Labor of love: Israel

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Jewish Labor Committee and of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, argues in the Forward that the American labor movement must take its pro-Israel fight overseas:

Faced with an alarming growth of anti-Israel boycotts and divestment efforts among unions across the United Kingdom, last year the Jewish Labor Committee launched an aggressive campaign to protest the move by British labor leaders. In the space of two weeks, every major American union had endorsed the effort. In fact, the show of American labor opposition to Israel-bashing was so strong that unions in Germany followed our lead and took a similar stance.

The leadership demonstrated by America’s unions last year ought to send a powerful message to Israel’s allies at home and overseas.

First, it should remind American Jewish leaders that they have a vital stake in building and maintaining a strong alliance with organized labor. This is particularly true now that Israel’s conservative Republican supporters are in the minority on Capitol Hill and seem well on their way to losing the White House. By this time next year it will likely be far more important for Jewish leaders to have a working relationship Change to Win’s Anna Burger and the AFL-CIO’s John Sweeney than with Pat Robertson, John Hagee and others on the right.

Second, it ought to embolden Israel’s supporters in foreign unions and encourage them to make their voices heard. As German activists demonstrated, American leadership is fundamental to challenging Israel bashing within the labor movement globally — and there can be no effective campaign to build support for Israel on the left internationally absent labor support.

Historically, American progressives have been bit players in the global left. Some might say that our biggest contribution was creating May Day.

However, the continuing assault against Israel by the left in other countries demands that we make our voices heard. With the support of the American labor movement we can. I know this much: We owe it to the families living in Sderot to try.

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