The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) voted through a ground-breaking motion earlier this month. It pushes the boundaries in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
The LO is the equivalent of Britain’s Trades Union Congress; an umbrella organisation that federates the nation’s trade unions into a unified body capable of making joint decisions. The LO says that it represents more than 900,000 workers in its affiliated unions.
The confederation has long had a policy endorsing a boycott of products from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. However, the new motion, passed by a delegate vote of 197-117 on 12 May, called for a far more comprehensive “international economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.”
The motion marks the first time that a national trade union federation in a Western country has voted to call for a full boycott of Israel by including explicitly the academic and cultural boycott (which are sometimes more controversial areas). It is also explicit in endorsing the three aims of the BDS movement: the end of Israeli occupation, the right of return of refugees to Palestine and full equality for Palestinian citizens in Israel.
Almost 12 years after the foundation of the BDS movement, many trade unions and national union federations around the world have a pro-BDS policy of some kind. All the biggest and most influential trade unions in Britain, as well as the TUC, have policies in favour of a boycott of settlement goods and corporations that are involved in or profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in some way.
Only this month the National Union of Teachers – hardly a radical organisation – declared its offices to be an “HP free zone” over the IT firm’s ongoing role in supporting the Israeli military, checkpoints, settlements and prisons in the West Bank. Entry-level BDS is the conventional wisdom in Britain’s trade union movement.
Now, though, Norway’s LO has pushed the limits by endorsing a call for full BDS, including academic and cultural. Norway is leading the way where others need to follow soon. The Israeli government makes no differentiation between a boycott targeting only occupation in the West Bank and a full boycott of Israel so why should BDS activism?
Israel is fighting what it calls a “war” against BDS, in all its forms. This aggressive terminology is not entirely hyperbolic. The government has drafted some of its military agencies into fighting the campaign. The Israeli military spy agency Aman, for example, has a “delegitimisation department” which is dedicated to fighting BDS and other forms of Palestine solidarity activism. An entire government ministry, with a budget in the tens of millions, is now dedicated to the struggle. This ministry, overseen by Gilad Erdan, has an intelligence director who has come from one of Israel’s spy agencies; Shai Har-Zvi’s name was blocked from being published in the Israeli media, but it was exposed in a leaked report obtained by The Electronic Intifada.
Erdan’s fiefdom, the Strategic Affairs Ministry, reportedly carries out “black-ops” against Palestine solidarity activists, up to and including harassment and death-threat campaigns. Israel has now also passed a law banning the entry of boycott supporters from the country. This law effectively annexes the occupied West Bank to Israel itself, including as it does anyone who calls for boycotts of any Israeli institution or any “area under [Israel’s] control.” As such, the law includes a ban on those who support settlement boycotts.
The leadership of LO, in the course of the body’s democratic deliberations, reportedly raised the issue of the entry ban as an argument against passing the full boycott motion. This ultimately backfired, as it only ended up drawing attention to the fact that the new BDS-ban law could be used now to prohibit LO members since the body already has a policy in favour of boycotting the occupation of the West Bank. We may as well, therefore, go for broke.
Among the law’s first victims have been leaders in Britain’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Hugh Lanning and Kamel Hawwash. Both were detained on entry and then deported by the Israeli authorities, Prof. Hawwash when he was trying to visit his own country. It is an astonishing state of affairs.
The Palestinian BDS National Committee said in a statement that it “salutes the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) for endorsing a full ‘international economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel’ as a necessary means to achieve Palestinian fundamental rights, including the right of return for the refugees and equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
The motion marks the way ahead for the BDS movement in Britain. We must push for the boycott of Israel to be ramped up. Israel is feeling the pressure, but not nearly enough. It must be held to account for its crimes against the Palestinian people.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.