A Reply to B’nai Brith’s “Manifesto Denouncing CUPE-Ontario’s Boycott of Israel”

Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid
June 3rd, 2006


On 31 May 2006, By B'nai Brith issued a statement denouncing the decision by CUPE-Ontario to support the global campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid. The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid has prepared this response to the myths and allegations raised by B’nai Brith. We welcome your comments at endapartheid@riseup.net

B’nai Brith: We support the State of Israel, a sister democracy to Canada, the only country in the Middle East founded on the rule of law

CAIA: The state of Israel continues to violate international law through the construction of its wall through Palestinian territory, through its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and its denial of Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes and lands. Israel remains the only country in the UN general assembly with more than one class of citizenship (through the Population Registry Act) where Jews are granted preferential access to land, and water resources, as well as social services.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture has repeatedly condemned Israel for its continued use of torture against Palestinian civilians. In 1997, Amnesty International noted, “Israel is the only country on earth where torture and ill-treatment are legally sanctioned”. Over 9000 Palestinians are currently held as political prisoners by Israel, including 400 Palestinian children. One thousand of these detainees are held without charge or trial; the equivalent of 8000 Canadians held under Security Certificates.

To describe these practices – thoroughly documented by UN bodies, and international, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations - as the “rule of law” is to mock the basic principles of justice.

B’nai Brith: We applaud Israel as a vibrant society that respects the civil, religious and cultural rights of all its citizens

CAIA: Israel consistently denies its non-Jewish citizens equal access to social services and the material resources of the state. Palestinian citizens of Israel constitute one-fifth of the Israeli population yet it is illegal for any individual or party to run for the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) if they do not support the Jewish character of the state. Israeli Knesset members have openly advocated the forceful expulsion of Palestinian citizens.

In Israel, 93% of the land is earmarked for Jewish control and development through state ownership, the Jewish National Fund and the Israeli Lands Authority. In apartheid South Africa, 87% of the land was reserved for whites. The 2002 state budget, for example, allocated around $30 per person of the housing ministry budget to Arab communities compared with $3100 per person in Jewish ones. Over 100,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel are from “unrecognized villages” – residential areas that have existed for hundreds of years but are deliberately refused recognition by the Israeli government. These citizens are denied any basic services such as running water, electricity, proper education and health services, and access roads.

In May 2006, the Israeli Supreme Court effectively banned marriage between Israelis and Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a decision that the Israeli daily Haaretz termed “shameful”. Until recently, the Bank of Israel and the state electricity company did not hire anyone who was Arab.

Furthermore, Israel continues to occupy and control the West Bank and Gaza Strip, thus denying millions of Palestinians their civil, religious, and cultural rights through the imposition of military checkpoints, through the destruction of Mosques, churches, and places of worship, the killing of civilians and the targeting of Palestinian political institutions and parties. Palestinians are identified by different colored identity cards and license plates and are forbidden from traveling on certain roads. Movement of Palestinians between towns and villages is controlled by Israeli permits and checkpoints.

These measures should be described as they are: examples of Israeli apartheid. The main thrust of the CUPE Ontario decision is the comparison with South African apartheid. Indeed, the first item of the CUPE resolution is to conduct an “education campaign about the apartheid nature of the Israeli state”. It is striking that the various attacks against the CUPE Ontario resolution refuse to address this theme. Does B’nai Brith support or oppose Israeli apartheid?

B’nai Brith: We oppose the CUPE-Ontario boycott of Israel, as inherently biased and discriminatory, betraying a politically-charged agenda

CAIA: The CUPE-Ontario resolution calls for an education campaign and for the respect of international law. The resolution specifically targets Israeli practices already found to be in violation of international law i.e. – discriminatory citizenship rights, the Wall, and self-determination for Palestinians.

Yes, CUPE-Ontario does stand on the side of those who are oppressed and who are struggling for their rights. Indeed, this should be fundamental to the principles of the labor movement. CUPE-Ontario should be applauded for taking this stand in support of justice, human rights and international solidarity.

B’nai Brith: We understand full well that such boycotts, from wherever they emanate, do nothing to advance true peace in the Middle East, but rather create a roadblock to meaningful resolution of the conflict, and;

B’nai Brith: We expose such boycotts as thinly veiled attempts to delegitimize the existence of the State of Israel and its right to protect its citizens against terror and violence.

CAIA: During the fight against Apartheid in South Africa, international sanctions and boycotts were instrumental part in forcing the regime to change. South African archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu has likened the Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the treatment of black people under South African apartheid. Trade unions, churches, social groups, NGOs, and political parties all over the world joined in boycotts, at the request of South African anti-apartheid groups. It should not be forgotten that, at the time, Israel provided major political, financial and military support to the South African Apartheid regime.

Two days after the CUPE Ontario resolution was adopted, another boycott resolution was passed by the largest union of university teachers in Britain, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE). NATFHE, representing around 70,000 members, declared its active support of boycotts against Israeli academics and academic institutions that do not publicly take an explicit stand against Israeli apartheid and Israel’s discriminatory educational system.

