Should workers and trade unionists show our support for the Palestinians by boycotting all Israeli goods? This discussion article suggests seven reasons why active solidarity is better than boycott, and why a boycott could even be counter-productive.
1. Positive solidarity achieves more than passive boycott. This year, with its ‘solidarity not boycott’ policy, RMT has organised more campaigning in support of the Palestinians than it did in previous years - protesting against Israel's assault on Gaza, hosting of a visit by Israel army refuser Tamar Katz, and objecting to Israel Railways' discrimination against Arab railworkers.
2. Trade unionists should help Israeli workers to get unionised, and to unite Arab and Jewish workers in tackling oppression. In contrast, a boycott of Israeli goods could drive companies out of business and workers out of work. Boycotting Israeli goods would punish Israeli workers for the actions of the Israeli government: not what trade unionism should stand for.
3. Many trade union and progressive organisations in Israel/Palestine do not want us to boycott Israeli goods, because they feel that a boycott would cut them off from international links and solidarity. When a ‘cultural boycott’ started, among the first targets were films which opposed the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, boycotted because they were made by Israelis.
4. There are some Israeli products that we would positively want people to buy. eg. Women's organisation Sindyanna supports Arab workers in Galilee in northern Israel and Palestinian growers and producers from the Occupied Territories, and carries out community work. It wants trade unions to help its work by promoting their products.
5. A boycott of Israeli goods is divisive. The issue divides the Palestinian/Israeli trade union movement, and it divides trade unionists and campaigners in Britain. It would be much better for us to unite around positive solidarity.
6. Although the vast majority of people who support a boycott are sincere anti-racists and are not motivated by anti-semitism in any way, it is unfortunately the case that a boycott would be supported and latched on to anti-semitic groups and used to target Jews. Already, there are groups who urge boycotts of Jewish shops, using opposition to Israel's actions as a pretext.
7. Pro-boycott campaigners want us to boycott products and companies including Disney, Marks & Spencer, Arsenal FC, AOL Time Warner, Intel (personal computer processors), and others. Should union reps be going round workplaces giving workers a list of things not to buy? It would surely be better for reps to inform workers about the issue and encourage them to support protests and campaigns.