John Haylett, a prominent member of the Communist Party of Britain (the remnants of the old Stalinist CP), and former editor of its paper, the Morning Star, recently (June 26 in the print edition) wrote a vituperative attack upon Eric Lee, editor of LabourStart, the world’s leading trade union website. Eric is also a long-standing supporter of the “two states” position on Isreal/Palestine. The attack was significant because the CPB nominally adheres to a “two states” position rather than the “absolute anti-zionist” line of those, like the SWP and the Islamists, who seek the destruction of the state of Israel. But to read much of what appears in the Star (including Haylett’s piece) you’d never guess it. The article also includes a number of downright lies about Eric Lee and the organisation Tulip (trade unions linking Israel and Palestine) – indeed to read Haylett’s piece you’d get the impression that the CPB positively opposes trade union links between Palestinian and Israeli workers. Here’s Haylett’s piece:
Trade unionists smeared over Gaza stance – John Haylett on Zionist attempts to misrepresent solidarity activists
Supporters of Israel’s efforts to colonise east Jerusalem and other occupied Palestinian territory are to go on the offensive to win back lost ground in Britain’s trade union movement.
LabourStart editor-in-chief Eric Lee made this clear in a fringe meeting at Unison conference in Bournemouth earlier this month.
Addressing the Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) meeting, Lee accused those trade union leaders who have grown tired of excusing Israel’s crimes against human rights of either rushing ahead of their members and agreed union positions or of, bizarrely, following the lead of Guardian writers and BBC reporters.
He insisted that only a fraction of union members actually care about Palestine, suggesting that the issue is driven by “hard left” groups such as the Socialist Workers Party rather than, for example, by Muslim trade unionists.
Of course he may have been smarting a little as a result of Unison deciding, for the first time, to ban TUFI from having a stall at its conference.
In addition, Unison delegates voted to condemn the Israeli military attack on the Free Gaza flotilla, to reaffirm 2009 conference calls for an end to all UK arms sales to Israel, for recognition of the results of the 2006 Palestinian election and for an economic, cultural and sporting boycott of Israel, to condemn uncritical Histadrut backing for Israel’s attack on the flotilla and to suspend links with Histadrut pending a review of bilateral relations.
This response was, as Lee recognised, in line with trade union developments across the globe.
Unite and colleges union UCU have voted to boycott Israel and, in the case of UCU, for an end to its relationship with Histadrut.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has condemned the killing of civilian campaigners on the Mavi Marmara, urged an end to the blockade of Gaza and slammed expansion of Israeli illegal settlements on the West Bank.
At its annual congress in Vancouver this week, South African centre Cosatu put down an amendment urging support for boycott, disinvestment, sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
Cosatu called BDS “the only remaining peaceful form of global resistance and practical expression of solidarity” and it commended the decisions taken by its SAMWU and SATAWU affiliates.
Transport union SATAWU members refused to unload Israeli shipping and municipal workers’ union SAMWU declared every municipality in South Africa “an apartheid Israel-free zone.”
Earlier this month, the International Transport Workers Federation executive board voted for stronger action in support of Palestinian workers and against the blockade of Gaza.
The Norwegian Ports Union responded to requests from Palestinian trade unionists by initiating a two-week boycott of Israeli ships, while its Swedish equivalent applied similar sanctions that lasted until this Thursday. Californian dockers also took a stand, boycotting an Israeli freighter last weekend.
As Cosatu international relations secretary Bongani Masuku said, the stronger ITUC position on Palestine “shows that the growing global tide of workers and peoples against Israeli apartheid is unstoppable and must be strengthened.”
However, according to Lee and his colleagues in Tulip (Trade unions linking Israel and Palestine) – the latest zionist ploy to pull the wool over trade unionists’ eyes, the willingness of more people than ever to criticise Israeli expansionism is because they don’t know the facts.
This patronising and misleading statement belies the difficulty that Palestinian solidarity campaigners have had being heard in the mass media.
Like the majority of Israel’s Cabinet, Lee, TUFI and Tulip claim to be in favour of a two-state solution, but they are uncritical of every act by the zionist state that makes that goal less credible.
Annexation of east Jerusalem and expansion of the illegal colonies on the West Bank aren’t, according to these Tel Aviv mouthpieces, major obstacles to a peace settlement based on a two-state arrangement.
No, it’s the military threat posed to Israel’s very existence by “a potentially nuclear-armed” Iran, which is currently funnelling sophisticated weapons to Islamist resistance groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and Tehran’s aims are clearly “exterminationist.”
The idea that Israel, the most militarily powerful state in the region with its nuclear arsenal, fears annihilation at the hands of Iran and its paramilitary allies is strictly for the birds.
Equally, Lee clutches at straws in claiming that Palestine Solidarity Campaign members believe that Israelis should be “driven into the sea or sent back to Germany and Poland.”
Solidarity with the Palestinian people’s national rights is based on justice and internationalism not anti-semitism and it is shameful to suggest otherwise.
Similar short shrift should be given to Lee’s tendentious assertion that “we have the Palestinian trade union movement on our side” or that the Palestinian trade unions are “at best lukewarm on the question of BDS.”
