US Labor Has Long Been a Stalwart Backer of Israel. That’s Starting to Change.

Because the Israeli authorities carries out what specialists describe as a possible genocide in Gaza — with full political, monetary, and army backing from america — tens of millions of individuals around the globe are mobilizing to demand an instantaneous cease-fire and a free Palestine. Staff in america, together with quite a few rank-and-file unionists and native union representatives, are equally talking out towards the continuing siege and bombardment of Gaza and pledging their solidarity with Palestinian commerce unions, which have known as on organized labor to refuse to fabricate or transport weapons destined for Israel.

Labor leaders in varied nations have joined in these calls, however high US labor officers — particularly these within the AFL-CIO, the nation’s high labor federation — have largely avoided supporting a cease-fire, with a number of making tepid statements in regards to the “humanitarian disaster” in Gaza. After a central labor council in Olympia, Washington, unanimously handed a cease-fire and Palestine solidarity decision a number of weeks in the past, the nationwide AFL-CIO even stepped in to quash the measure.

The flare-up over Gaza is hardly the primary time disagreement on international affairs has erupted inside US labor. In the course of the Vietnam Conflict, conservative officers like AFL-CIO president George Meany unstintingly backed Washington’s adventurism, whilst well being care staff with Native 1199 and a few United Auto Staff (UAW) leaders have been among the many earliest voices within the antiwar motion. Ultimately, a majority of union presidents opposed the warfare — serving to strain the US authorities to lastly finish it — however not earlier than tens of millions of Vietnamese civilians and tens of hundreds of US troops had been killed.

It’s subsequently pressing for rank-and-file activists to know the historical past of US labor’s shut relationship with Israel — in addition to the courageous instances of US unionists working to change that relationship to realize peace and freedom for everyone in historic Palestine.

Within the early twentieth century, most working-class Jewish People have been non-Zionists or anti-Zionists. The immigrant Jews who based and led highly effective organizations just like the Worldwide Women’ Garment Staff’ Union (ILGWU) and Amalgamated Clothes Staff had reduce their political enamel again in Japanese Europe as members of the socialist Jewish Labor Bund, which rejected Zionism as a bourgeois, nationalist challenge that sidetracked class battle.

On the First Jewish Labor Congress — a 1919 nationwide gathering in New York of representatives from Jewish-led unions claiming to signify 5 hundred thousand staff — the delegates debated Zionism and handed a measure that explicitly rejected the thought of a Jewish state in Palestine. As an alternative, the decision known as for the institution of “a free, impartial republic during which no nationality, whether or not a minority or majority folks, shall have any particular rights.”

However as extra European Jews moved to Palestine amid new US immigration restrictions and the rise of Naziism, Jewish-American labor officers grew more and more sympathetic to the leaders of the Yishuv — the Jewish group in Palestine — regardless of their very own aversion to Zionism. They established an in depth relationship with Histadrut, the Labor Zionist group in Palestine that concurrently functioned as a union federation and a community of cooperatives, farms, industrial enterprises, housing corporations, well being clinics, and banks all aimed toward constructing a brand new economic system that will take in the inflow of European Jewish settlers — whereas intentionally excluding Palestinian Arabs.

Histadrut obtained tens of millions of {dollars} in donations from US unions between the Twenties and Forties. A few of its early leaders — like David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, who counted US labor officers amongst their most dependable international allies — later turned Israeli prime ministers.

By the top of World Conflict II, the sheer horror of the Holocaust motivated non-Zionist Jewish-American unionists like ILWGU president David Dubinsky to advocate for the partitioning of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel, however with no obvious regard for Palestinians. They have been joined by non-Jewish labor leaders as properly, together with AFL president William Inexperienced and CIO head Philip Murray.

In April 1948, the Nakba formally started as Zionist militias initiated their bloody Plan D (Dalet) marketing campaign of ethnic cleaning in majority-Palestinian areas as preparation for the founding of Israel. On April 14, solely 5 days after at the least 107 Palestinian villagers have been murdered within the Deir Yassin bloodbath, about thirty thousand members of the ILGWU and different needle trades unions in New York staged a half-day work stoppage and rallied at Yankee Stadium to demand President Harry Truman embrace partition and carry the arms embargo he had imposed on Palestine so extra weapons might stream to Zionist forces.

