When it comes to trade boycotts, countries like the United States decide them on the basis of pure politics. Cuba and Iran – boycott. Israel, Saudi Arabia – sell them as many weapons as you can. But when trade unions and campaign groups propose a boycott in support of Palestinian rights, they are accused of “playing politics” and even, outrageously, of anti-Semitism. The stench of hypocrisy is positively overwhelming. But the pressure is so intense when it comes to Israel, that many cave in. For example, the National Union of Journalists’ national executive has voted unanimously to lay aside a motion passed at its annual conference to support a boycott of Israeli goods and to ask the Trades Union Congress to lead a national campaign.
A vicious backlash began as soon as the motion was adopted in April. Floods of emails from pro-Israeli groups arrived at the NUJ’s offices. Prominent members of the union organised a petition at the BBC, which attracted over 600 signatures. Over 30 members resigned from the union. The TUC then told the NUJ that it had no intention of organising a boycott on the spurious grounds that such action “would undermine our ability to act as go-betweens”. That gave the NUJ leaders a way out and the executive voted to bury the boycott campaign, with general secretary Jeremy Dear declaring: “I don’t believe it serves the interest of the union in workplaces at a time when we are facing job cuts that members should be discussing a boycott of Israeli goods.” As job cuts are routine in the industry, it means that there will never be a right time to discuss the issue. And so the Palestinians will remain isolated and have to make do with a few speeches from Dear and others in favour of their rights.
Others are not so easily cowered. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Boycott Israeli Goods Campaign, Jews for Boycott of Israeli Goods and Friends of Al Aqsa UK are calling for action against the England-Israel 2008 Euro qualifier match scheduled for Wembley on 8th September. In an open letter sent to football’s governing bodies, they point out that the Palestinian people are experiencing their 40th year of Israeli military occupation. They add: “Israel continues to build the illegal apartheid wall, annexing vast swathes of Palestinian land in the West Bank and creating Palestinian ghettos, despite the ruling of the International Court of Justice that it is illegal. Palestinians are effectively barred from international football by the extreme restrictions placed on them by the Israeli occupation. In September 2005, Palestine was in a good position in its Asian zone group in the qualifying rounds for the 2006 World Cup, but the Israeli authorities stopped five key players travelling outside Gaza and Palestine failed to qualify. In April last year, Israeli missiles destroyed the only stadium in Gaza, where 1.2 million Palestinians live. Israeli authorities admitted that the stadium was specifically targeted.”
A broad alliance of Palestinian civil society groups has called for an international movement of boycott and sanctions against Israel. This movement is partly based on the boycott movement against apartheid South Africa. South Africa was barred from the Olympic Games as well as international cricket and rugby until 1992. The sporting boycott played an part in isolating the regime and helping to bring about its demise. We should support the campaign against the England-Israel match and in doing so demonstrate that actions speak louder than words.
Paul Feldman, AWTW communications editor