure, contracts, and pension funds," while encouraging members to call on supermarkets and retailers "to stop using companies that export goods from illegal settlements."

The union is also urged to raise the issue and table motions "in support of BDS" in other trades union forums around the world.

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However, this flies in the face of Miliband who, after his pre Passover visit to Israel, told Labor Friends of Israel's annual lunch not three weeks ago that, as far as he is concerned, nothing but nothing should get in the way of peace.

And it was in that context that he added, "We are clear that the threat of boycotts of Israel is the wrong response.

We do and we will resolutely oppose the isolation of Israel. And my party does so."

While it was not the first time he indicated his view, he had not said so as explicitly as on this occasion.

However, complicating the issue was the decision announced at the beginning of last week that UNITE was to give the opposition Labor Party a further #12 million of much needed funding in preparation for the May 2015 general election.

The ruling Conservative Party leadership rubbed their hands with glee as they pointed to the prospect of the left-leaning union's boss Len McClusky having more influence over Labor Party policy because of the sponsorship. This is something that Miliband has been trying to deny and break away from since he won the election to become party leader in September 2010.

A senior Labor Party source told The Jerusalem Post Saturday night that Miliband is the party leader and what he says is party policy and nothing that UNITE discusses at its party conference will change that simple fact.

A Labor Party representative added: "Ed Miliband made both his and the Labor Party's position on this clear at a recent Labor Friends of Israel event.

That was his firm position then, and remains his firm position now."

Introducing the BDS Movement

The global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights was initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005, and is coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), established in 2007. BDS is a strategy that allows people of conscience to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice.

For decades, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation. Despite abundant condemnation of Israeli policies by the UN, other international bodies, and preeminent human rights organisations, the world community has failed to hold Israel accountable and enforce compliance with basic principles of law. Israel's crimes have continued with impunity.

In view of this continued failure, Palestinian civil society called for a global citizens' response. On July 9 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice's historic advisory opinion on the illegality of Israel's Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), a clear majority of Palestinian civil society called upon their counterparts and people of conscience all over the world to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and to demand sanctions against Israel, until Palestinian rights are recognised in full compliance with international law.

The campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is shaped by a rights-based approach and highlights the three broad sections of the Palestinian people: the refugees, those under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in Israel. The call urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law by:

Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

The BDS call was endorsed by over 170 Palestinian political parties, organizations, trade unions and movements. The signatories represent the refugees, Palestinians in the OPT, and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Boycotts target products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions. Anyone can boycott Israeli goods, simply by making sure that they don't buy produce made in Israel or by Israeli companies. Campaigners and groups call on consumers not to buy Israeli goods and on businesses not to buy or sell them.

Israeli cultural and academic institutions directly contribute to maintaining, defending or whitewashing the oppression of Palestinians, as Israel deliberately tries to boost its image internationally through academic and cultural collaborations. As part of the boycott, academics, artists and consumers are campaigning against such collaboration and 'rebranding'. A growing number of artists have refused to exhibit or play in Israel.

Divestment means targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the likes of university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies. These efforts raise awareness about the reality of Israel's policies and encourage companies to use their economic influence to pressure Israel to end its systematic denial of Palestinian rights.

Sanctions are an essential part of demonstrating disapproval for a country's actions. Israel's membership of various diplomatic and economic forums provides both an unmerited veneer of respectability and material support for its crimes. By calling for sanctions against Israel, campaigners educate society about violations of international law and seek to end the complicity of other nations in these violations.

The BDS National Committee

The efforts to coordinate the BDS campaign, that began to grow rapidly as soon as/once the 2005 Call was made public, culminated in the first Palestinian BDS Conference held in Ramallah in November 2007. Out of this conference emerged the BDS National Committee (BNC) as the Palestinian coordinating body for the BDS campaign worldwide. See the BNC page for more details.