David Dubinsky and Harry Truman. (Kheel Middle by way of Wikimedia Commons)

It was partly as a result of this intense strain from his allies in organized labor, throughout his shaky reelection marketing campaign no much less, that Truman instantly acknowledged Israel upon its formal founding the subsequent month. Underneath Dubinsky, the ILGWU prolonged a $1 million mortgage to the brand new Israeli authorities and arrange a multimillion-dollar bond program to fund the constructing of eight thousand houses in Israel for incoming Jewish settlers.

Within the years after the Nakba — which turned 750,000 Palestinians into everlasting refugees — US unions donated tens of millions of {dollars} for the development of public services in Israel, a number of of them in beforehand majority-Palestinian cities, cities, and villages. A partial listing consists of: the Walter Reuther Youth Middle in Holon, George Meany Stadium in Nazareth, Philip Murray Memorial Middle in Elath, William Inexperienced Cultural Middle in Haifa, James R. Hoffa Youngsters’s Dwelling in Ayn Karim, and ILGWU Hospital in Beersheba.

As well as, beginning in 1951 and persevering with ever since, US labor at each stage bought at the least a whole bunch of tens of millions (extra doubtless billions) of {dollars} in State of Israel bonds — cash primarily used to bankroll infrastructure initiatives. And each time Israel went to warfare with neighboring Arab states between the Fifties and Nineteen Eighties, US labor leaders wasted no time in expressing their assist and organizing emergency fundraising campaigns for Histadrut and the Israeli authorities.

Regardless of US labor’s shut ties with Israel, there have all the time been some dissenters. The earliest such instance occurred in April 1949, when Dubinsky obtained a exceptional letter drafted by a bunch of New York ILGWU members figuring out themselves as “a group descendent of Arabic-speaking folks.”

“We want to draw your consideration,” the letter’s signers informed Dubinsky, “to the plight of . . . the Arab refugees of Palestine who fled their houses into the desert and neighboring nations. They quantity round 750,000. They’re destitute, homeless struggling human beings threatened by starvation and illness.” They appealed to the ILGWU president as “a person of noble character and excessive integrity” and “as a frontrunner of our Union” to offer funds to help Palestinian refugees.

The twenty-nine signatories included Vickie Karadashly, who apparently organized the hassle, James and Norman Shaleesh, Merta Khoury, and Amelia Abraham. As Karadashly defined in a postscript, although the letter was initially solely going to be signed by “folks of our race,” as soon as fellow ILGWU members “heard of our plea,” additionally they “gladly connected their names to our petition” — names like Helen Campanelli and Irma Taverna, Jola Springer, and Mildred Challenger.

Dubinsky responded by authorizing the ILGWU to donate $5,000 “for using Arab-refugee reduction” to the American Mates Service Committee, the Quaker humanitarian group administering help to Palestinian refugees in Gaza on behalf of the United Nations. In comparison with the tens of millions of {dollars} the ILGWU was busily giving to Histadrut and the Israeli authorities, $5,000 was a paltry handout.

There may be little document of any additional pro-Palestine actions from US labor till the Six-Day Conflict in 1967, throughout which Israel seized the West Financial institution and Gaza Strip (territories meant to comprise a future Palestinian state, per worldwide legislation), in addition to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights. Within the instant aftermath, younger black and Arab autoworkers in Metro Detroit began voicing their assist for the rising Palestinian liberation motion.

When Egypt and Syria launched the October Conflict of 1973 to attempt to regain the territory they’d misplaced six years earlier, Detroit’s giant group of Arab autoworkers was shocked to find that their union, the UAW, held $785,000 in Israeli bonds. On October 13, round three thousand Arab protesters marched in Dearborn to the UAW Native 600 workplace, demanding the bonds be liquidated. Quickly after, they shaped an Arab Staff Caucus, forging an alliance with fellow UAW dissidents from the League of Revolutionary Black Staff.

The Arab Staff Caucus discovered that on November 28, UAW president Leonard Woodcock could be honored by B’nai B’rith Worldwide, a Zionist charitable group, with its Humanitarian of the 12 months Award at a gala dinner in downtown Detroit. At the beginning of the October Conflict, Woodcock had issued a public assertion on behalf of the union “unreservedly” condemning “the unprovoked Egyptian-Syrian army assault” and expressing “our solidarity and assist with the State of Israel.”

