Canadian Labour Congress endorses embargo on arms sales to Israel; boycott on goods from the settlements

Canadian Labour Congress hybrid conference in Ottawa June 18, 2021. (Credit: Canadian Labour Congress, Blair Gable)

Canada’s leading labour organization has endorsed a call to boycott goods produced in Israeli Jewish settlements and is urging Ottawa to halt arms sales to Israel, among other actions concerning the Jewish state.

The decision was made by leaders of the Canadian Labour Congress who sit on the CLC’s Canadian Council and came June 18, after members at the annual convention failed to endorse either of the two anti-Israel resolutions presented.

The Canadian Council is composed of the CLC executive and representatives from many of its affiliated unions. CLC is the umbrella organization for 3 million Canadian workers.

The motion also says the CLC will work with global unions and others on an “urgent campaign to stop Israel’s bombing and ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.” As well, it supports divestment from Canadian companies “known to be exporting military and security-related goods to the Israeli Defence Forces.”

Although the CLC constitution allows the Canadian Council to endorse resolutions not approved by the convention, the action still rings foul with one of Canada’s Jewish advocacy groups.

In a news release June 21, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre Canada, said the council used “backdoor methods to ram through a resolution in support of a boycott of Israel.”

“When it was already clear the convention would not be approving any anti-Israel resolutions, a committee called the Canadian Council… met and surreptitiously adopted the resolution to boycott Israel,” FSWC said.

CLC’s convention faces hundreds of resolutions from member unions. A committee sorts through submissions, rejects some and combines similar resolutions into one statement. Submissions are then sent to the convention in a ranked order.

For the 2021 convention, that process boiled four anti-Israel motions into two. The motions called for a Palestinian right of return, the end of Israel’s “military occupation and colonization” of Palestinian land, dismantling of Israeli settlements and the “apartheid wall” as well as support for efforts to build peaceful relations between the two sides.

The second resolution called for increased Canadian humanitarian aid to Palestinians and support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel (BDS) until Israel complies with the right of return for Palestinians.

Neither motion was debated by the convention, but a similar motion was approved by the leadership in a closed-door meeting on the last day of the online gathering.

The convention did approve resolutions condemning Islamophobia, anti-Asian hate and calls to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which investigated crimes against Indigenous peoples. Support was also expressed for a national pharmacare program and a national industrial policy to protect the steel industry.

One convention delegate, who asked not to be named because he’s not authorized to speak on political developments, said he only heard the CLC had endorsed BDS when he saw a news release from Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

In that release, CJPME congratulated the CLC for “resolving to campaign for Palestinian human rights and endorsing the use of sanctions and divestment against Israel.”

“The Canadian labour movement has always been on the forefront of the struggle for Palestinian rights, and we are thrilled to see Canada’s largest labour organization endorse concrete policy tools for challenging Israeli violence and ethnic cleansing,” said Michael Bueckert, vice-president of CJPME. “Having the support of the CLC will give a major boost to the solidarity work of local labour unions and strengthen the momentum of those pushing for sanctions on Israel.”

“I was offended by the fact this happened,” the delegate said. “If this was so critical that Canadian Council felt it had to be dealt with then why wasn’t it given a higher priority at the convention?”

“If it had been brought forward that way, I could have argued against it or tried to amend it,” he added. “The way they did it isn’t democratic. I feel betrayed that after three days in the convention something like this was snuck through the back door.”

In its news release FSWC calls on members of any CLC affiliate to contact their leaders “and speak out loudly and clearly against such blatantly one-sided efforts to poison the labour movement with hatred for the Jewish state and create a toxic environment for Jewish and pro-Israel members.”

That’s exactly what the anonymous delegate said he intends to do.

“Statements like this are divisive and put out an opinion that vilifies Jews in general,” he said. “Statements like this are based on a lot of misinformation that has been getting a lot of media attention.”

Simon Black, a Brock University Labour Studies professor attended the convention as a delegate for the school’s faculty association. He called the allegation that the anti-Israel motion was snuck through a backdoor “somewhat misleading.”

“There are usually hundreds of resolutions to the convention and only a few of them actually make it to the convention floor,” he said. “The CLC constitution refers resolutions not taken up by convention to the Canadian Council. This was not a back door move at all. It was quite transparent because it’s right there in the CLC constitution.”

The CLC statement reflects positions the organization has taken in the past. In 2017, for example, it expressed support for the two-state solution and regret that direct negotiations were being scuttled by Israeli settlement policies. It also defended the BDS movement as a freedom of expression issue and repeated its 2011 statement calling for Israel to return to the 1967 borders.

Other labour groups have expressed similar views. Early in June, for example, 39 union locals and labour councils issued an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging the federal government to immediately suspend bilateral trade of weapons with Israel.

Last month during the Israel-Gaza conflict, Unifor, the largest private sector union in the country, expressed “its solidarity with the people of the region facing escalating bombardments by Israeli forces.”

The Ontario Federation of Labour also issued a statement extending “our solidarity with Palestinians and joins the call for Canada to condemn the Israeli government’s actions. The deadly assaults by Israeli forces on residential buildings, international media offices, refugee clinics, and a medical clinic, including Gaza’s only COVID-19 testing lab, are devastating. These bombardments followed a horrific attack by Israeli security forces on worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque during one of the holiest days of Ramadan.”

Representatives of the CLC did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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