New York City labor group condemns attacks on Gaza

The following statement was issued on 31 December 2008:

New York City Labor Against the War joins millions around the world in condemning Israel’s ongoing murder and maiming of hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza.

Who are the real terrorists?

Israel claims that it is fighting “terrorism” — the same hollow excuse with which the United States tries to justify wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the erosion of civil liberties and labor rights at home.

But as South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu points out, Israel’s massacres “bears all the hallmarks of war crimes.”

Long before these attacks, Israel had turned Gaza into the world’s largest open air prison, assassinating activists, and cutting-off essential goods, jobs, and services to 1.5 million people.

Only as a result did Hamas abandon a unilateral two-year ceasefire and subsequent truce. Since that time, it has repeatedly offered to cease all rocket fire in exchange for an end to US-Israel blockade and other military attacks.

Israel responded with escalating pogroms, arrests, home demolitions, settlements and murder in the West Bank and Jerusalem — from which no rockets have been fired.

As a result, violence is overwhelmingly one-sided against the Palestinians, who — as an occupied people — have no aircraft, artillery, tanks or ships. While rockets launched from Gaza since 2000 have killed 17 Israelis, Israel’s modern arsenal has killed more than 400 Palestinians — including many children — since 27 December alone.

The dead represent a greater portion of Gaza’s population than the percentage of New Yorkers who died on 11 September 2001. And Israel warns that these attacks are “only the beginning.”

Indeed, this is the “bigger Shoah [holocaust]” against Gaza threatened by Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Matan Valnai on 29 February 2008.

Even the Israeli press admits that this brutality is a way for politicians to prove their “prowess” in contentious upcoming Israeli elections.

It is also part of an ongoing US-Israeli campaign to collectively punish Palestinians for democratically electing Hamas.

And it is an attempt to stamp out all resistance — including nonviolent protest — to Israel’s ongoing dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians since before the Nakba of 1948.

US guns and money

The US stands behind Israel’s war on Gaza.

The White House, President-elect Barack Obama, and leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties have — actively or tacitly — condoned the massacres.

In the past ten years alone, US military aid to Israel was $17 billion; over the next decade, it will be $30 billion. As in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is US aircraft, cluster bombs and bullets that kill and maim on behalf of the occupiers.

Such support bolsters Israel’s longstanding role as watchdog and junior partner for U.S. domination over the oil-rich Middle East — and beyond. In that capacity, Israel was apartheid South Africa’s closest ally.

Labor’s role

On 27 December, Cosatu, the South African trade union federation, specifically condemned the current Gaza massacres and reaffirmed its support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, a campaign that has been endorsed by labor bodies and trade unionists — many of them Jewish — in Britain, Canada and other countries.

On 29 December, in response to the Gaza massacres, the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees urgently called for intensification of this campaign.

But much of labor officialdom in this country — often without the knowledge or consent of union members — has a longstanding complicity with Israeli apartheid that dates to before 1948.

Some 1,500 labor bodies have plowed at least $5 billion of union pension funds and retirement plans into State of Israel bonds.

In April 2002, while Israel butchered Palestinian refugees at the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was a featured speaker at a belligerent “National Solidarity Rally for Israel.”

In July 2007, top officials of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win signed a statement that condemned British unions for even considering the nonviolent campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Virtually no labor bodies have opposed the Gaza massacres.

As Jewish Labor Committee President Stuart Appelbaum recently boasted, “American leadership is fundamental to challenging Israel bashing within the labor movement globally.”

This complicity parallels infamous “AFL-CIA” support for US war and dictatorship in Vietnam, Latin America, Gulf War I, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

It strengthens the US-Israel war machine and labor’s corporate enemies, reinforces racism and Islamophobia, and makes a mockery of international solidarity.

And as with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, workers in the United States pay a staggering human and financial price, including deepening economic crisis, for US-Israeli war and occupation.

Free Palestine — a necessary stand for labor

More than forty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came under intense public attack for opposing the Vietnam war. Even within the Civil Rights Movement, some dismissed his position too “divisive” and “unpopular.”

In his famous speech at the Riverside Church in April 1967, Dr. King replied, “For the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”

This principle is no less relevant for today’s labor and antiwar movements.

Yes, the Israel lobby seeks to silence opponents of Israeli Apartheid. All the more need for trade unionists to break that silence by speaking out against Israeli military occupation, for the right of Palestinian refugees to return, and for the elimination of apartheid throughout historic Palestine.

Therefore, we reaffirm our support for the international Boycotts, Sanctions and Divestment campaign, including an immediate end to all support for Israel — including that provided by US labor leaders.

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