ILGWU staff meet Lyndon B. Johnson. (Kheel Middle by way of Wikimedia Commons)

The employees used Woodcock’s B’nai B’rith dinner to demand the union divest from Israel. The caucus circulated seventy thousand flyers in Arabic and English calling on Arab autoworkers to hitch in a wildcat strike on the day of Woodcock’s award ceremony. In an commercial printed within the Detroit Free Press, the native American Arab Coordinating Committee questioned whether or not the UAW management was appearing in members’ finest pursuits by spending “over ¾ million {dollars}” on “non-economical, low-interest, international bonds.” The advert additional famous that the UAW had an estimated fifteen thousand Arab members. “Buy of Israeli bonds is regarded by these staff equally as would a UAW funding in racist South Africa could be regarded by black staff,” it mentioned.

At Dodge Fundamental in Hamtramck, the place Arab immigrants comprised upward of 25 p.c of the workforce, two thousand staff heeded the decision for the November 28 wildcat strike and halted manufacturing for the day. Different crops within the space skilled slowdowns. That night, a couple of thousand protested outdoors Cobo Corridor, the place Woodcock was being honored. Holding indicators that learn “Eliminate the Bonds” and “Jewish Individuals Sure, Zionism No,” the Arab protesters chanted “don’t abuse staff’ dues” and “no extra bombs, no extra bonds.” Woodcock snuck into the venue via a again door to keep away from the protesters.

For his half, UAW secretary-treasurer Emil Mazey issued a condescending assertion a number of weeks after the wildcat motion, saying that “a employee in any of the Arab nations who would do likewise would quickly discover himself in jail.” He added, “American staff of Arab descent must expend their energies serving to their compatriots do away with the feudal and totalitarian overlords who’re ruling these lands with an iron fist.”

Undeterred, the Arab Staff Caucus continued organizing. The caucus despatched delegates to the 1974 UAW constitutional conference in California, who put ahead a program urging the union to “stand firmly in assist of all staff and other people struggling in Africa, Asia and Latin America.” “Within the Center East,” the caucus’s program declared, the “UAW ought to assist the precept of creating a secular, non-theocratic, democratic state in Palestine for all folks, Jews and Arabs, and stand towards any outdoors intervention.”

Though the conference’s resolutions committee ignored these proposals, by organizing among the many rank-and-file over a number of months, the Arab Staff Caucus satisfied a number of UAW locals to eliminate their very own Israeli investments, ensuing within the liquidation of $48,000 in bonds by 1975.

Over a decade later, because the Palestinian rebellion generally known as the First Intifada swept the occupied West Financial institution and Gaza Strip, a bunch of US activists took out a full-page advert within the New York Instances with a statement demanding Washington reduce all army and financial help to Israel, which they in comparison with apartheid South Africa. “In Israel, at least in South Africa, minimal justice requires dismantling the apartheid state and changing it with a democratic secular Palestine, the place Jews and Arabs, Christians and Moslems, reside along with equal rights and alternatives,” the March 1988 assertion mentioned.

Over 300 outstanding people connected their names to the message, together with a dozen native union officers from across the nation. Essentially the most well-known commerce unionist was Jim Guyette, former president of Native P-9 of the United Meals and Industrial Staff, who two years earlier had led the high-profile (however in the end unsuccessful) strike on the Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota.

In a press release of its personal, the AFL-CIO’s Government Council dismissed makes an attempt to liken Israel to South Africa, labeling it “a calumny we categorically reject and resent” as a result of, they asserted, Israel was a democracy.

Because the First Intifada continued, the supposedly democratic Israeli state jailed hundreds of Palestinians with out cost, together with scores of union organizers. Amongst them was Hani Beydoun, a frontrunner of the Jerusalem Lodge Staff’ Union, who was arrested in 1990 shortly after returning to the West Financial institution from a whirlwind tour of North America, the place he met with US and Canadian unionists and testified earlier than the United Nations about Israel’s suppression of labor rights within the occupied territories.

