Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

How trade union seems to have blinkered view of Gaza conflict

Troubled times: mourners weep during the funeral of Dror Khenin

The Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has called a rally at Belfast City Hall today in solidarity with Palestine and calling on the Irish and British governments to force Israel "to end the siege" of Gaza.

As someone with family and friends living in Israel I stand shoulder to shoulder with those who want to see peace and a better life for the population on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border. However, I'm afraid you won't find me at today's rally.

What does ICTU ask of Hamas which governs Gaza with an iron fist, has fired off thousands of missiles at Israeli population centres, and uses its civilian population as human shields? Absolutely nothing.

As part of a five-point call for action issued by ICTU's general secretary, David Begg, Hamas is not mentioned once.

In the promotion of the rally weasel words are used that the Hamas leadership is "irresponsible". Incredibly, there follows almost a complaint that Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system has made rocket fire into Israel more "pointless and futile" (a strange way to refer to war crimes).

Let's not forget Hamas's goal is the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Islamic state from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean sea.

In fact its charter looks forward to slaughtering the last Jews in hiding. However, ICTU says nothing about this because presumably they aren't Jews.

Being gay carries a prison sentence in Gaza and the risk of honour killings. The tiny Gazan Christian community has faced murder and arson under Hamas. In fact, Gazan Christians seek asylum in ... Israel. ICTU says nothing about this even though I suspect some of its leaders are Christian.

And then they came for the trade unionists?

In fact, ICTU said very little when Hamas shut down trade union offices in Gaza, intimidated trade union officers at gunpoint, and threw political opponents off rooftops. It can hardly be said that ICTU are not trade unionists. So what is going on here?

Perhaps ICTU do not want you to know that the Israel they lambast is the only country in the Middle East where gay rights are protected by law, where the Christian community is growing and enjoys freedom of worship, and where there is an independent and robust trade union movement.

So much for "workers of the world unite". There have even been moves within ICTU to ban dialogue between Irish and Israeli trade unionists. Infamously, the Teachers Union of Ireland recently called for Israeli schoolchildren to be identified, singled out and banned from educational visits.

Of course this is all besides the point. ICTU have called their rally at City Hall out of genuine and widespread humanitarian concern for the horrendous loss of civilian life in Gaza.

Except that ICTU's humanitarian concern is a lot less evident for the dead of the Syrian civil war, estimated between 115,000 and 170,000.

There has been no rally outside City Hall for them, even though thousands of Palestinians have been caught up in that tragedy.

ICTU's call is for the international community to force Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, immediately and without any conditions.

Having fired well in excess of one thousand missiles into Israel in the past few weeks, I'm sure Hamas would like nothing better than Iranian ships to sail into Gaza port, laden with ... humanitarian supplies.

I regard the loss of civilian life in Gaza as horrendous, deeply disturbing and wholly avoidable (if Hamas ceased firing missiles into Israel).

However, if ICTU is serious about making a contribution towards peace it must factor into the equation that Hamas must also be called to do things.

For example, recognise Israel's right to exist, cease firing missiles at Israeli towns and enter into negotiations for a permanent peace.

Avraham Sender works for the Jewish community in London

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