These two resolutions represent the latest in a snowballing movement to isolate Israeli apartheid in the manner of South African apartheid. In July 2005, over 170 Palestinian trade unions, NGOs and religious groups issued a call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid. A long list of institutions, city councils, religious organizations, political parties and unions have since endorsed and acted on this call. In March 2006, the Green Party of the United States issued a powerful policy statement that supported “divestment from and boycott of the State of Israel until such time as the full individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people are realized.” In February 2006, the Church of England’s general synod -- including the Archbishop of Canterbury-- voted to disinvest church funds from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. On 16 December 2005, the regional council of the Sor-Trondelag in Norway passed a motion calling for a comprehensive boycott on Israeli goods to be followed up with an awareness raising campaign across the region. Sor-Trondelag was the first Norwegian county to boycott South Africa and is now the first to boycott Israeli apartheid.

The central obstacle to peace in the region is Israeli apartheid. We must work to end this apartheid system if we are to provide justice and hope to all in the area. CUPE Ontario should be congratulated for taking this courageous stand in support of human rights, and openly supporting the global movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid.

B’nai Brith: We warn that the “Right of Return” demanded by CUPE-Ontario would ultimately lead to the destruction of the Jewish State

CAIA: In 1948 with the founding of the Israeli state, 80% of the indigenous Palestinian population were driven from their homes and land and became refugees. The Israeli state guarantees any person of a Jewish background, anywhere in the world, the right to become a citizen of Israel yet the indigenous population is refused their right to return. Article 13 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state; and everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country”. The right of return of refugees is not a matter of negotiation. It is an inalienable right of all people. Currently, Israel stands in direct violation of the UN Declaration, a document of which Israel is a signatory.

The right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and land is not simply a legal question. Most significantly, it points to the fact that we should oppose any state that operates on the basis of one religious or ethnic exclusivity. The central goal of the anti-apartheid struggle is a state in which anyone can live, regardless of their religious or ethnic background. This unquestionably means the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands from which they were expelled in 1948.

B’nai Brith: We condemn the highjacking of CUPE-Ontario’s core mandate by individuals who have marginalized and ignored the views and values of union members who do not support the prevailing anti-Israel mindset

CAIA: The CUPE Ontario convention was attended by over 900 delegates democratically elected by CUPE Locals all over the province. All resolutions were provided in written form to the delegates in the months before the convention took place. The boycott, divestment and sanctions resolution was put forward by the CUPE Toronto District Council as well as other CUPE Locals. Many delegates spoke in favor of the resolution at different points during the convention proceedings.

It is ironic, indeed, that an organization unrelated to CUPE Ontario should undertake a massive lobby campaign to get CUPE Ontario to revoke a decision made at its highest decision making body, and in the process accuse the union of being “highjacked”. The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid affirms its support for union democracy and decision making.

B’nai Brith: We note CUPE-Ontario’s failure to condemn the gross abuses perpetrated against trade unionists in many Arab countries, and question its failure to stand in solidarity with its union colleagues elsewhere, as is surely its sacred responsibility

CAIA: Once again, Bn’ai Brith belies its ignorance of what actually happened at the CUPE-Ontario Convention and of the mandate of CUPE. An emergency resolution was unanimously adopted in support of pro-reform and pro-democracy activists in Egypt, many of whom have been subject to extra-judicial jailing and torture. The Convention repeatedly underlined the importance of international solidarity as central to building a strong union movement in Canada that learns and co-operates with other struggles. This theme was also stressed in the Action Plan for 2006 adopted by the convention. An international solidarity forum organized by the CUPE International Solidarity Committee at the Convention discussed struggles in Haiti, Columbia, Palestine and the situation of people in Canada jailed under security certificates. Invited guests addressed the convention on the situation in Venezuela and Bolivia. CUPE members spoke at and participated in a demonstration in support of refugee rights in Canada.

CUPE-Ontario has a proud tradition of solidarity with international unions, and support for the international standards of human rights, environmental practices, and labour conditions. To suggest otherwise is to engage in deliberate obfuscation of CUPE’s mandate and practices.

B’nai Brith: We dispute the right of CUPE-Ontario - with its declared anti-Israel agenda - to represent itself as a credible body to undertake public education on the Arab-Israeli conflict

CAIA: CUPE-Ontario has many representatives and members who are extremely knowledgeable of the practices and experience of Israeli apartheid. This includes a large number of Palestinians and Jews who support the anti-apartheid movement. CUPE-Ontario also has a wide network of academics, fellow unionists and individuals who support this anti-apartheid stance and are experienced in conducting public education campaigns. Other CUPE divisions, such as CUPE B.C, have already produced high quality educational booklets on matters such as the Apartheid Wall.

B’nai Brith: We call on citizens of good will to demand that CUPE Ontario repeal its boycott which stands in stark contradiction to the established foreign policies and trade agreements set by the Government of Canada, which represents the Canadian people.

CAIA: The position of the Canadian government is clearly in support of Israeli apartheid. Canada was the first country in the world to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority, the elected representatives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Canada has a free trade agreement with Israel that helps to sustain and reward Israeli apartheid. This resolution is one more indication that a growing number of Canadians clearly do not support these policies. All citizens of good will should be concerned, and should feel free to voice their concern with Israeli apartheid, individually or collectively, through resolutions in unions, churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques, through community meetings, letters to the editor, political lobbying and public demonstrations.

For further info, please see:

Stop the Wall Campaign

Uri Davis, Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within. London: Zed Books, 2003.

McGreal, Chris. Worlds Apart, in the Guardian newspaper, February 6, 2006 (online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1703244,00.html)

See also:
Sanctions Against the Israeli Occupation: It's Time
Do I Divest? - By Archbishop Desmond Tutu.


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