Veteran NYC labor leaders: boycott Israel

From the NYC civil service paper The Chief-Leader, Oct 19:

Thompson and Israel

To the Editor:

The undersigned trade-union activists disagree with New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson and the Jewish Labor Committee, who have joined the witch-hunt against British unions for boycotting Israel (The Chief, Sept. 7).

Palestinian trade-union bodies have long asked international labor to support the boycott; endorsers now include the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and unions in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada.

It is no more unfairly selective or one-sided than the isolation of apartheid South Africa, a campaign in which we and many others actively participated. This boycott — many of whose supporters are Jewish — DOES NOT target Israel for its ethnicity, but for theft and colonization of Arab lands, denial of equality to Arab-Palestinians in Israel, and violation of Palestinian Refugees’ right to return home.

South African apartheid — racist oppression of the black majority — was consolidated in a 1948 white-only election. At the same time, apartheid Israel began with the Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1947-49, when Zionists systematically terrorized, dispossessed and ethnically cleansed the Palestinian majority. Some 13,000 Palestinians were massacred, 531 towns and villages erased, 11 urban neighborhoods emptied, and more than 750,000 (85 percent) driven from 78 percent of their country.

In 1967, Israel seized the remaining 22 percent — including East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza — which remains under military rule.

Today, at least 70 percent of the 10 million Palestinians are in exile _ the world’s largest refugee population. Those who managed to remain — today, 1.4 million (or 20 percent of the population in Israel) — are confined to 2.5 percent of the land, subject to more than 20 discriminatory laws, and deemed a “demographic threat” to be “transferred” elsewhere.

In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, 140 illegal, ever-expanding Jewish-only settlements and road systems dominate the water resources and control 40 percent of the land. Palestinians are confined, separated and degraded by an 8-meter-high separation wall, pass laws, curfews and 600 military checkpoints. In Gaza, 1.4 million suffer sealed borders; air, artillery and ground strikes; economic blockade; designation as “enemy entity”; and suspension of essential services.

During the past seven years, 4,274 Palestinians in these 1967 territories have been killed, compared with 1,024 Israelis. The military has seized 60,000 political prisoners; it still holds and tortures 11,000.

Apartheid Israel has also aggressively exported itself beyond Palestine. It was apartheid South Africa’s closest ally. Especially since 9/11, it has promoted the demonization of Arabs and Muslims. It has 200 nuclear weapons, but manufactured phony “evidence” of WMD for the Bush administration to invade Iraq.

There, in Afghanistan and in Lebanon, the U.S./Israel alliance has killed, maimed and displaced millions of people, using Israeli-perfected techniques of collective punishment, air war, human shields, home demolition, assassination, kidnapping, rendition, detention, torture, separation walls, partition and ethnic cleansing. Working people in this country have also paid a high price for these wars to dominate the oil-rich Middle East. Now, Israel is at the forefront of escalating attacks against Syria and Iran.

Moreover, apartheid Israel is sponsored by the U.S. In the past ten years alone, it has provided $17 billion in military aid, which the bipartisan Congress has just increased by 25 percent. U.S. trade-union officialdom is a shameful accomplice, and tries to silence union members who oppose this apartheid regime.

Ending this support would strike a critical blow against war and racism — abroad and at home. As in South Africa, points out Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, a boycott “will not change [the regime’s] position in a day, but it will send a clear message that [apartheid is] racist and unacceptable in the 21st century . . . They would have to choose.”

Workers in Palestine, the United States, and around the world, deserve no less.

LARRY ADAMS Former president, Mail Handlers Local 300

MARTY GOODMAN Former executive board member, TWU Local 100

MICHAEL LETWIN Former president, Assn. of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325

BRENDA STOKELY Former president, AFSCME DC 1707

[Signers affiliated with New York City Labor Against the War; other affiliations listed for identification only]

See our last posts on Israel/Palestine and the sanctions effort.

  1. Thompson Hits Israel Boycott by Brit Unions
    From The Chief-Leader, Sept. 7:


    City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. Aug. 28 blasted several British unions, including the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), for supporting a boycott of Israeli goods.

    Various groups have called for boycotts of products made in Israel and for institutions to divest from companies that do business in Israel to protest the country’s 40-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mr. Thompson sent letters to several trade-union leaders saying, “Boycotts of this nature will result merely in a failure to achieve a just and fair resolution of the Middle East conflict.”

    Labor Leader Applauds

    Jewish Labor Committee President Stuart Appelbaum, who is also president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, praised Mr. Thompson’s stance.

    “I thank Comptroller Thompson for his bold words against these ill-conceived anti-Israel resolutions,” Mr. Appelbaum said in a statement. “It is my hope that Comptroller Thompson’s words will be followed by similar actions by others truly concerned about seeking a just and fair resolution, and peace in the Middle East.”

    The JLC issued a statement signed by dozens of American labor leaders opposing such boycotts and divestment campaigns. The president of the TGWU’s American counterpart, James C. Little of the Transport Workers Union of America, signed the statement, but Roger Toussaint, president of TWU Local 100, has not made his stance on the issue public.

