Drop apartheid bonds

June 28, 2011

Michael Letwin of Labor for Palestine reports on the growing push by labor and Palestinian rights activists for U.S. trade unions to divest from Israeli bonds.

ON JUNE 13, more than 50 labor and anti-apartheid activists participated in a spirited picket of an Israel Bonds "celebration" dinner in New York City that honored prominent labor official Denis Hughes.(1)

Part of a rapidly growing movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel,(2) the protest was called by New York City Labor Against the War, Labor for Palestine, Dump Israel Bonds, Al-Awda New York: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, International Action Center and the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

It dominated the dinner's only media coverage, headlined "Protesters chant outside Israel Bonds gala," which reported that, "Protesters were in force Monday night as the State of Israel Bonds, a prominent charity for real estate folks, celebrated its 60th anniversary honoring Denis Hughes, president of the New York State AFL-CIO."(3)

Labor complicity

For decades, U.S. labor officials have invested unknown millions from union retirement funds--often without their members' knowledge--in the bonds.(4)

This year's dinner awarded a "Peace Medal" to Denis Hughes, president of the New York state AFL-CIO. Hughes was director and chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank during the notorious "credit bubble" decade. It was chaired by Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and head of the Jewish Labor Committee.(5)

Appelbaum has long traded on his image as a "progressive" labor leader to attack growing international trade union support for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.(6) Recently, he has been at the forefront of a witch-hunt that banned supporters of Palestinian rights from meeting at the NYC LGBT Community Center.(7)

Dump Israel bonds campaign

The June 13 protest builds on earlier efforts to end such complicity.

On October 14, 1973, just eight days after Israel provoked its fourth war in 25 years, 3,000 Arab autoworkers in Detroit held a wildcat (unofficial) strike and march to protest UAW Local 600's purchase, without membership approval, of $300,000 in Israel Bonds. On November 28, 1973, Arab workers and their supporters struck again, this time a B'nai B'rith "Humanitarian Award" for UAW International President Leonard Woodcock.(8)

On May 21, 2002, immediately following the infamous Israeli massacre in Jenin in the West Bank, New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) picketed an AFL-CIO Israel Bonds National Labor Division event where "special guest" Israeli Consul General Alon Pinkus "express his gratitude to the labor movement for its decades of support."(9)

On December 4, 2004, NYCLAW and Al-Awda New York co-founded Labor for Palestine, a network which called for U.S. labor bodies to "Divest all labor investments in Israeli apartheid."(10)

Since then, Labor for Palestine has organized numerous events and has issued public statements condemning labor officials' support for Israel and calling for labor bodies to cut ties with the Histadrut, "the Zionist labor federation that not only supported Israel's war on Gaza, but which has spearheaded--and whitewashed--racism, apartheid, dispossession and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians since the 1920s."(11)

More recently, it has supported the Dump Israel Bonds campaign established by Connecticut trade unionist Stan Heller.

It has also worked with the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network/Labor, the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and other allied campaigns.

PTUC-BDS call and LFP statement

The June 13 picket followed a May 4, 2011, call from the newly formed Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS (PTUC-BDS), which asked labor bodies around the world to "divest...from Israel Bonds and all Israeli and international companies and institutions complicit in Israel's occupation, colonization and apartheid."(12)

The protest was accompanied by an online statement calling on Hughes and Appelbaum to "Stop Scabbing for Apartheid--Withdraw From Israel Bonds 'Celebration.'"(13)

The statement points out that the Israel Bonds dinner "follows the May 15 Israeli massacre of unarmed Palestinian refugees exercising their right to return, the first anniversary of the deadly May 31, 2010, Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and Israeli prime minister Netanyahu's arrogant U.S. tour."

It notes that, "Whitewashing this betrayal is the Histadrut, the Zionist labor federation, and its `progressive' U.S. mouthpiece, the Jewish Labor Committee."

Recounting labor's role in opposing apartheid South Africa, it expressed support for dockers from South Africa to Oakland, Calif., who have refused to handle Israeli cargo, and argues that, "rather than being used to secretly finance racism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and colonialism, union members' funds should be transparently invested in justice for all workers."

So far, the statement has been signed by more than one hundred trade unionists, many of whom are current or former elected union officials. To sign, please visit the Labor for Palestine website.


1. http://blog.aflcio.org/2011/05/13/hughes-to-receive-israel-peace-medal/
2. http://www.bdsmovement.net/
3. http://therealdeal.com/newyork/articles/protesters-chant-outside-state-…
4. http://www.laborforpalestine.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/JLC-Brie…
5. http://blog.aflcio.org/2011/05/13/hughes-to-receive-israel-peace-medal/
6. http://www.laborforpalestine.net/wp/2009/05/04/open-letter-to-the-labor…
7. http://gaycitynews.com/articles/2011/03/02/gay_city_news/news/doc4d6e85…
8. Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975), pp. 76-81.
9. http://nyclaw01.wordpress.com/2002/05/21/%EF%BB%BFend-afl-cio-complicit…
10. http://www.laborforpalestine.net/wp/founding-statement/
11. http://www.laborforpalestine.net/wp/2009/12/19/trumka-letter/; http://www.laborforpalestine.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Histadru…
12. http://www.laborforpalestine.net/wp/2011/05/06/palestinian-trade-union-…
13. http://www.laborforpalestine.net/wp/2011/06/07/sign-on-stop-scabbing-fo…. For information, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.laborforpalestine.net/ or http://dumpisraelbonds.com/

First published at the Labor for Palestine website.

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