EU-US trade deal mustn’t stifle calls for Israel boycott, say unions

Groups say US-EU trade negotiations threaten democratic rights. (Christian Mang/Flickr)

More than 150 organizations from across Europe are vowing to resist efforts by the United States to stifle campaigns for Palestinian rights by means of a controversial trade deal.

The trade unions, civil society and solidarity groups say in a letter published this week by the campaign group War on Want that they “oppose the dangerous Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations and the related attempts by some US politicians to use the TTIP process to restrict freedom of political expression and campaigning in solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality.”

The TTIP talks – which follow an agenda prepared by corporate lobby groups – are an attempt to harmonize many environmental and social regulations between the US and the European Union. Green and labor rights campaigners fear it will lead to a weakening of standards on such issues as food safety, public health and pollution.

In June, US President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that makes it one of his country’s “principal negotiating objectives” for TTIP “to discourage politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel and to seek the elimination of politically motivated non-tariff barriers on Israeli goods, services, or other commerce imposed on the State of Israel.”

Protecting settlements

The law specifically extends this US discouragement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to include “Israeli-controlled territories,” a ploy to dissuade the EU from steps under consideration to label products from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

After Obama signed the bill into law, however, his administration indicated that it would do nothing to protect settlement products from boycotts.

The State Department argued that by “conflating Israel and ‘Israeli-controlled territories,’” the anti-BDS provision “runs counter to longstanding US policy.”

“This does mark something of a shift,” Josh Ruebner, policy director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, noted in an analysis for The Electronic Intifada.

Previously, the State Department had been adamant that the US unequivocally opposed any and all boycotts, even of goods from Israeli settlements.

Nonetheless, there is no doubting the Obama administration’s commitment to fight BDS in general, which is likely only to increase in its final year in office.

As Obama seeks to placate critics of the agreement over Iran’s nuclear energy program, he has given ever more concessions to the Israel lobby over Palestinian rights.

Hillary Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for next year’s presidential election, has also vowed to fight BDS.

“Attack on democracy”

Several EU governments have expressed an equally firm commitment to stand against efforts by Palestinians to win their rights.

But grassroots groups in Europe are ready to push back.

The signatories to the letter declare: “In the wake of Israel’s 2014 attack on the Gaza Strip, which killed more than 2,200 people and included deliberate attacks on civilians that amounted to war crimes according to the UN and other bodies, people around the world came out in numbers to express support for the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality. We will not accept any legislative attempt to silence these expressions of solidarity.”

In addition to dozens of Palestine solidarity groups, the signatories include such organizations as Friends of the Earth International, Stop TTIP Ireland and the Italian Forum for Water Movements.

Signatories from the labor movement include Scotland’s Dundee Trades Union Council, Spain’s 120,000-strong Unión Sindical Obrera and the UK’s 1.4-million strong Unite trade union.

As the letter notes, TTIP is generating opposition not only because of its implications for Palestine but because it would see “an unprecedented transfer of power to corporate interests and represents a serious attack on democracy, social standards, workers’ rights and environmental regulations.”

The letter and full list of signatories are published at War on Want’s website.

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Comments

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Way to go EU unions ,showing the rest of the world ,what justice looks like . No justice ,no peace.

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To see all this support for the Palestinian cause gives hope for the future. A few European politicians sadly still are supporting Israeli war crimes, but I believe that in general Europeans don't want to be Israeli slaves too like in the US.

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European unions and civil society are massively against TTIP. Period. This BDS bit that has been added on recently by the US only adds insult to injury, by apparently presuming to dictate to Europeans who and when and what they may boycott.
There are few trade bariers (tariffs etc) left betweent the US and the EU, which means that a "regular" trade agreement would yield little benefit for business. So to make a US-UK trade agreement juicy enough, the idea has been developed to harmonize standards (as Ali correctly points out). Only the most naive believe that this will mean upward standardization, that is the adoption of the highest standard, whether US or EU, depending on the topic. So unions, civil society and the population at large are facing, on both sides of the Atlantic, the dim prospect of seeing long fought for improvements in quality of life (food standards, environmental standards, etc etc) erased at the stroke of a pen.
If US unions and civil society are not concerned about this, they should be. National standards are the result of national history and social struggles, and are very much culturally determined. If TTIP goes into effect, the lives of Americans could be most affected in a most dramatic manner.
The BDS element is not even the tip of T-TIP (although admittedly pretty shocking, even by TTIP standards).
If the US and the EU want to harmonize standards, let them do so in a slow, concerted and transparent manner - case by case, and topic by topic. I'm looking forward to the debates.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.