UK trade unionists put Histadrut under review; victory declared over Agrexco liquidation

Two significant milestones in the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) were marked this week with a vote by the UK’s Trades Union Congress to reconsider its ties with Israel’s national trade union federation, and with the confirmation that boycott target Agrexco was ordered into liquidation.

A major setback for Israel’s racist “trade union”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign announced today a major victory for the BDS movement in the UK and the trade union aspect of the BDS movement more generally.

In addition to condemning the Israeli parliament’s passing of legislation which criminalizes calls to boycott Israel and its settlements, and reaffirming its existing commitment toward divestment from the occupation, the Trades Union Congress also voted to review its relationship with Israel’s national trade union federation Histadrut.

“The Israeli equivalent of the British Trade Union Congress or the American union movement AFL/CIO” — as Tony Greenstein describes in his in-depth article “Histadrut: Israel’s racist ‘trade union’” —  the federation “was the key Zionist organization responsible for the formation of the Israel state.”

Here is the statement that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign put out today on the TUC vote:

The Trades Union Congress, representing 6.5 million workers in the UK, voted overwhelmingly today (14 September 2011) to deplore the ‘anti-democratic law’ passed by the Israeli Knesset banning individuals and organisations in Israel from calling for the boycott of Israel, and reaffirmed existing policy to ‘work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to actively encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the Occupation and the construction of the Wall’.

The new policy also ‘calls on all unions on the basis of this policy to review their bi-lateral relations with all Israeli organisations, including Histadrut’. The motion was proposed by Unite the Union, and an amendment was proposed by the PCS.

Hugh Lanning, Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and Deputy General Secretary of the PCS Union which moved the amendment, said:

‘Today British trade unions have decided not to buy into the Israeli occupation - not to buy goods from firms or work with organisations complicit with Israel’s illegal occupation, settlements and wall.

‘Israel must be made to honour international law. The UN, Obama and the EU should be making Palestine a reality not blocking their freedom.’

Hugh Lanning continued: ‘Companies are paying the price for their complicity with Israel’s crimes. Agrexco, infamous for exporting produce from Israel and the illegal settlements, has gone into liquidation. Veolia has lost contracts worth millions of pounds. It is time for companies and organisations to recognise that they must end their complicity with occupation and war crimes. The trade union movement was a central pillar of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. And today, trade unions in Britain are taking the same principled stance - supporting peace and justice, and opposing racism and apartheid.’

Israeli settlement produce exporter ordered to liquidate

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) declared victory this week after the Israeli settlement produce exporter Agrexco was ordered to liquidate. Agrexco, Israel’s largest fresh produce exporter, has been a key target of the BDS movement in Europe, where a forum was held to strengthen the campaign against the company.

The majority of Agrexco’s goods are grown in Israel’s illegal settlements, though they are often misleadingly labeled as “product of Israel” in European supermarkets. The Israeli government also holds a 50 percent stake in the company.

Here’s the 12 September announcement from the BNC:

- Supporters of Palestinian rights claim victory as target Agrexco ordered into liquidation
- Court papers warn that company is Israeli symbol whose downfall will have ‘wider implications’
- Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions National Committee (BNC) calls on the movement internationally to celebrate this victory and to intensify BDS campaigns

Campaigners for Palestinian rights are celebrating after the primary Israeli agricultural produce export company Agrexco, which has been a key target of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in support of Palestinian rights, has been ordered into liquidation after being unable to pay its creditors.

Agrexco is a partially state-owned Israeli exporter responsible for the export of a large proportion of fresh Israeli produce, including 60-70% of the agricultural produce grown in Israel’s illegal settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).  In a translation of the court documents on the liquidation process that the BNC obtained, it is clearly stated that Agrexco acted as an arm of the Israeli state, effectively providing state subsidies to the agricultural sector. The documents indicate criticism of the government for allowing the company to default on its debts and also warn that Agrexco is a primary Israeli symbol and that its downfall is likely to have great implications.

“We congratulate and warmly salute our European partners for their dedicated and determined campaign against Agrexco. This ruling follows the news that Veolia, a French multinational that has lost billions of euros worth of municipality contracts over its provision of infrastructure to illegal Israeli settlements, is facing a financial meltdown. Clearly, the BDS movement is coming of age and is raising the cost of corporate complicity with Israeli war crimes.  Strategic BDS campaigns are proving, through every day successes, that BDS is the most effective form of solidarity needed to challenge Israel’s system of colonialism, occupation and apartheid” said Jamal Juma’, coordinator of Stop the Wall Campaign and member of BNC secretariat.

Adel Abu Ni’meh, director of the Palestinian Farmers Union,  a member organisation of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, welcomed the news but warned that “Agrexco assets are still being sold. We are following this closely and call on all international companies to withdraw their offers. Those companies that purchase Agrexco assets and brand names or seek to replace the company as the primary Israeli agricultural exporter will be similarly targeted by the BDS movement”.

Agrexco has been targeted with popular boycotts, blockades, demonstrations and direct action throughout Europe. In France, a broad civil society coalition containing dozens of organisations took legal action against the company and fiercely opposed the construction of a terminal at Sete that has laid unused since its construction. In Italy and the UK, campaigners took direct action and pressured supermarkets to drop the Agrexco brand.  In July, a new coalition of organisations from over 13 European countries vowed to “put an end to Agrexco’s presence in Europe”. The coalition is expected to examine developments and may initiate new campaigns in response to the outcome of the liquidation.

As respected Israeli economist Shir Hever has stated, the European-wide campaign against the company was among the factors that led to the company’s downfall.  “The company has been found to produce misleading reports, and did not warn its investors of the possible impact of the BDS campaign to boycott the company products. Many farmers have left the company, opting to work with competing ones which have not yet been at the focus of the BDS campaign, and as a result Agrexco entered a liquidity crisis. Several companies have considered bidding to buy Agrexco, but have withdrawn their bids after a brief research, which has no doubt uncovered the company’s prominence in the BDS campaign, among other things,” he explained.

The campaign against Agrexco was initiated in response to the 2005 call from Palestinian civil society for boycotts, divestment initiatives and sanctions on Israel and its supporters until the state complies with international law by ending its occupation and dismantling its apartheid Wall, ensuring equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and implementing the right of refugees to return to their homes as stipulated under UN resolution 194.




I see the fine distinction between boycotting Israeli goods and boycotting only products from illegal settlements. But I avoid anything Israeli, because I am opposed to its apartheid policies within the 1967 borders as well. When avocados come from Spain, I buy them; when they are from Israel, I do without. It is far simpler.

Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.