Throughout Beydoun’s monthslong detention, US and Canadian union members despatched over two thousand letters to the Israeli authorities demanding his instant launch — although it’s unclear when and if he was let go. A decision adopted by AFSCME Social Service Native 1108 in Los Angeles famous that “it seems that the brutal detention of Brother Beydoun is in retaliation” for offering “direct proof of the barbarous denial of human and labor rights of Palestinian staff in Israel and the occupied territories.”

Because the Israeli army bombed the West Financial institution in 2002 in the course of the Second Intifada, destroying the Nablus workplaces of the Palestinian Basic Federation of Commerce Unions, delegates of the seventy 5 thousand–member San Francisco Labor Council narrowly handed a decision condemning Israel for the “bombing of civilian and political targets” and for denying Palestinians’ proper to self-determination. Although handed democratically, the measure ignited fierce backlash from pro-Israel teams and was shortly rescinded. However, the episode revealed the rising cracks within the practically hundred-year alliance between the US labor motion and Zionism and Israel.

Certainly, whereas labor officialdom remained in lockstep with Israel, within the final twenty years rank-and-file activists have demonstrated extra solidarity with the Palestinian liberation motion than in any earlier interval.

Solely a month after the San Francisco Labor Council’s decision, on April 15, 2002, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney spoke on the Nationwide Rally for Israel — a mass gathering of 100 thousand folks meant to showcase fashionable assist for Israel amid the violence of the Second Intifada. Standing on the steps of the US Capitol alongside the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu, Rudy Giuliani, and Paul Wolfowitz, Sweeney declared, “On behalf of the 13 million working men and women of the AFL-CIO, I stand with you to precise our assist for the folks of Israel on this darkest of hours.” Illustrating the general tenor of the rally, Wolfowitz — a soon-to-be architect of the prison US invasion of Iraq — was actually booed off the stage for merely saying, “Harmless Palestinians are struggling and dying as properly.”

Angered by Sweeney’s participation within the occasion, some rank-and-file unionists circulated a petition criticizing him for associating “U.S. labor’s identify with assist for the Israeli invasion of the West Financial institution, which has resulted within the widespread loss of life and destruction of the Palestinian folks and property.”

Many organizers within the rising antiwar motion after 9/11 understood the connections between US militarism and Israeli apartheid. In April 2004, unionists with New York Metropolis Labor Towards the Conflict partnered with the Palestinian-led group group Al-Awda New York to type Labor for Palestine. In its founding assertion, Labor for Palestine known as on US commerce unionists to:

  1. Absolutely assist Palestinian nationwide, democratic and labor rights all through historic Palestine, together with the best of all Palestinian refugees to return to their houses and land.
  2. Demand an finish to US army and financial assist for Israeli Apartheid.
  3. Divest all labor investments in Israeli apartheid.
  4. Affiliate with Labor for Palestine.

The next 12 months, Palestinians launched the worldwide Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) motion to nonviolently strain Israel to finish the occupation, utilizing ways impressed by the South African anti-apartheid battle. Since then, whereas Labor for Palestine has constantly urged US unions to honor “the BDS picket line,” a number of high officers throughout the AFL-CIO have gone out of their solution to condemn the motion and overturn or shut down pro-BDS measures democratically adopted by native labor our bodies.

In recent times, unions outdoors the AFL-CIO — significantly the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Staff (UE) and Worldwide Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) — have had extra freedom to assist Palestinians. UE endorsed BDS in 2015 and, earlier this 12 months, handed a decision urging an finish to US army help to Israel. On the Port of Oakland, members of the ILWU — which has a proud custom of opposing imperialism and apartheid — have honored community-led pickets of Israeli-operated cargo ships on at the least three events: in 2010, 2014, and 2021.

Regardless of what some US labor officers could wish to consider, there’s not a pro-Israel consensus in right now’s unions. The previous a number of many years have witnessed a gradual however regular uptick in Palestine solidarity activism amongst rank-and-file staff who don’t need their unions to be complicit in injustice.

It would proceed to take braveness and chronic organizing for US commerce unionists to make sure the labor motion is a car for peace, justice, and freedom, because it must be. However they will take inspiration from the generations of previous union members who — defying labor officialdom’s overwhelmingly pro-Israel bias — spoke up and stood in solidarity with Palestine.

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