Le Socialiste June 2, 2021 | Join the Socialist Party
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This is the first in a series of articles following the recent Israeli state bombing of Gaza, examining the way forward for Palestinian self-determination. Jon Dale reflects on the role boycotts can play.
March against Israeli state terrorism. Photo: Mary Finch (Click to enlarge)
Dismayed by the latest horrific wave of death and destruction in Gaza, many people hope that the boycott of Israeli goods can help win Palestinian rights and safety.
The Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign was set up in 2005. It calls for the withdrawal in 2011 of Veolia, the French giant, from the operation of the Jerusalem tramway which crosses the occupied areas of East Jerusalem. He drew support as a means of doing something against the oppression of the Palestinians.
Boycott campaigns can help build international solidarity with the Palestinians, and there are many that socialists can support. But care must be taken to know exactly what and who is being targeted; and these campaigns must be seen as a complement to the need for mass action in Palestine and Israel, and not in any way substitute for it.
Collective protests and strikes strengthen the confidence of workers and the poor in their own strength in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and Israel. This is what is needed to end the occupation and to weaken and oust the Israeli ruling class – and the pro-capitalist Palestinian leadership.
Boycotts must be accepted and implemented democratically to be effective. During the recent bombing of Gaza, the Italian Dockers Union in Livorno decided it would refuse to load a ship that brought weapons to the Israel Defense Forces. The South African Dockers Union in Durban has blocked the unloading of an Israeli ship.
In 2010, dockers from California, India, Sweden and Turkey refused to deal with Israeli ships. Such action hits profits and shows the potential power of organized workers through industrial action.
However, appeals to individuals not to buy certain goods are less effective. BDS highlights past consumer boycotts of Barclays Bank (for its investments in apartheid South Africa), fruits and other South African products.
But it was the mass action of South African workers and youth that ultimately brought down the brutal apartheid regime. With the existence of South African capitalism threatened, the ruling class had to find another way to retain power and profits.
27 years after the regime’s formal end, most black workers still live in poverty, substandard housing, unemployment and repression. Replacing pro-capitalist white politicians with blacks did not end corporate domination.
Workers must build their own parties and take independent action with a socialist program to end poverty, oppression and insecurity. This is the case in the Palestinian territories and in Israel, as everywhere else.
BDS does not promote independent working class action, although it is taken up by dockers and others. Instead, he “calls for Israel to be held accountable according to the standards of international law.”
Using the “law”
“International law” is established by capitalist governments, like national law, and exists to protect the interests of their system.
And whenever it suits capitalist interests, they ignore the laws, no matter what is formally written. The US-British invasion of Iraq was supposed to be illegal but continued despite huge protests around the world. General strikes and mass actions that challenged governments were needed to stop the war.
BDS highlighted the role of the arms industry in supplying the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with some of the weapons and missiles that have rained on Gaza and the ongoing crackdown in the occupied West Bank. Union action has the potential power to block this, as the work of the dockworkers has shown.
Unions like Unite and the GMB have members who work in the arms industry. Canceling orders for the IDF should not mean losing their jobs. Workers shouldn’t be paying because their bosses are trying to profit from the arms trade.
Boycott campaigns should call for these companies to become public property, with workers providing useful alternative products for their machines and skills. Without a jobs defense program, it is much more difficult to build working class unity on the scale needed.
BDS aims to persuade big companies and governments to change their trade policies. It demands that universities, pension funds and similar institutions divest from Israeli companies.
But capitalism will always follow the most profitable path possible, unless faced with mass opposition from the working class. This raises the need to replace capitalism with socialism at the international level.
Boycotting Israeli universities, cultural and sporting events may be appropriate in selective cases where the Israeli government uses them to try to promote its international position.
But in many cases, Israeli academics, artists, musicians and athletes do not stand up for their government’s action. Trade unions should democratically decide individual cases and discussions with Israeli workers should be encouraged through exchange visits, with a view to strengthening support for workers’ action against the Israeli capitalist state.
Seeking a solution to the plight of the Palestinians within the confines of capitalism makes many Israeli workers fear a future eviction from their homes, a standard of living lowered to the disastrous level of Palestinians, and of becoming an oppressed minority – losing their right to self-determination – sharing misery instead of improving the lives of all.
These fears grow when Israeli workers see the anti-worker policies of the elites of Fatah and Hamas. Their fears are then continuously, deliberately magnified by the establishment and the Israeli capitalist media.
“In the past, anti-Semites boycotted Jewish businesses and today they are calling for a boycott of the Jewish state, and for that matter, only the Jewish state,” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said in 2014. This strikes a chord among many Israelis with a family background. pogroms and the Holocaust.
The Saudi royal family has a terrible human rights record, executing opponents and bombing civilians in Yemen, and many other regimes maintain power by torturing and imprisoning political opponents. China and Myanmar, among others, oppress minorities and force them to leave their homes. Although in some of these cases there are international boycott campaigns, none are as important as BDS. This reinforces Netanyahu’s propaganda that anti-Semitism is behind it all.
It is therefore important that the boycott actions carried out by the workers at the international level in favor of the Palestinians are carefully targeted, in order to be as clear as possible to the Israeli workers that they are directed against the repressive apparatus of the occupation. , goods produced in Jewish settlements, prestige symbols of the Israeli regime, etc., rather than against Israeli workers.
Before becoming Labor leader, Jeremy Corbyn had supported boycott and divestment but without calling for independent working class action or defending the right of the Israeli Jewish people to self-determination as well as that of the Palestinians. It was one of the problems the capitalist establishment and the Labor right used to accuse him of anti-Semitism and undermine his support.
British unions should help support independent unions in the West Bank and Gaza. They should establish links with grassroots union activists in Israel.
Discussing how to build a workers’ movement across the region and the socialist agenda needed to end repeated outbreaks of war, continued poverty and insecurity is the way to end the nightmare.
Socialist Party review
The June issue includes …
Israel-Palestine: there is no capitalist solution
Wider impact: repercussions in the Middle East
Chinese bubble: can it avoid the crisis?
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