Defend Free Speech on Palestine

Unite has good policy on Palestine, including support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). It was a setback to see the Unite delegates going along with (and Len McCluskey welcoming) the the Labour NEC statement:

“We recommend that we adopt the IHRA in full with all examples. This does not in any way undermine the freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians. We re-invite the organisations to re-engage in consultation on the Code of Conduct.”

The IHRA definition and its examples are intended to undermine freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians by smearing the movement in support of Palestinians, and in particular the BDS movement, as antisemitic (more information here and here).

Nelson Mandela quote "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians"
Image: Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Hundreds of Unite activists had signed an open letter opposing the adoption of the most problematic IHRA examples in just three weeks. Those, like Len McCluskey, who argued that Labour should adopt the IHRA examples were wrong for two reasons. They were wrong to imagine that this would curtail the smears against the Labour leadership and all those who support the Palestinian cause; and they were wrong to think such an opportunistic approach justifies supporting a tool that is being used to strengthen these smears. This can only do long-term damage to the fight against the oppression of Palestinians. Giving in to bullies doesn’t work. Rather than giving in to those who want to silence criticism of Israel, we must speak out in defence of Palestinians and of free speech on the oppression they are resisting.

We encourage:

  1. Activists to sign and circulate a new statement being used across all trade unions: https://goo.gl/forms/vKVaHdnDi4jdVId12
  2. Unite branches to send motions in through their Areas and Regions, to the Executive Council, demanding that our union stands firm in support of Palestinian freedom and does not give an inch to those who would claim that doing so is antisemitic. A model motion you can adapt is below.
  3. Those in the Unite delegation to Labour Party conference to argue for the delegation to oppose adoption of the problematic IHRA examples

Model motion: Free Speech on Palestine

… branch is proud of Unite’s strong stance in support of the Palestinian struggle, including the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Within the movement in support of Palestine there is a wide range of legitimate views held by Jews and non-Jews, including:

  • That the foundation of a state based on the exclusion of much of the existing population on grounds of race or religion is a racist endeavour
  • That Israel is a colonial settler state founded on the oppression and exclusion of the majority of the existing population, and that no people has the right to “self determination” on this basis, no matter how appalling their own suffering
  • That a state which allows Jews who have never lived there a “right of return” but does not extend the same right to non-Jewish Palestinian residents who were expelled or left is inherently racist
  • That Israel’s systematically discriminatory policies, including its recently passed “nation state” law make it an “apartheid state” and its claims to be a democratic nation empty
  • That aspects of the behaviour of the Israeli state are comparable with aspects of Nazi policy, particularly in the earlier years of Nazi rule
  • That it is legitimate to focus solidarity on oppressed people who resist, even if others are suffering just as much

While not everybody holds these views, and this branch acknowledges that all these views can be held by racists, or can be expressed in racist, insensitive or unhelpful ways, these views are not in themselves racist or antisemitic.

This branch believes that there is a consistent attempt to unjustly smear supporters of Palestine as antisemitic in order to weaken the movement for Palestinian freedom. This branch notes that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and examples have already been used (e.g. by Barnet Council and University of Central Lancashire) to falsely claim that legitimate views or debate on Palestine and Israel are antisemitic.

This branch resolves to oppose any definition of antisemitism which suggests that legitimate views or debate on Palestine and Israel are antisemitic, which not only undermines the fight for Palestinian freedom, but undermines the fight against genuine antisemitism.

This branch resolves to send this motion to the Executive Council via the Regional Committee and/or Area Activists Committee as required.

Act now to avoid exclusion from Unite structures for three years

Most of Unite’s structures run on a three-year cycle. Elections for workplace reps and branch officers should now be complete. But unless you act now you could be excluded from the rest of the union’s structures for the next three years.

No Entry sign on a door
Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown

Between 14 May and 1 June 2018 conferences will be taking place in every region to elect Regional Industrial Sector Committees (RISCs), Regional Equality Committees (REqCs), Area Activists Committees (AACs) and Regional Labour Party Liaison Committees (RLPLCs). This is a crucial step – these committees then elect people onto nearly all the other structures including National Industrial Sector Committees (NISCs), National Equality Committees (NEqCs), Regional Committees (RCs) and the National Labour Party Liaison Committee (NLPLC). They are also part of the route for election to industrial sector, policy and rules conferences, TUC conference and Labour Party conferences.

So if you don’t get on one of these committees (the RISC is particularly important for working members) you are likely to be excluded from most of Unite’s structures for three years, which can be a significant barrier to finding out what’s going on and having your say.

If you haven’t had an invitation to the conferences you are entitled to attend, you should urgently contact your Unite Regional Office. Note that to attend most of the conferences you must be an “accountable representative of workers” under Rule 6. If you want to stand for any of the committees, you should submit a nomination in advance from a branch of workplace – the relevant form should be provided with your invitation. If you don’t manage to do this, there’s still a significant chance you could stand for election at the conference itself, if (as is all too common) insufficient nominations have been received by the deadline.

It is important that you elect people who are actually going to turn up most of the time. The March 2018 Executive Council (EC) meeting clarified that the quorum for RISCs and AACs is 50% + 1 of those elected, so vacant seats don’t count against you as much as people elected who don’t show up. Vacancies can be filled during the three-year term but you often have to push for this. The EC also decided that if membership of a RISC or AAC should fall below five people, it will be linked with another Committee so that it can continue to function.

It’s normal for the relevant Committee to meet immediately after the Conference that elected it, and to elect its chair and delegates to other parts of the union structure.

More information about Unite Rules and a list of the Conferences and the Constitutional Timetable is available via the links.