    ‘Bring Them Together’

    “Trade unionists and their organizations seeking such a just and fair resolution should be assisting those working to bring the two sides together in direct talks and then negotiations,” the JLC’s letter said. “In this regard, we call for increased engagement of trade unions with their counterparts on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We support efforts of Palestinian and Israeli trade unionists and their organizations to maintain contact and cooperative and mutually supportive activities, even in the midst of tumult and political change within their respective communities and polities.”

    Mr. Thompson was pleased to see American unions signing the JLC’s statement.

    “The Comptroller is concerned about any issues that affect trade and the economy,” a spokesman for Mr. Thompson said in an email. “In this instance, as he indicates in his letter, he is concerned that ‘antagonism or retaliation’ are being employed whereas constructive dialogue would be a more productive route.”

  2. More on Israel boycott in labor paper “The Chief”
    Received by email from Marty Goodman, Oct. 25

    Below is a letter on Palestine by Mike Gimbel appearing in the Oct 26th issue of “The Chief,” a New York City Civil-Service weekly (circulation 30,000). Gimbel’s letter follows last week’s letter on Palestine by myself and three other trade-unionists (see below Gimbel’s).

    Both letters protest reactionary remarks made by NYC Comptroller Thompson (Democrat) and the pro-Zionist Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) in opposition to a trade-union boycott of Israeli goods by South African, British, Irish and Canadian unions. The original article on Thompson and the JLC appeared in “The Chief” Sept. 7th.

    Gimbel, who is Jewish, is a member of NYC Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) and a union rep for New York’s District Council 37, Local 375.

    A second letter appeared this week by Stuart Leibowitz, President of DC 37 Retirees. It is a reactionary defense of Israeli apartheid and condemns last week’s letter about Palestine. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of it. You must read it in “the Chief” until it appears on their website (after 30 days). You’re not missing much!

    New York’s DC 37 has 121,000 members and 50,000 retirees. The remarks of both of these DC 37 union officers are sure to be discussed by its’ members.


    To: “The Chief,” Letter to the editors section.

    From: Mike Gimbel, recently retired member of L. 375, AFSCME & current elected L. 375 Delegate To NYC-Central Labor Council.

    Re: “The Chief” article titled “Thompson hits Israel boycott by Brit unions.”

    Date: October 17, 2007

    As a Jewish trade unionist who supports the just struggle of the Palestinian people and the boycott of Israel, I object to the hypocrisy inherent in the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) President Stuart Appelbaum’s statements, as quoted in the Sept. 7 issue.

    JLC President Appelbaum, in opposition to the boycott of Israel by British unions, states in the JLC letter that “Trade unionists and their organizations seeking such a just and fair resolution should be assisting those working to bring the two sides together.”

    Where has the JLC actually done this? The JLC is a partisan supporter of Zionism! It has always fought strenuously against such a dialog within the labor movement! Please tell me what unions in NYC have allowed representatives of the Palestinian resistance movement to speak to their members?

    From my own personal experience I know that just bringing up the question of defense of the Palestinians, even in the most moderate fashion, is enough to bring down on one’s head a full frontal political attack intended to silence all critics of Zionism.

    Many years ago, I chaired a large meeting of my union chapter where I invited both sides to speak. Only the Palestinian side showed up because the Zionists side refused to sit at the same table with the Palestinians!

    Last month, at a meeting I chaired at DC 37 opposing the Iraq Occupation, I made a plea to the union movement to begin a dialog on this critical issue.

    The JLC letter is quoted as stating: “we call for increased engagement of trade unions with their counterparts on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” I challenge the JLC to make that statement a reality! I’ll gladly help them set up such a meeting where the rank-and-file union member can attend and ask questions. Let’s start a real and continuing dialog!

    The issue of the boycott of Israel can’t be allowed to be pushed under the rug. The issue of Zionism is central to almost every political conflict in the Middle East. U.S. foreign policy for over a half century is wedded to the ideology and strategy of Zionism.

    Trillions of dollars of our tax money and the blood of the U.S. soldiers, as well as the blood of millions of Iraqis, Lebanese, Iranians, Afghans, Palestinians and Jewish civilians are at stake. Washington has no money for health care, no money for rebuilding our bridges and infrastructure, no money to rebuild New Orleans while trillions of dollars are poured into the wars in the Middle East. 

    Can the AFL-CIO affiliated American Center for International Labor Solidarity known as the Solidarity Center, continue to embrace U.S. support for the Israel occupation while unions all over the world are backing the boycott?

    In order to emphasize the importance of the issue, I stated at the meeting I chaired at DC 37 last month that “Today’s Palestinians are yesterday’s Jews” and “Today’s Gaza Strip is yesterday’s Warsaw Ghetto.” We must support the seven million Palestinian refugees waiting outside occupied Palestine for decades because the Zionists refuse their legal right to return, while the other three million Palestinians live directly under the Zionist boot heel. This is one of the greatest crimes in human history along with the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews!

    Let’s have a dialog on the rise of anti-Semitism but most importantly, engage the labor movement in a dialog about Palestinian human rights and the right of return. Let’s not cover up the U.S. sponsored crimes of Zionism. As a first step in that dialog, I was pleased to see that “The Chief” printed the letter in your October 19th edition, that was written by Larry Adams, Brenda Stokely, Marty Goodman and Michael Letwin that criticized Comptroller William C. Thompson and the JLC witch-hunt of the British unions for boycotting Israel. 

