Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal
The CUPE Boycott of Israel

Echoes of Darker Evils
Beryl P. Wajsman 31 May 2006  

"We cannot expect anti-Semitism to disappear - Jewish existence and Jewish philosophy will always be threatening. The trauma and insecurity, on the other hand, is within our power to diminish - should we decide to do so."

~ Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harvard, 1968

The next time labour leaders in Canada want to know why there is such antipathy to their agenda in many quarters, they need look no further than the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Ontario wing. This past weekend some 896 delegates representing 200,000 workers voted in convention to pass a resolution boycotting Israel, a social democracy with the most unionized political jurisdiction in the world.

With all of labour’s supposed grievances, why the urgency on this issue? Because according to CUPE (Ont.) Israel does not " recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination." Let us put aside the fact that Israel was the only country to recognize the future Arab state of Palestine after partition in 1947; put aside the fact that within one week of the 1967 war when Israel defended itself from invasion by five Arab states and still offered total withdrawal and recognition in return for peace and was greeted with the Arab states’ Khartoum resolution of "No negotiation; no recognition; no peace"; put aside the fact that Israel has recognized Palestinian self-determination at Oslo, at Madrid and at Camp David and been refused each time by Palestinian leadership; what makes this resolution so egregious in nature — such an affront to truth and transparency — is that it comes at a time when the Palestinian Authority’s own President has challenged the Hamas government to renounce violence and recognize Israel or face a referendum. President Abbas’ own actions put the lie to the pretense that this CUPE (Ont.) initiative was done in the tradition of labour’s fight for universal social justice. The Palestinians don’t question Israel’s acceptance of their right to self-determination. They question only their own capacity to manifest it.

It’s time to call a spade a spade. CUPE (Ont.)’s action is, at worst, a primordial example of a hypocrisy unmasked revealing the true face of anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, and, at best, a knee-jerk Canadian antipathy to any American ally. An antipathy that at its heart is fuelled by a self-doubt driven by a jealousy of others self-belief.

Sid Ryan, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario president, used the old canard that, "This is not an attack on the Jewish people. It's [an objection to] the state of Israel's policies on Palestinians. They say they are creating an independent state but they're not giving them the tools to do that." In other words he is not an anti-Semite, he is just an anti-Zionist.

Israel is not saying it is creating an independent Palestinian state. It is saying it is recognizing it. Israel has no obligation to give any tools to build it. Who helped the 600,000 Jews, a tiny remnant of the 6,000,000 butchered in World War II, to build Israel? They declared the state. They bled for it. They built it. No American arms. No aid from anyone. Just the national will to live fortified by the sight of 50,000,000 Arabs thirsting for the blood of the Jews.

Despite not having any obligation to help build Palestine, Israel has in fact contributed more than all of its Arab neighbours combined to that effort. For Mr. Ryan not to know this he must want not to know it. Israel gave 150,000 guns to the Palestinian police and militia. Contributed five times the total amount of money of all Arab countries combined to build Palestinian infrastructure, schools, and hospitals. Under Israeli administration the Palestinians have the lowest infant mortality rate among frontline Arab states; the  highest literacy rate and the largest per capita percentage of university students. Finally, nearly 700,000 Palestinians work in Israel daily. What did the Palestinians’ Arab cousins do for them during their twenty-year occupation from 1948-1967? Absolutely nothing but create conditions of grinding poverty that sowed the seeds of frustration and discontent with which Arab tyrants reaped racist, genocidal propaganda to divert, deflect and direct the hatred of their own imprisoned populations for their rulers’ barbarism toward bloodlust against the demonized Jews.

One need not agree with the occupation or the settlement policies of Israel. However, to pre-meditatedly distort the truth of the occupation, as CUPE has done, is to be motivated by impulses far removed from any visions of social justice. Israel has the same rights in international law as France, Russia and the United States, to hold territory acquired after self-defense in the face of aggressive attack until peace has been achieved. Mr. Ryan and his fellow travellers who choose to hold Israel to a different standard do so out of the basest of motives.

