Don’t silence the Israeli left

‘Its fine to criticise Israel, I criticise Israel all the time, but the boycott movement only want to delegitimize Israel’. That’s what I heard recently in Israel from every left wing Israeli I met.

The Israeli left is in an awkward position. On the one hand, they are vehemently opposed to and openly critical of many Israeli government policies. In a speech to AIPAC, Israeli Labour Party leader Isaac Herzog described sections of Israel’s right wing as ‘fascists’. On the other hand, they are Zionists and patriots and passionate in defence of their country. They feel that the BDS campaign only singles Israel out, intentionally demonising the country, rather than promoting dialogue and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

It is disheartening for the Israeli left to be boycotted because of the actions of their government. When I met Avital Shapira, of the Histadrut (the Israeli equivalent of the British TUC) she pointed out that while they do not agree on every issue, the Histadrut and PGFTU (Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions) cooperate to provide practical solutions for Palestinians employed in Israel, and alleviate the economic conditions of Palestinians.

Histadrut-PGFTU cooperation has been praised by the United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO) as “a unique example of co-operation providing a basis for reinvigorated partnership” between Israelis and Palestinians. Despite this, BDS activists in UK trade unions want to break all links with the Histadrut. In 2011 UNISON decided to reject its own executive committee’s recommendations and boycott Israel.

This is madness. British left wingers and trade unionists should stand against this one-sided targeting of progressive Israelis and Israeli trade unions.

In support of its boycott campaign, BDS activists twist the facts.

One of the activists I met was Uri Metuki, the spokesperson for Dror Israel and HaNoar HaOved, socialist, Zionist movements affiliated to the Histadrut, who were at the forefront of the 2011 social protests in Israel.

HaNoar HaOved led a campaign which provided 20,000 items of winter clothing to Syrians affected by the Syrian civil war; this outreach was despite the lack of diplomatic ties and historic hostility between Israel and Syria. ‘It is a disaster on our doorstep, so we wanted to try and help where we can’, said Uri.

HaNoar HaOved is also the most popular youth movement amongst Arab citizens of Israel and this is no coincidence. It is common to hear the lie that ‘Zionism is racism’, but there is no contradiction between being a Zionist and left wing. The Israeli left support Israel as a Jewish state. Yes, that means a nation state where the Jewish people exercise their right to self determination, but to these leftists it also means a society that integrates all groups as equals and which opposes any form of racism.

Admittedly, Israel still has much to do to ensure the successful integration of its Arab citizens and other minorities, but the same can be said of most European nations struggling to integrate large minorities into the community.

To boycott Israelis, who campaign for a progressive agenda within their own country, on the basis of their nationality and the actions of their government, is disastrous and in no way left wing.  This move strengthens rejectionists, both Israeli and Palestinian, who are staunchly opposed any sort of normalisation with the other, or to tackling the immense complexities of the conflict.

As one Israeli said to me, ‘we disagree with many decisions of our government, but these [international] campaigns are making people more and more defensive of it.’

About the Author
Lorin Bell-Cross is a Labour Party activist, former local election candidate and Local Campaign Forum LCF Secretary who works in Parliament.