If the British National Party were tomorrow to issue a report saying that Israeli Jews were responsible for the “ritual slaughter” of a Christian priest — as part of an effort to ethnically cleanse Palestine of Christians — we’d probably not be shocked. The BNP are, after all, the legitimate heirs of the British Union of Fascists.
If the ultra-right party of Jean Marie La Pen in France were to denounce the European Union Monitoring Commission's (EUMC) definition of anti-semitism – because it implicated them as racists — we’d expect that of them. Much of what La Pen has said over the years puts him well within the EUMC definition of an anti-semite.
And if the former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Dukes, were to allege that Jews engaged in organ harvesting, deliberately killing non-Jews and then selling their organs — well, that would hardly be surprising. Dukes is notorious Holocaust denier, an honored guest in Tehran. We expect nothing less of him.
But if trade unions were to say any of these things, we might be a bit alarmed.
And trade unions have said all three recently.
Some unions in their rush to support the Palestinian cause have crossed red lines and adopted traditional anti-semitic images and messages.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions recently published a report of a delegation from NIPSA, the public sector union in Northern Ireland, to Israel and Palestine. The report is full of anti-Israel references, which was to be expected. But the report also includes, in passing, this account of the murder of a priest:
“He had been murdered with an axe in a ‘ritualistic’ manner on 16 November 1979 by Zionist settlers who wanted to cleanse the area of any trace of Christianity. Murdered whilst performing vespers, his eyes were plucked out and three of his fingers were cut off — the ones with which he made the sign of the Cross.” (The report neglects to mention that no one was actually arrested, let alone convicted, of this crime.)
The charge of ritual murder of Christians by Jews has deeply concerned the small Jewish community in Ireland.
Last week, the University and College Union conference and passed its usual resolution denouncing the Jewish state and calling for a boycott of Israel. But having come under fire in recent years for becoming a place where fewer and fewer Jewish academics felt comfortable, the UCU decided to do something about the allegations of anti-semitism.
It decided that it didn’t like the widely-accepted EUMC definition of anti-semitism and voted to reject it. This was replaced by… nothing. The union has basically said that anti-semitism doesn’t exist. That's how it coped with the allegations.
Jewish leaders issued a public call on the union not to take this course. Their call was ignored.
In Sweden, the trade unions own a daily newspaper, Aftonbladet, which ran a two-page feature article alleging that Israeli soldiers harvest organs from dead Palestinians. And the newspaper linked this horrific allegation to arrests in the New York area of some rabbis which involved the sale of a kidney.
Israelis were shocked, and so was the Swedish ambassador to the country, who denounced the article. But the unions that own Aftonbladet said nothing.
Is there a pattern emerging here?
It is one thing to be critical of this or that Israeli policy. One can call for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, or speak out against the separation barrier, or denounce the Israeli blockade of Gaza — and all of that is legitimate criticism of the Jewish state.
But when you start talking about Jewish ritual murders of Christian priests, or organ-harvesting by the Israeli army, or deny the very existence of anti-semitism — you’ve crossed a red line. Trade unions in Europe, including in the UK, are increasingly crossing that line.
It’s not enough that the Jewish community has spoken out on this. Trade unionists must speak out and say that enough is enough — that anti-semitism has no place in our movement and should be outcast.
It’s time for a trade union campaign against anti-semitism in the UK and Ireland.