Katherine Nastovski, chair of the CUPE Ontario international solidarity committee, had the temerity to equate Israeli policies with South African apartheid saying that "Boycott, divestment and sanction worked to end apartheid in South Africa." Israel has Arab judges, diplomats, MP’s, Arabic is an official language of the state and 20% of the student body of Hebrew University is Arab. Full and equal status. However Jews can still not get a visa to most Arab Muslim countries because of their religion. And in those Arab lands with remaining Jewish populations Jews live under a secondary legal status called "dhimmitude". So exactly who is practicing apartheid Ms. Nastovski? And where is your moral voice on Arab racism?

CUPE (Ont.)’s press release states that, "The Israeli 'apartheid wall' (the security fence) has been condemned and determined illegal under international law." Another lie. The International Court of Justice did indeed declare that certain parts of the fence that encroach and divide certain populated areas of the West Bank was illegal and should be moved closer to Israeli border areas to accommodate the Palestinian civilian population. But that was two months after the Israeli Supreme Court itself rendered a similar decision and one month after the Israeli government began changes in the fence to accommodate and respect that decision. Would any Arab Supreme Court ever challenge a decision of its government? CUPE would dare not even examine this question for fear of disturbing its pre-conceived notions. Alice in Wonderland. "Sentence first, trial after," said the Mad Hatter.

CUPE’s resolution also demands the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties abandoned before and during the 1948 and 1967 wars. What is astounding about this is that the Palestinian Authority itself does not make this demand because its corollary would be the right of the two million Jews from Arab lands who were chased out at the threat of their lives having the same right. The difference however is that the Jews were indeed thrown out by Arab tyrants while the Palestinians left at the urging of their Arab cousins.

As early as 1949, Lebanese statesman Emile Ghoury, the last Christian President of the Arab League, wrote in his resignation speech that he could no longer live with the lie that the Israelis chased out their Arab citizens. Ghoury said it was time that the Arab frontline states assumed responsibility for demanding that Israeli and Palestinian Arabs leave their homes for tactical military reasons in order to allow Arab armies to rain devastation only upon the Jews. The promise was that they could return in "…two weeks after we have driven the Jews into the sea…"

Indeed, some 50 years later, on March 19, 2001, Fuad Abu Higla, then a regular columnist in the official Palestinian Authority daily Al Hayat Al Jadida, wrote an article before an Arab Summit criticizing Arab states for a series of failures. One of the failures he cited was that of the earlier generation of Arab leaders who "forced" Palestinians to leave Israel in 1948.

But perhaps the most telling part of CUPE’s duplicitous hypocrisy was that the vote was held on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, when there could be no effective, organized response from its Jewish members. Racism wears many cloaks and disguises. But in this case it was out in the open.

In May 2005, Israeli and Palestinian academics from Jerusalem, Haifa, Hebron and Bethlehem met in Rome and resolved to work together in such vital areas as the natural sciences, economic development and the preservation of cultural heritage. If Israelis and Palestinians can meet and work together on a constructive basis, why is CUPE not supporting these efforts rather than encouraging mindless boycotts?

Several years ago, the Institute sponsored the first ever conference between leaders of Quebec civil society and Israeli diplomats. FTQ President Henri Massé said that while not fully supporting the settlement policy, he saw nothing to condemn in Israel's humanitarian policies and vehemently denounced Palestinian violence and hate. For the sake of the credibility of labour’s true progressives, it is time to hear this message candidly proclaimed and clearly defended.

If this is not done, Canadian labour’s dream of universal social justice will be hijacked by  nests of nightcrawlers purveying nothing more than parochial prejudice. And on this there can be no debate. We must always stand ready to marshal our vigilance and resolve against the CUPEs and Ryans and Nastovskis of this land. For they are the dark evils from the mists of history. Evils whose true natures echo down to us through the decades from the lips of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said in an address at Harvard that,

"Despite its significance to the Jewish Nation, the State of Israel has failed to alleviate the levels of anti-Semitism. It has simply allowed anti-Semites to masquerade themselves under the new banner of "anti-Zionism"." And what is an anti-Zionist? Someone who would deny to the Jewish people the fundamental rights and standards that we justly claim for all peoples and freely accord all other nations of the Globe. It is discrimination against Jews, my friends, simply because they are Jews. In short, it is anti-Semitism. The anti-Semite rejoices at any opportunity to vent his malice. The times have made it unpopular, in the West to proclaim openly a hatred of the Jews. This being the case, the anti-Semite must constantly seek new forms and forums for his poison. How he must revel in the new masquerade! He does not hate the Jews, he is just 'anti-Zionist'!."