Palestinian trade unionists do not need the Histadrut to speak on their behalf. They speak for themselves and welcome peaceful acts of solidarity such as BDS.
Trade union members in Britain should prepare themselves to be smeared and misrepresented in the hysterical zionist campaign to derail the movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
It illustrates the weakness of zionist arguments, not their power, and shows that the movement for justice is growing.
Now, Eric Lee has replied:
John Haylett accuses me of being part of a “hysterical zionist campaign” in his Morning Star article of 25 June (“Trade unionists smeared over Gaza stance”).
Indeed, he goes further and says that Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), which I helped to found, is “the latest zionist ploy to pull the wool over trade unionists’ eyes”. He calls myself and those who agree with me “Tel Aviv mouthpieces”.
I’ll leave it up to readers of the Morning Star to decide who is being hysterical and who is being smeared.
Let’s first of all correct a few facts:
Haylett calls us “supporters of Israel’s efforts to colonise east Jerusalem and other occupied Palestinian territory”.
We are no such thing.
Haylett says that “annexation of east Jerusalem and expansion of the illegal colonies on the West Bank aren’t, according to these Tel Aviv mouthpieces, major obstacles to a peace settlement based on a two-state arrangement.”
Really? Where did we say that? Or have we not said the exact opposite, repeatedly?
For example, speaking in Belfast in March and representing TULIP, I opened my talk saying that we oppose settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, have supported every Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories so far, and support a two-state solution based on withdrawal from those territories.
TULIP’s founding statement speaks of “Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side, within secure and recognised borders” — which is identical to the viewpoint of the TUC and British unions in general.
I have devoted years of my life, both in Israel and abroad, supporting a two-state solution including Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories.
To say otherwise is a libel.
Haylett says we criticized “trade union leaders who have grown tired of excusing Israel’s crimes against human rights.”
This is not true.
I don’t actually know trade union leaders who have excused “Israeli crimes” and have now grown tired of doing this, but would be happy for Haylett to tell us who they are.
What we did criticize is those trade unionists who have forgotten what we have always stood for (a two-state solution), and have instead embraced the view of the reactionary Iranian regime (a one-state solution).
Haylett quotes me as saying that “only a fraction of union members actually care about Palestine” — but doesn’t challenge this.
If there is any evidence that rank-and-file union members in their millions (or even their thousands) are engaged with these issues, produce it. It doesn’t matter what side of the issues you fall on. The fact is that only a tiny minority of trade union members in the U.K. care about Israel and Palestine.
Haylett writes that “Lee, TUFI and Tulip claim to be in favour of a two-state solution, but they are uncritical of every act by the zionist state that makes that goal less credible”.
Really? Every act?
TULIP has played a key role in getting across to the world the Israeli Histadrut’s call for a lifting of the blockade on Gaza.
TULIP and TUFI have both consistently called for an independent Palestinian state, even when the right-wing government in Israel does not do so.
And I personally have long played an opposition role within Israeli politics which is well documented and goes back nearly thirty years.
Haylett seems unaware of these bare facts, so I have only one word of advice for him: Google.
Furthermore, he is convinced that there is no nuclear threat from Iran.
The fact that the entire international community — including Russia and China — have agreed to impose even more severe sanctions on Iran carries no weight.
He writes with authority that “the idea that Israel, the most militarily powerful state in the region with its nuclear arsenal, fears annihilation at the hands of Iran and its paramilitary allies is strictly for the birds.”
So there is no Iranian nuclear program? The Iranian regime is not committed to the extermination of Israel? Its proxies in the region — Hamas and Hizbollah — have not repeatedly expressed their commitment to destroying the Jewish state?
Israel has nothing to worry about, according to Haylett. Some of us might beg to differ.
Haylett is so convinced that he is right, and is so poorly informed, that he chose to tell Morning Star readers that “at its annual congress in Vancouver this week, South African centre Cosatu put down an amendment urging support for boycott, disinvestment, sanctions (BDS) against Israel.”
Ignoring the fact that the international trade union congress is not an annual event, Haylett’s article appeared after the world’s unions rejected the COSATU amendment.
Instead of calling for a boycott of Israel and isolation of its trade union movement, the world’s unions voted last week to support a two-state solution, rejected Hamas extremism, reinforced their commitment to Israel’s right to exist and so on.
Instead of throwing the Histadrut out, it elevated Histadrut leader Ofer Eini to the post of vice president of the International Trade Union Confederation and made him a member of the organization’s highest bodies, including its 25-member Executive Board.
Haylett quotes favorably from COSATU international relations secretary Bongani Masuku, who speaks of an “unstoppable” tide of support for the Israel boycott — a tide that apparently was stopped in Vancouver last week.
He neglects to tell Morning Star readers that Masuku was convicted last year by the South African Human Rights Commission of hate speech directed against the country’s Jewish community. Masuku is anti-Semite and racist, but Haylett quotes him favourably.
Haylett says that we are “hysterical Tel Aviv mouthpieces” who exist to “pull the wool over the eyes” of honest trade unionists, that we uncritically support everything the Israeli government does including the settlements in the occupied territories.
Haylett says that we have “smeared and misrepresented” the views of others.
There is not a grain of truth in what he writes.
Shame on the Morning Star for running such a dishonest and libelous article.