    Our union members come from all over the world. That includes the Middle East and it includes Palestinians as well. Shouldn’t we give them the right to be heard? Shouldn’t we also allow Jewish anti-Zionists to be heard?

    Isn’t it about time that our unions set up forums where both sides can be heard? That’s what I actually did in my union chapter many years ago. Unity cannot be achieved by silencing our Palestinian and Middle-Eastern members. Let’s follow the old and true union motto: “In unity there is strength.”

    1. Letter to The Chief
      The Chief, Nov. 30:

      Unions and Israel

      To the Editor:

      I felt compelled to respond to the collective letter to the editor written by Milton Lovett, Mitchell Feder, Martin Hollander, Stephan Benedict, Maurice Spreiregen, Marvin Greisman and Hilda Schneider in the Nov. 9 issue of THE CHIEF in response to Mike Gimbel’s Oct. 26 letter.

      Their letter contained so much misinformation that it is almost impossible to correct or to even respond to within the space of the letters section. But more importantly, it saddened me since the letter was riddled with the racism that spews forth from the daily newspapers in America about Arabs in general and about Palestinians in particular.

      Israel has not only been oppressive to Palestinians historically but has moreover pulled people who support it to the right, supporting the most reactionary policies proffered by the government.

      Growing up in New York, the one thing I was assured of was that the Jews, who had been historically oppressed as a people, understood this and thought racism of all kinds abhorrent. In fact, anti-Semitism always took on the tinge of anti-communism, or at least anti-radicalism. This is something that we were proud of.

      Now with this slavish attitude toward Israel, it is virtually impossible for Zionists to be critical, and thus impossible for them to look at the world from the point of view of the oppressed, thus landing on the side of the oppressor.

      Any honest reader of the news (even American news) cannot but admit that even now Israel continues to starve people of the necessities of life. The latest indignity perpetrated by Israel is the fact that it reduced the electrical flow to Gaza. Tom Pessah, an Israeli, writing about the right of return in an article, “Coming to Terms With the Right of Return: Damn It, Those Neighbors!” writes: “As a famous Israeli song goes, things that I can see from here, you don’t see from there.”

      In discussing the Right of Return, Pessah states: “It seems much simpler to me that Palestine/Israel isn’t mine to give; Palestinians have as much of a right to it as I do.”

      And yet American Zionists cannot even be critical of the Israeli government, let alone sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians.

      The authors of the article should understand that not everyone in Israel aligns himself with the government. But in order to support Israeli policies, the article is either riddled with lies or half-truths, making the explanations for the events rocking Palestine unexplainable. Ask the Irish why they have been historically viewed as crazy terrorists by the English. This fact holds true in Palestine as well.

      In responding to Mike’s letter, the authors write that “Mr. Gimbel, under the guise of trade-unionism, wrote ‘eloquently’ about the plight of the Palestinians, equating their treatment to the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews. But, the authors go on to write: “In doing so, he is monumentally wrong, and one doesn’t have to be a Ph.D. in history to realize this horrendous comparison.” And just like that, everything is explained.

      Do these authors know anything about the plight of the Palestinians, or is this the usual “the Jews are the most victimized people in history” and thus ends the discussion? And while they are right that it is not possible to solve the problem at the level of the rank and file, it is possible to organize a debate about where our money is being spent and demand that the union disinvest from Israel.

      DC 37 sends money to Israeli schools, but according to Haaretz, that money goes to schools that teach Israeli kids to hate Palestinians. As workers, who must identify with oppressed peoples around the world, do we want our dues to go to such a horrendous venture? That is why I suggest that as unionists we question where our money goes and demand that DC 37 open its books so that we can make some decisions about how our money is spent.

      The U.S. working class has historically taken on political questions from the 8-hour day to questions of war. The reason that American workers have any social safety net at all is because in the 1930s and 1940s workers not only talked about social questions but they took to the streets fighting to have these policies implemented.

      It is only in the past 60 years or so that workers have been denied this chance to discuss politics in the union, and that is largely due to the union leaders. But indeed workers can change the world. This view is in contrast to the stated beliefs of the authors, who argue that it is not for workers to take on these complex, heady questions that impact our lives daily. Instead, they try to make us believe that these questions should only be discussed by our betters. They argue that these issues are not for people such as us, who either cannot understand the issues or that they don’t concern us. I disagree. This is elitism, pure and simple.

      We have to stop thinking that unions should fight only for bread-and-butter issues. That philosophy has gotten us nowhere. All the issues that face us, including the Middle East, are issues that we must tackle, since the employers and their government henchmen insist on creating the problems in the first place.

      We have to understand that the hopes and dreams of workers in all lands mirror our own hopes and dreams, and that we as a class should be in opposition to all exploitation, oppression and bigotry. We should be in the forefront of fighting for people’s rights. Otherwise, our world will not be a safe place to live in.

      CAROL LANG, Local 384, District Council 37