U.S. labor delegation in Israel: Why not solidarity with Palestine?

During the week of April 17, an official American Federation of Government Employees delegation, led by National President J. David Cox — along with some members of its National Executive Council — visited the settler state of Israel.

Cox was the recipient of the 2012 Public Service Award from the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center, a quasi-official Israeli government body. Cox had an executive conference room at the center dedicated to AFGE. Rabin was Israel’s prime minister and an official of the Labor Party when he was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli extremist in 1995.

In an ironic, if not hypocritical, statement released by AFGE, Cox stated: “The message of the AFL-CIO is that ‘work connects us all.’ People differ in terms of religion, belief, gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, language, and ability — but when we join together in a union, none of that matters. We become brothers and sisters in the struggle for dignity on the job and a better life for everybody.” (afge.org, April 17)

Surely Cox was not referring to the Palestinian people, whose land Israel occupies, since not once did the delegation visit or attempt to contact Palestinian workers or their trade unions, headed by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, or for that matter visit the West Bank, or even refer to the Israeli occupation.

The AFGE delegation was both selective and exclusive in its definition of “brothers and sisters in the struggle for dignity on the job and a better life for everybody.” The delegation visited the Tel Hashomer hospital, equivalent to the Veterans Administration hospitals in the U.S., as well as an Israeli Air Force base, “to meet with local union representatives to discuss their working conditions, union rights, and agency missions.”

Israel’s apartheid union

Most Israeli workers are members of Histadrut, a so-called labor federation that bars Palestinian workers in Israel from joining. The electronicintifada.net describes Histadrut as Israel’s racist trade union.

The pro-Palestinian website goes on to say, “The exclusion of Arab workers from whole sections of Israeli industry is tantamount to a color bar. Histadrut consciously did not invest or create factories in Arab towns or villages. Far from being a trade union, Histadrut was one of the primary causes of Arab unemployment and poverty, a situation that continues to this day.” (March 9, 2009)

According to a post released by the Palestinian Trade Union Coalition to support the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, “As part of an impressively growing labor support for BDS, which resembles a similar trend in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, trade unions around the world are taking steps to reconsider and even sever their ties to Histadrut, the colonial Israeli trade union entity that has always played a key role in Israel’s system of oppression over the Palestinian people. Histadrut has issued statements in favor of both Israel’s 22-day war of aggression in 2008-09 and the Israeli massacre of humanitarian activists on board the Freedom Flotilla in 2010. The organization participated in ethnic cleansing of Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba [Arabic for “catastrophe”], contributed in the construction of and holds financial interests in illegal Israeli settlements, and has failed to take action to prevent the systematic discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and has withheld funds owed to Palestinian workers.” (bdsmovement.net, June 11, 2012)

Unfortunately, most U.S. labor unions consider Histadrut to be “a normal trade union,” similar to the AFL-CIO. However, it has always historically been a driving force for Zionism, and specifically “labor Zionism,” and was a determining factor in the creation of the Israeli settler state, a land-based aircraft carrier to defend world imperialism and colonialism. It has always acted as an arm of U.S. foreign policy.

Zionism: racist, anti-communist, anti-working class

To fully comprehend this great charade of “Labor Zionism,” one has to examine the roots of the Israeli state. When Histadrut was formed in 1920 as the General Confederation of Hebrew Labor, it had as its premise excluding Arab labor, as the very name implies, and has always based itself on national exclusion and chauvinism against the Arab people. It also founded Haganah, the Zionist terrorist group, which later morphed into the Israeli armed forces. In 1930, it founded Mapai, the Labor Party that rejected even the tenets of moderate Social-Democracy in favor of colonialism and building the state of Israel with “Jewish labor.”

From its very inception, Zionism was created as a colonial project, and in fact encouraged and at times openly collaborated with anti-Semitism by promising to remove the Jewish people from Europe. According to Theodore Herzl, one of its principal founders, Zionism’s mission was “to form an outpost of civilization against barbarism.” This is critical, because it sought to undermine Jewish working-class allegiance and solidarity with revolutionary movements and especially socialism in Europe, Russia and the United States. This fact is enhanced by the following statement of Herzl: “I explained that we were taking Jews away from the revolutionary parties.” (laborforpalestine.net)

Despite all the evidence affirming that Histadrut has never been a real labor confederation, it is recognized by both the AFL-CIO and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions as a legitimate voice of workers. This is notwithstanding the fact that Histadrut was a major supporter of the apartheid state of South Africa, actively collaborated with it by investing in Iskoor Steel, which was 51-percent owned by Histadrut. It also was complicit in supplying the South African state with weapons to fight the African liberation movement, using the Histadrut-owned companies Tadiran and Soltam. All this happened when even the most right-wing Social Democratic labor unions were opposing apartheid.

Labor unionists in the U.S. must ask of their unions:

Why not solidarity with Palestine and its workers, who suffer oppression, day in and day out, from the state of Israel?

Why not solidarity with the workers of Venezuela and all of Latin America and the Caribbean, who are fighting imperialism and the attempts of the U.S. to undermine the legally elected government of Nicolás Maduro?

Why not solidarity with the socialist nation of Cuba and the Workers Central Union there in the fight to end the criminal U.S. blockade and to free the Cuban Five?